Hell Is That Noise

"And—And it was making this noise, this—this sound that bored right into your brain."
Powell describing the Reaper horn, Mass Effect

What the hell is that noise? The noise is hell.

A character within the story hears something odd. Unnatural. When they hear the sound once, it may not be that terrifying, but as time passes, they become more and more frightened. The sound gets scarier as it gains more and more relevance. Given time, the sound comes to haunt them, even away from the source. The sound has taken on a nightmarish relevance because of the setting. The sound could come from anywhere.

The trope isn't limited to a sentence, a catch phrase, or a song. The sound that terrifies the character can be made by the living, such as footsteps, a laugh, the call of a loud little animal. The sound may be made by the non-living, such as the creak of a chair, a door, a bouncing ball, the crackle of radio static, or any one of hundreds of other seemingly mundane noises.

This isn't a Brown Note, a sound or image that causes involuntary action/harm. This trope is about the psychological effect of a repeated noise to the character(s) in the story. See also Hearing Voices, which can also be this depending on what kind of voices they are, and Nothing Is Scarier, which is almost the Visible Silence version of this. Sinister Scraping Sound is an intentional, psych-out type of hellish noise; if a noise foreshadowing a threat is produced by something attached to, or ingested by, that threat, it's The Croc Is Ticking.

Contrast Most Wonderful Sound, which people are happy to hear. Compare and contrast Scare Chord, where the audience learns to fear the music.


    Fan Works 
  • Children of an Elder God: In the prologue, two scientists and a team of spelunkers are exploring a nnetwork of caverns when they hear several faint, faraway screams. They freak out right away:
    [There are faint screams in the distance]
    Home Base (Speaker unidentified): What the hell was THAT?
  • Quicken: When Emma goes nuts, she screams. Her scream sounds so scary and inhuman than her assailants step back.
    A switch was suddenly flipped inside me. Something primal and inarticulate tore its way out of my throat, a sound I could have never imagined that I could make.

    Religion and Myth 
  • The Ur-Example may very well come from Classical Mythology: the god Pan loved to scare the shit out of lonely travelers by hiding nearby and letting out a bloodcurdling scream. Ever wonder where we get the word "panic?" Now you know.
  • Similar to Pan is the skinwalker of Navajo folklore. It initially freaks out it's victim with two loud whistling noises that can be heard for miles. Its "speech" sounds like a distorted voice or animal call.
  • A number of youkai are know to torment travelers by making sudden and terrifying noises, like the kerakera onna (a giant, ghostly woman who haunts brothel patrons with an Evil Laugh only her victim can hear).

Alternative Title(s): Most Terrifying Sound, Hell Is That Sound