At the Movies

Credit: Rob Walker

To Chilling Effect

Only the truly trained can accurately describe how despair sounds without a noise filter. A sound technician finishes his horror movie script.

“Johnny Checks In”
by Mike Sobotka, Foley Artist


JOHNNY walks down the hallway of the old, decrepit building. Rain FALLS GENTLY on the roof, as if someone in a cherry picker was slowly pouring a bucket of marbles onto a tin roof. Johnny’s bloody, bare feet CRUNCH ASPHALT as if you were hearing someone slowly chew ice. In the distance, a flock of crows CHIRP OUT A CHORUS OF WARNING not unlike the Crows_Warning.WAV file that comes preloaded on Audacity. Johnny’s pulse POUNDS like a small plastic trashcan being squeezed by a technician with just the right force, and at the very specific rhythm, needed to simulate the beating of a heart.

Johnny pauses, takes a deep INHALE, like a Hoover XL Symphony vacuum after the hole has been detached and the machine has been set to Steam Mop, and he continues walking.


His voice ECHOES through the hallway as if he was standing precisely 10 feet from the north wall in a standard racquetball court and speaking directly into the ground.

It’s time to come home...

VOICE (Off-Screen)
I am home!

Johnny spins around to find the source of the sound. The air WHIPS through his ears like a low-power fan with the cardboard tube of a toilet paper roll taped on and directing the current slightly to the right of mic. Suddenly, Johnny hears a LOUD BOOM behind him. It sounds like a watermelon being dropped onto a railroad tie held above the ground by two bricks on either end.

JOHNNY’S POV: He turns back around and sees a steel door with the sign “Shock Therapy” printed in fading ink. He pushes open the door. It CREAKS as if it was an EPSON dot matrix printer (pre-1998) spitting out a stream of random letters and numbers in the background of the other end of a phone call. Johnny enters the next room.


Empty, except a lone ancient electrotherapy chair in the middle. Its worn leather straps swing in the breeze, SMACKING against each other as if someone were smacking a plastic ruler on the back of their hand. The rusted metal of the chair SQUEAKS with the sound of a gray tree frog’s mating call slowed to quarter-speed. Johnny SCRATCHES his mustache, which sounds like someone rubbing the back of a plastic lighter on sandpaper, but with the bass turned all the way up.

Suddenly, he sees movement out of the corner of his eye.

Johnny SCREAMS, sounding like a spliced-together tape of Dana Carvey as Ross Perot saying “wouldn’t be prudent” over and over but sped up 27 times so as to be an incoherent mess of high-pitched insanity. He clasps his hand over his mouth and composes himself.

Johnny follows the movement to a hung mirror in the corner of the room. He walks to it and looks inside.

JOHNNY’S POV: Staring back at him isn’t Johnny. It’s FRANK.

We are home.

Johnny opens his mouth, but nothing comes out. Complete silence. Utter and beautiful and perfect silence. Absolute 0dB. The golden point. Without even having to use a noise filter.

Suddenly, the old electrotherapy chair SPUTTERS TO LIFE with the sound of an old electrotherapy chair sputtering to life. But like really, really, really loud. Johnny walks to it and sits down.