Magic Hat’s Wilhelm Scream – Have You Heard It?

As I’ve stated before, interesting packaging on beer and wine shelves will always grab my attention and by extension, an interesting or playful name will also entice me to pick up a bottle to learn more about the contents. Especially if the name reflects either a pop culture reference or a witty play on words.

Today I want to talk about Magic Hat’s Wilhelm Scream, their yearly pumpkin beer that appears as part of their Night of the Living Dead (itself a timely pop culture reference) sampler 12-pack.

Many people may not know of the over 60-year history that marks the Wilhelm scream as one of the most iconic and storied screams in movie history…

OH, Deal With It
OH, Deal With It

…or how it found its way through well over 250 movies, TV shows, cartoons, and even commercials to end up on the label of said Magic Hat beer. To understand that journey, let’s set the Way-Back Machine to 1951.

New York, USA, 1951 to be precise. Warner Brothers studio is set to release its latest film entitled “Distant Drums”, what a film student would describe as a ‘Florida Western’ that over all probably wouldn’t have been very remarkable (except for starring screen legend Cary Grant) if it had not been for a certain alligator.

Taking place in the Everglades the film makers simply couldn’t resist a good old fashioned alligator attach (who could!) and quicker than you can sing, “Wally Gator is a swinging alligator in the swamp.” some poor soldier is being death rolled in the marshy water. The scream of the soldier as he’s being pulled to his untimely end was recorded later as part of a series of screams that were used throughout the film.

Warner Brothers at the time had an extensive sound library and once the cut of the scream was archived inside it the effect began popping up in all manner of movies. How often? Well, often enough that USC cinematic student Ben Burtt started to get the funny feeling as he watched certain movies that he’d heard a particular scream before.

And he was correct. By the time Burtt and his friends realized that the scream had become a somewhat go-to sound effect it had already been used in a number of films including “The Charge at Feather River”, “Them!”, “PT-109”, “The Green Berets”, as well as many TV shows produced by Warner Brothers in the 50s and 60s.

Burtt had discovered a sound effect that might have simply remained nothing more than an audio curiosity except that Ben Burtt went on to become a legend in modern movie sound design whose career ignited when a friend by the name of George Lucas asked him if he’d be interested in doing the sound for a film he was working on. Yep. THAT film.

As fate would have it, during filming Burtt actually stumbled upon the original recording labeled “Man being eaten by alligator” in the archive, and referred to it as “The Wilhelm Scream” after the character in “The Charge at Feather River” who seemingly lets out the scream after being shot with an arrow, and proceeded to use it like an audio version of a watermark.

Burtt dropped the scream into a “Star Wars: A New Hope” scene where Luke shoots a Stormtrooper who then falls off a ledge, and he never looked back, including it in not only the subsequent movies in the Star Wars franchise but also the Indiana Jones movies. But in 2005 when he joined Pixar to work on their upcoming film “Wall-E”, Burtt announced that he wouldn’t be using the Wilhelm Scream anymore.

But by then more studios had access to the sound bite and its use in movies and TV just exploded. Soon everyone from Indy film makers to top tier directors like Joe Dante, Peter Jackson, and Quinten Tarantino were placing the scream into their films in an effort to keep the gag running.

The Wilhelm Scream has become an audio meme, one-to-two seconds of sound that continues to get proliferated by many in the film industry who hear the story. So well know is the scream among film geeks that many of them (including a couple of my Facebook friends) swear they can recognize it every time in any movie its in. Give a listen and see if you’ve ever heard it before:

Is Magic Hat’s beer up to all that fabulous nerdy history? Let’s taste.

THEM: Wilhelm Scream is built on a bill of Pale, Victory, Caramel 80L, and Caramel 120L which is then balanced with Apollo and Nugget hops. An English ale yeast is used to ferment the beer to 5.4%ABV. The beer clocks in at 20IBUs and 22SRM.

From the website, “Wilhelm Scream is ripe with fall flavors of pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg and caramel malts. Medium-bodied and the color of orange setting suns, it finishes similar to the way we finish summer: with just a hint of bitterness.”

THE BUZZ: Beer Advocate 79, Rate Beer 40 , Untapped 3.39

DELAWARE AVAILABLE: Most liquor stores that carry a good variety of beers. Only available in the variety 12-pack.

ME: The base beer almost strikes me as a brown ale, but it’s a little lighter, almost copper color when you hold it up to the light. The spice hits your nose as you pour it into the glass, the quick but energetic head pulling the fragrances out of the liquid and easily dispersing them into the air.

The initial taste almost has a tea like quality with maybe a touch of grains and then the spice comes in. You know them – cinnamon, nutmeg, maybe a few others. While there is indeed nothing amazing here, that’s kind of what Magic Hat beers are and listen, I don’t mean that in a negative way.

Look, I’m aware that some people give Magic Hat a bit of shit because of various reasons, but I’ve always found them to make pretty serviceable beers and this one is no exception. I mean are you going to want to mule 8 cases of it from Vermont on a midnight beer run – no.

But it’s a well constructed, balanced pumpkin beer that doesn’t kill you with the spices and since it’s part of a variety 12-pack, you don’t have to drink 6 of them if it turns out that Wilhelm Scream is not your cup of pumpkin and between you and me, Vamplifier is pretty tasty as well.

Time for another beer.

THE LAST SIP: Although never definitively proven, tradition has it that the actor that recorded the Wilhelm Scream was Sheb Wooley who in 1958 would record the popular Halloween seasonal
THE LAST SIP: Although never definitively proven, tradition has it that the actor used to record the Wilhelm Scream was Sheb Wooley who in 1958 would record the popular Halloween seasonal “The Purple People Eater”. Halloween tie-in achieved!