Weird Instruments That Are Used in Almost All Horror Movie Soundtracks

Halloween is nearly upon us. Everyone is busy putting the final touches on costumes, perfecting their goblin screech and gearing up for a night full of all things creepy and totally bizarre. Halloween is perfect for a night of haunted houses and marathons of your favorite horror movie with friends and family.

Before you queue up your favorites, check out the history behind the signature spookiness of our beloved horror films. Fun fact: they actually come from a very humble beginning. So if you want to kick off this years haunted house with a heavy dose of horror that will leave your friends screaming, then, join us as we explore the terrifying and downright dreadful origins of horror film soundtracks.

The Creation of Inharmonic Instruments

Picture this: you’re sitting there, transfixed at the movie screen, quaking with anticipation as the story plays out. Your heart is pounding, and you have feelings of dread and discomfort. Your senses tell you something is about to happen,and then you hear it. The tiniest warble like nails on a chalkboard. Sending shivers down your spine…  But how and where do these sounds even come from? The answer may surprise you.

Most instruments in movies are created to form a harmonic melody pleasant to the ear. Think, Disney’s ‘Fantasia.’ However to create that feeling of terror and anxiety of movie like the cult classic ‘ Nightmare on Elm Street’, they use non-traditional instruments that are handcrafted to do  the exact opposite. This is known as “Inharmonic”. Loosely translated, inharmonic means ‘without harmony.’  The chaos of these sounds set the film score to any horror movie. Creators of these instruments use sound to manipulate their audience on a purely psychological level, so all that clanging, banging and tension building can trigger screams and startle viewers. Get ready to have your mind blown as we take a deeper look at specific instruments.

The Waterphone AKA ‘Ocean Harp’

The birth of the waterphone paved the way for a plethora of sounds, perfect for a horror film, thanks to its inventor Richard Waters. The waterphone is perhaps the most famous of all existing inharmonic instruments. It works on an acoustic percussion level with a stainless steel resonator bowl. It’s cylindrical neck holds bronze rods of various lengths and diameters. When water is added to the bowl, the result is an ethereal sound, perfect for any scene.

It’s haunting sound is said to be reminiscent of a humpback whale’s call. The waterphones soul purpose is to evoke feelings of dread and danger. Some popular movies you may of heard the water phone in: Poltergeist, Aliens, and Dark Water.  If you want to build your very own Waterphone to freak out your friends, follow this 11 step DIY! Don’t really have the time? Etsy has one you can grab for about $200.

The Apprehension Engine

The name of this instrument says it all. The apprehension engine was designed to make nightmarish sounds in horror films. The mastermind behind this ingenious design is Mark Korven who teamed up with guitar maker Tony Duggan to create something so disturbing when played, that all of your senses come alive with just one brush.

The apprehension engine is made up of an array of bowed metal rulers, springs, some loner metal rods, and odds and ends of what you may find in any workshop. All of these pieces work together to create something out of a nightmare. True to its name, this mechanism gives off a spooky, and anxiety fueled vibe. The movie ‘The Witch’ enlisted the help of this instrument for it’s film score. To hear for yourself, check out this video of it being played live in a cemetery, in Brooklyn NY.

The Blaster Beam

This instrument is for all of you Star Trek nerds. The Blaster Beam got its debut aboard the Star Trek soundtrack. It’s design is creates a dark and sinister sound. Part by part, each piece is crucial for it’s sound. Made up of 12 foot metal beams that are have tense strings of wires strung on it, that are mounted to an electric guitar pickup. The strings can be manipulated by hand, with metal rods, metal bits and pieces or anything you could dream of, to create the blaster beam’s famous sound.  In television, the blaster beam is featured in Wonder Woman , Season 3 Episode 13 and the movie 10 Cloverfield Lane. To give you an idea of just how terrifying this sounds, here is a sound clip for you.

Ondes Martenot

The Ondes Martenot is quite unique. It uses oscillating radio tubes to produce electric pulses, which reach two frequencies. Created by French inventor Maurice Martenot. To play this instrument,all you have yo do is wave your hand in front of the tubes to elicit different tones and timbres. Featured in mainly science fiction films, and shows like The Ghostbusters and The Black Cauldron. Why not try your hand at replicating this incredible machine? Here is a DIY to show you how!

Horror movies will forever be a favorite among many. They have a special place in our traditions, even though they are terrifying. Fact is, we like to be scared, we love that rush. So by learning as much as you can about them, you will not only impress your friends, but you could have just found yourself a new hobby! Who knows, maybe this article inspired you to show off your creative side. The internet is full of tutorials and Do- It-Yourself guides on how to make the above mentioned machines. Whether it’s creating the perfect score to your haunted house or you just want to creep out and prank your friends…the sky’s the limit. Just grab some odd bits and pieces of hardware, and let your creativity shine. Keep in mind, the weirder things are, the better! 

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