What does fear sound like?

In the world of cinema and TV, sound is often an underappreciated but crucial player in creating a sense of fear. We speak to leading figures in sound design and composition to discover what sounds get an audience’s blood pumping

No genre of cinema is more of a minefield of clichés than horror – and that goes for its sound, too. Many mainstream thrillers and horrors have relied heav­ily on the same kinds of sonic tropes: heartbeats racing furiously, piercing screams, to name a couple of culprits.

However, when it comes to the films and series that exist beyond the clichés of the genre, sound can take a more unexpected turn. Take the way classical music is used in The Silence of the Lambs, or jazz in Taxi ­Driver. Of course, Twin Peaks is forever indebted to Angelo Badalamenti’s magnificent soundtrack, which perfectly enhances the pendulum between heartfelt and harrowing.

But it’s not just a case of the score. “Sound design for creepy movies and horror movies, or psychological films, is one of the biggest tools going for directors and filmmakers,” explains Craig Henighan, who is responsible for creating some of film and TV’s most memorable soundscapes – whether his Emmy Award-winning sound design for Stranger Things, his mixing work for Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, or the sonic ‘languages’ that he’s helped to build for a raft of films directed by Darren Aronofsky, ever since cult movie Requiem for a Dream.