Many years ago my younger brother and I tried making a custom soundtrack for our homemade haunted house. Emphasis on “tried.” It started out great at first, the door to the basement already creaked when it opened and my brother’s impression of an old witch welcoming visitors in was perfect. The trouble started when we got to the segment where a swarm of screeching bats was heard. I had a book which claimed waving plastic shopping bags folded in half could be used to make the sound of flapping wings, but the resulting effect sounded awful. Quickly opening and closing an umbrella near the recorder sounded more like wings. The problem was the resulting effect sounded like the wings of something much larger than a bat. We weren’t too wild about our screeching noises either. While experimenting with how a cheap “Echo Microphone” could enhance vocal effects, my brother discovered it made interesting noises if you tapped the microphone against hard surfaces. He enthusiastically created several effects he claimed were lasers and suggested we use them for the portion of the tape devoted to the mad scientist’s lab. But we never got any farther than that thanks to our mother insisting we scale back the layout for our haunted house. Since a lot of the planned scenes had to be dropped in order to make this happen, what little work we had on tape no longer fit the theme. We ultimately did the haunt without any soundtrack whatsoever.
Although our homemade soundtrack is long gone, it was still a lot of fun to make. It would have also made our haunted house more unique to visitors had it been completed as originally intended. Using a spooky sound effects album would have been easier, but there’s always the possibility guests have already heard it and the overall scare factor would be diminished. But an all-original soundtrack wouldn’t have such a problem. Sadly most people either opt for preexisting albums or downloaded sound effects for haunted houses, so this is becoming something of a lost art for haunters. That’s why I decided to gather up some resources to help those interested in doing something different. Whether you want to make a haunted attraction, audio drama or low budget movie, I hope the following links will come in handy:
I highly recommend making a “Pop filter” to eliminate the sound of breathing when recording vocals. Anyone who has tried to use a computer’s built-in microphone should know what I’m talking about. Thankfully that link shows just how inexpensive and easy it is to make one. Moving on to actually making effects, both wikiHow and Home Brew Audio discuss how to do so. YouTube can also be a good source for tutorials and ideas.
In addition to explaining the history of creating special effects in movies, the Wikipedia article on Foley work has an entire section on common methods of creating sound effects (both normal and scary). Speaking of foley work, The Bad Movie Report’s look at the making of Forever Evil has great tips on using melons and yogurt for making gory sounds.
Speaking of gore, the radio drama series Lights Out was infamous for that sort of thing. Its Wikipedia entry reveals how to make the sounds of skin being ripped off, broken bones, limbs being torn off and many other gruesome effects. John Dunning’s On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio reveals even more sound effect secrets from Lights Out.
Remember how creepy the opening to “The Monster Mash” was when you first heard it? It turns out the creaking door was just a nail being pulled out of a board and the bubbling cauldron was someone slowly blowing bubbles in a container of water. If you want to know how the sounds of rattling chains were made, just click the link.
Since everyone has their own take on how something “should” sound, there are often multiple techniques used to create the same basic effect (especially when recording the sound of the real thing is not possible). The Google Books preview for Scary Science: 24 Creepy Experiments by Shar Levine and Leslie Johnstone shows how one simple device can be used to create unearthly sounds or the sound of a creaking door depending on what type of string you use. Or you can create your own “squeak box.” You can create chirping crickets with either a comb or your own mouth. Tolling bells can be simulated by using a lid or metal mixing bowl (which I personally recommend). Storm effects can be achieved with metal sheets, bags of rice, BB pellets, boxes of oatmeal and other interesting methods.
The Audio Theater Guide by Robert L. Mott offers a wealth of sound effects advice. Multiple ways to create the sound of a guillotine in action, scratching, digging, weapons, explosions and much more! I can’t stress enough how important it is to check each link to get the full list of effects techniques they provide. It would be too hard to read if I listed out all the kinds of effects each link shows you how to create.
Ric Viers’ Sound Effects Bible shows how to create the sounds of a stone slab being opened, various kinds of impacts, dripping blood and more. Making the sound of footsteps is more complicated than you might think, as show in Radio Sound Effects by Robert L. Mott. As any reader of Scar Stuff knows, Halloween sound effects albums throw in a lot of oddball stuff. If your recording is going to be like that then I recommend making a cardboard pistol to help with gunshot effects.
The Practical Art of Motion Picture Sound by David Lewis Yewdall is a treasure trove of information. In addition to correcting some misconceptions, the author shows how extraordinary sound effects can be made from using ordinary sounds as a base. I love the idea of making alien sound effects using soapy shower walls.
To build upon this idea, let’s look at an easy way to create the sound of wind. All you need to do is blow and imitate the sound of wind in front of a microphone. Then fool around with the volume, pitch, etc. until it sounds the way you want it to. This can be done to create spooky voices, whispers, laughter, etc. As the original King Kong showed us, you can create awesome effects by combining two or more effects and messing around with them. Lower the pitch, play them backwards, the possibilities are endless! If you don’t have an audio editing program on your computer, then I suggest giving the free program Audacity a try. I also recommend checking out the following tutorial from Andrew Mercer:
Please post in the comments if you use anything shown here to create your own sound effects. Posts with advice on making any scary sound effects I may have missed are also welcome.
Gravedigger’s Local 16 is not to be held responsible for the content on or anything that may occur (be it good or bad) as a result of visiting or downloading from any links on the above links (or constructing a project that’s detailed on them). This also applies to the suggestions made here. Attempt at your own discretion.