Music, Sound, and the Moving Image

Sound in Horror Film Trailers

Music, Sound, and the Moving Image (2020), 14, (1), 47–71.


In this paper I analyse the soundtracks of fifty horror film trailers, combining formal analysis of the soundtracks with quantitative methods to describe and analyse how sound creates a dominant emotional tone for audiences through the use of different types of sounds (dialogue, music, and sound effects) and the different sound envelopes of affective events. The results show that horror trailers have a three-part structure that involves establishing the narrative, emotionally engaging the audience, and communicating marketing information. The soundtrack is organised in such a way that different functions are handled by different components in different segments of the soundtrack: dialogue bears responsibility for what we know and the sound for what we feel. Music is employed in a limited number of ways that are ironic, clichéd, and rarely contribute to the dominant emotional tone. Different types of sonic affective events fulfil different roles within horror trailers in relation to narrative, emotion, and marketing. I identify two features not previously discussed in relation to quantitative analysis of film soundtracks: an affective event based on the reactions of characters in horror trailers and the presence of nonlinear features in the sound design of affective events.

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