Scream (Craven, 1996)

In Wes Craven’s Scream (1996), music is utilized to enhance the viewer’s emotional response to the action. The sounds complement the images, and immediately translate mood into the audience’s experience. This occurs because music is non-representational; the formal properties of sound are, therefore, instantly perceived and apprehended by the mind. In this way, music effortlessly affects emotions. As a result, while the images and story alone may not invoke compelling feelings, the use of music, and its capacity for plucking at heartstrings, enriches their effect – making for an emotionally resonating audio-visual experience.

The soundtrack of Scream has many recurring qualities. Since human beings have an unconscious ability to recognize previously heard arrangements of sound, musical patterns are utilized to relate scenes with similar atmospheric content; this phenomenon steadily increases the audience’s emotional resonance with the action and characters. Soft, minor-scale piano melodies are used to invoke feelings of sadness; for example, when Sidney (Neve Campbell) watches the news report recounting her mother’s rape and murder one year earlier. Dissonant, high-pitched melodies are used to invoke feelings of unease; for example, when a character on the phone first realizes their caller is watching them. And loud, heavy bass movements are used to invoke feelings of fear; for example, during each of the murder sequences. Moreover, to increase suspense, repetitive sounds, such as thuds of heavy bass (which can be likened to the sound of a heart-beat), increase in frequency, becoming faster and faster, and moaning sounds, such as the sustain of a synthesizer, grow and develop, becoming louder and louder.

This utilization of music to enhance the viewer’s emotional engagement of the film is neither original, nor uncommon. It is a convention found in all genres of film, from drama to horror, since music can be used to translate any and all feelings ascertainable of the human psyche.


About Kamran Ahmed

I have a Masters in Cinema Studies from the University of Toronto. I work as a freelance writer and film critic in Vancouver. My writing is primarily distributed through Next Projection, an online film journal based in Toronto.
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