An eerie shadow moves across the hallway behind a character, or maybe the Not Quite Dead villain's eyes suddenly snap open. Whatever the case, it's a quiet event that's supposed to be shocking, but if the visual cue doesn't spook the audience, then the obligatory Scare Chord will do the trick.
A cousin to the Sting, the scare chord is a sudden, sharp sforzando of noise (musically based or not) intended to make viewers jump clean out of their seats. The thing that separates it from a Cat Scare is the fact that nothing onscreen causes the noise; it's added into the soundtrack as a way to guarantee the desired reaction. They are often preceded by a deliberate lull in the action of a scene or the music of a soundtrack.
Oh yeah; most people absolutely hate them, especially when they show up unexpectedly outside a horror film and make most viewers want to shout back: "Dammit, movie; don't do that!"
(Music Theory Nerdiness: Actually, the reason these are so prone to becoming cliches is that the chord most frequently used in such a case - the diminished 7th - has only 3 different ways of playing it. If you play it on C, it sounds exactly the same as on E flat, G flat and B double flat. That's just how they work. So it's a very easily recognizable sound.)
Perhaps the most common accompaniment to a Jump Scare, even more than a loud scream nowadays.
Often part of the Screamer Trailer.
Compare and contrast Last Note Nightmare.
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Played for Laughs in that series of "scary" Verizon ads (i.e., "Towels are kinda scratchy!").
Referenced in this ad for bloody handprint shower curtains and bloody footprint bathmats on ThinkGeek
Not to mention the original Umineko no Naku Koro ni sound novels, where these techniques are used QUITE liberally. The first one happens when the victims of the first twilight are found in the garden shed, their face smashed. Thou shalt shit your pants.
Also noteworthy is that the original novels of the When They Cry novels has almost perfected the act of causing the same effect as the Scare Chord without using music at all just by suddenly shutting off all sounds. This effect is quite nervewracking since it can come out of nowhere and it is always a sign that something very bad will happen.
Lucky Star used a Scare Chord in only one episode, which nevertheless made it to the released soundtrack with a title of "Gyaaaaaaaaa".
One episode of Ghost Hunt had Mai psychically experiencing the kidnapping and murder of another character. She couldn't scream, so somebody's violin screamed for her, and very convincingly.
"Draw a circle, that's the Earth, looking closely... KOLKOLKOL"
With the third Marukaite Chikyuu being said in possibly the scariest tone known to man.
Death Note has Domine Kira (Ominous Latin Chantingscreams KIRA!) that plays whenever something big is going down (i.e. whenever plot-important characters are DOOMED). There's also a really sneaky nasty one in the second OVA movie Relight: 2 that crescendos up from nowhere and is accompanied by a psychotic Nightmare Sequence. Mommy, I'm scared.
Klarion the Witch Boy briefly added one in his name ("Klarion... bum bum BUM... the Witch Boy!"), and insisted that others addressing him use it as well. Since they were basically saying "bum bum BUM" (presumably with tonal changes) it didn't really do much for him.
Films — Animated
Strangely enough, used quite a bit in the soundtrack for How to Train Your Dragon. Be prepared to jump out of your seat a lot.
In an interesting twist, a scare chord is used to start off one of the score's most popular and heartwarming tracks.
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit puts a lampshade (... windowshade?) over his in a scene where thunder and lightning clashes whenever the characters say the word, "BULLET!" Annoyed, Lord Victor slams down the nearby windowshade, which stops the entire effect.
With the exception of A Grand Day Out, all of the shorts and The Movie have music in their title sequences which end on a Scare Chord.
Wreck-It Ralph: similarly to the Logo Joke seen (or rather, heard) in Alien3, the final note of the first part of "Out Of The Penthouse, Off To The Race" is held in an intense crescendo; the scene in which that part plays is when Ralph notices Vanellope's artwork on the side of the game console, a realization that shows part of the movie's big twist and kicks off the obligatory Misfit Mobilization Moment.
The first Spider-Man movie had a scene where Norman Osborn has a quick, half-second flashback to his transformation into the Green Goblin, accompanied by a jarring and extremely loud scare chord.
The Amazing Spider-Man has four of them in one scene, when Gwen is hiding from the Lizard. The first are in relatively quick succession of each other, followed by a long silence, making the viewer think that was all of them. Then the final and loudest one is when he suddenly appears in front of her.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street dropped a lot of the scare chords from the stage version, but left in the overpowering Scare Chord when the Beggar Woman is wandering in the shop - and Sweeney suddenly appears in the doorway, silhouetted.
Even louder, in the Final Sequence, when Sweeney kills the Judge.
Saw does this a lot. The first movie has an especially obnoxious one when Adam looks at the photo of Lawrence's family held hostage.
In The Exorcist III there is a long shot down a hall in an asylum. Nothing special is going on, the night guard is getting off his shift and a nurse is delivering medicine. As the nurse turns down a hall, the camera suddenly jumps to her end of the hall, and that is when somebody wrapped in white linen and wielding a large knife and a "scare chord symphony" comes from the other side of the hall with the blade raised high. After a mili-second of that, the scene finishs on a shot of a clean white headless Jesus statue.
It doesn't help that they draaaag the scene out, feinting at least three times, before it actually happens.
Every time James Bond hits the tarantula with his gun in Dr. No, there's a scare chord. The first time it just seems a little cheesy, but after that the scene starts to be funny.
Drag Me to Hell uses this to a ridiculous degree. Even a drifting handkerchief that suddenly lands on a car's windshield makes a VERY LOUD Scare Chord. The people in the last row of the theater probably died of laughter after seeing everyone jump out of their seats during the séance scene when a demon's head suddenly zooms at the audience SCREAMING with a fire background..
I Am Legend does a similar thing with sound effects: Will Smith discussing Bob Marley. Then a nasty window-closing sound comes in, 1 to 3 seconds before the window is shown. And it's just before a tense sequence (his house being invaded).
Used frequently in Aliens, most effectively in the scene when Hicks pokes his head up into the ceiling, and sees several aliens crawling upside-down towards him.
Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein has fun with this trope as a horror movie convention, using a horse's neigh as a scare chord every time the name "Frau Blucher" is mentioned. Finally the hunchbacked assistant (Marty Feldman) starts saying the name just to set off the horses.
The Howling plays with this as well; in one scene there's a tracking shot with a sudden Scare Chord - at which point nothing happens, and then a scene or two later a character searching a file cabinet in a darkened office has a monster stand up behind her in total silence - wonderfully jarring.
In the Disney film Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, It has the most scariest scene when we see the true form of the main villain named "Judge Doom"(With his burning red eyes and a high-pitched voice). And he remarks to Inspector Eddie Valiant "Remember Me, Eddie? When I killed your twin brother, I talked.... JUST! LIKE! THIS!"
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. After the children and parents board the Wonkatania, it is rowed along the chocolate river, and then goes through what seems to be a tunnel straight to hell, all the passengers are treated to extremely fast speeds, a range of horrific images, and then Willy Wonka reciting a poem that would make Edgar Allan Poe shit his pants. Cue the Scare Chord at the words: "Is the grizzly reaper mowing?". However, it is low-pitched, and drawn out.
The 2009 film adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray. First time we see the portrait in all its ugliness, it's not really that bad... Until the thing gasps horrifically and some petrifying music makes you fall back from your chair. Damn.
The Joker's chord in The Dark Knight. Chilling and ratchets up the tension. About the only time two notes have been considered Oscar worthy.
In Inception, when Ariadne is looking into Cobb's dream and sees Mal in the hotel room. Mal suddenly looks up at her, and BAM! Out of your seat!
A scare chord accompanies some of would-be Presidential assassin Mitch Leary's appearances in In the Line of Fire.
A good example is in the first Terminator film, right after Kyle's Heroic Sacrifice, Blowing up the Terminator using the last pipe bomb. When Sarah goes over to Kyle's dead body you can see a large chunk of the Terminator move slightly, then WHAM! right as it sits up and starts to chase her once again, barely moving using its only other arm.
Whenever the happy, cheery Munchkin music in The Wizard of Oz starts to get more dissonant and chaotic, you know something bad is going to happen soon.
There is one near the beginning of Gravity. After their space shuttle is badly damaged, the two main characters inspect inside for survivors. They shine a flashlight inside to see that the hull has been breached. There is silence for several seconds, until the lifeless, frozen face of a female astronaut, not in a space suit and exposed to the vacuum, appears right in front of Sandra Bullock's character. Bullock screams, accompanied by a loud, prolonged glissando and tremelo of violins.
Nobody expects the jarring chord of the Spanish Inquisition! Its chief weapon is surprise; surprise and loudness!... Loudness and surprise, two weapons; its two weapons are loudness, and surprise, and its shock value... Its three weapons, are loudness, and surprise, and shock value, and being a Subverted Trope due to the harmlessness of the inquisition... Damn. Amongst its weapons... It's not very scary any more, is it?
Also used, or abused, in the "Science Fiction Sketch", following such lines as, "He was not so much a man... as a blancmange!"
LOST uses this from time to time, although the preceding (both short-term and long-term!) suspense is more unbearable, naturally. One example is in the season 4 premier episode "The Beginning of the End", while Hurley is peeping into a cabin window: an EYE closeup abruptly comes into view.
Parodied in an episode of Family Matters where Carl had a dream in the style of an old Western movie. After each Scare Chord, everybody in the saloon looked around to try and find where the chord came from.
Steve Urkel: Let's form a posse and track down that dang orchestra!
Also parodied in an episode of Roseanne where the Connors were dealing with taxes and the IRS. A Scare Chord sounded every time someone said the word "audit", prompting everyone to look for the source of the chord.
Roseanne: "I think we need to get out of this house!"
In the Star Trek original series episode "Court Martial", the prosecuting attorney badgers McCoy into admitting, "Yes, it's possible" — whereupon we get one of the series's trademark overly-dramatic musical stings.
Sonny With A Chance uses the scare chord twice in one episode. The first time, it was Zora playing it on a violin to scare Tawni and Sonny. The second time it happens, Sonny tells Zora to stop it, only to reveal that it wasn't Zora. Tawni and Sonny look around the room in confusion and fright.
The classic series made use of electronic music more prominently than the revived series, resulting in many Hell Is That Noise moments. One of the most famous times this happened is right there in the very second story, which introduces the Daleks (as if that won't be obvious enough). The reveal of the Doctor's new nemeses is accompanied by sliding, metallic walls of sound, and a high-pitched electronic screech.
Used pretty effectively and often enough on Fringe.
The Paramount "closet killer" Vanity Plate features, as its nickname suggests, a trumpet scare chord sounding like something out of a Slasher Movie.
Often parodied in Blackadder. For example in season 3 episode "Nob & Nobility", where the guest star expects to find a party, but instead stumbles on an empty dungeon. "Don't worry! In a minute we will hear the sound of music and happy laughter!" Cue Scare Chord and Evil Laugh.
Parodied in the slasher movie-themed episode of Boy Meets World. Everytime one of the characters makes a dramatic and scary statement Eric goes "Duh! Duh! Duh!" in imitation of a scare chord. The other characters get annoyed after he does this several times and they get him to stop.
The Twilight Zone episode "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" has one when the man decides to open the curtains, revealing the Gremlin's face right up against the window.
Parodied in one episode of Pee-Wee's Playhouse. Several of Pee-wee's kept turning up missing, and every time, Pee-wee would exclaim "It's a mystery!" It would then cut to a creepy looking organist playing a scary chord. At one point, the organist missed a cue and Pee-wee had to repeat the line. Finally, at the end of the episode, Pee-wee turned to the organist and asked, "By the way, who are you?"
The opening chord to the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night" can be shocking to those who aren't expecting it.
Cirque du Soleil's LOVE takes full advantage of this in its opening sequence, thanks to Sir George and Giles Martin's clever remixing: after the opening procession set to "Because", the famous last chord of "A Day in the Life" is played backwards, which means it gets louder and louder (and the theatre gets darker), and then...BAM. All they need is that chord, and then it's off to "Get Back"...
The Beatles' album Abbey Road "finishes" with the gentle fade-out of strings that concludes the song "The End". Approximately fourteen seconds later, the short hidden track "Her Majesty" jumps in with a loud chord (originally the final note of "Mean Mr Mustard") which is out of place with the rest of the song.
Also on Abbey Road, the song "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" concludes with the precise opposite of a scare chord - an abrupt silence in the middle of a bar, after a long period of hypnotic repetition. The sudden absence of sound is just as startling.
The famous piano chord at the end of "A Day in the Life" might function as this for anyone who hasn't heard the song.
Halloween by Aqua, since the song is sort of a homage to old horror films.
You Don't Love Me Anymore, by "Weird Al" Yankovic, does a variant of this. After the song, the track continues for a good ten minutes, silently, until a sudden 8-second burst of screaming and what sounds like a chainsaw. Apparently this was supposed to scare people that left the CD playing.
It's also a parody of some similar randomness from Nirvana's Nevermind album, "Endless, Nameless".
Scissor Sisters' first album contains an unnamed track between the CD bonus tracks, which encourages the listener to either start the album from the beginning, or to keep the disc playing after a (fairly creepy) soundclip of people screaming to hear the bonus content.
Julee Cruise's "Into The Night" is a languidly paced haunting ballad (as used to eerie effect in Twin Peaks) - then about 3 and a half minutes in, there's a slowly rising backwards cymbal, followed by 5 rapidly played ominous notes that are much louder and more high pitched than the rest of the song. Not quite a Last Note Nightmare though, as the song then goes on for another minute or so as though nothing ever happened.
The ending of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells (the original 1973 mix or the 2009 5.1 remix, but not the 1976 remix on Boxed) does this; the "caveman" passage segues into a very quiet and soothing guitar/organ segment and then suddenly, without warning, the Sailors' Hornpipe drastically ups both the tempo and the volume.
The point thirteen and a half minutes into Part 1, where a long, mellow Hawaiian-guitar-like sequence is interrupted by a horrible, raspy guitar. And, of course, the sinister voice of Vivian Stanshall appearing out of nowhere to speak the words "Grand piano" after 20 minutes of pure instrumental.
Oldfield's later work Amarok is absolutely full of these, including a section where some light African chanting is punctuated by scare chord stabs and a sampled voice saying "Happy?" in increasingly processed and chopped-up ways. Supposedly, his falling out with Virgin Records prompted him to produce an album that Virgin couldn't possibly lift a 3-minute single from, as every theme in the piece would inevitably move on faster than this, or be subjected to these bizarre interruptions.
The Doors' 18 minute odyssey Celebration of the Lizard has Jim yell "WAKE UP!!!" after a few silent seconds somewhere in the second or third minute.
Can also apply to the beginning of "The Soft Parade" if you're not familiar with the song... YOU CANNOT PETITION THE LORD WITH PRAYER!!
There's a pretty dissonant scare chord at the beginning of Depeche Mode's "Love In Itself."
Pink Floyd's "Sysyphus", from their album Ummagumma; eerily calm ambient music, accompanied by the sound of a babbling brook, then suddenly DUNNNNNNNNN!!! Then back to ambience, as you go change your underwear.
Speaking of Ummagumma, try fantastic "Careful With That Axe, Eugene". Starts with very eerie, calm sounds, yet it constantly grows into something unknown, something strange, making you shiver... Even though Roger Waters warns you (in a way), you can't help with your reaction to first hearing second part of the song.
The intro to song opener "In The Flesh?" from The Wall, coming out of nowhere out of a gentle brass/accordion melody.
Coheed and Cambria pull this one a number of times throughout their albums, most notably at the end "Three Evils (Embodied in Love and Shadow)" — the sound of rain and a vaguely creepy piano are punctuated by sobbing and an absolutely terrifying scream.
The beginning synth-organ chord to Def Leppard's "Rock! Rock! Till You Drop", from Pyromania, can be startling.
Paul Hardcastle's "19" used this a lot.
"Sensual Impressions" by the German group Joy Unlimited is basically an extended flute solo with pianissimo organ/cymbal backing, save for two instances of fortissimo "scare chords" which are TERRIFYING when listening to the piece for the first time.
The freaky synth-squawk at the end of Todd Rundgren's "Golden Goose" probably applies here, too.
The post-drum duet jam from The Grateful Dead's The Closing of Winterland concert has a Scare Thunderclap, which is very jarring if the sound is turned up.
Who could forget Krzysztof Penderecki's Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima? The entire song is a scare chord mashup, and parts of it were even used in one of The Shining movies. Most of Penderecki's other early symphonic works are similarly atonal and scary.
Elbow does this with a blast of trumpets and percussion that repeats several times in "Starlings", an otherwise quiet song. It's more of an awestruck sens of surprise than a scare, though.
The last chord of Gustav Mahler's Das Klagende Lied, which thus doubles as a Last Note Nightmare. Mahler must have liked the effect, because he did it again in his sixth symphony.
In Mahler's 2nd Symphony, the opening chord of the last (5th) movement. Nicknamed the "Resurrection" Symphony, the work was intended by Mahler to initially portray states of despair and happiness here on earth, followed, in the last movement, by a portrayal of the resurrection into the afterlife. The 4th movement illustrates the longing for relief from earthly woes, and ends quietly. This mood is rudely interrupted by a shrieking, dissonant chord in the whole orchestra at the very opening of the last movement. This has sometimes been described (including by its composer) as portraying the state of the damned after death, although, as the symphony progresses towards its triumphant ending, this portrayal of the damned is shown to have apparently been only an illusion believed in by people while still on earth. All ends in peace and love, and all humanity is included in that.
Charles Ives in the second movement of his Fourth Symphony, which has several unexpected outbursts from the brass section and one particularly huge one near the end; this circus march portion then cuts off rather abruptly.
Venetian Snares' "Szamár Madár" has quite the horrifying number of scare chords at the beginning of their piece. This troper guarantees you'll jump at least once if you listen to it in a dark room in complete silence. Can be found HERE
The climax of Fantômas' 'Delěrium Cňrdia'... for a whole minute.
Waking The Witch by Kate Bush does this. It starts off with around 80 seconds of quiet, relaxing piano music and ambient noise, with lots of reassuring voices urging the listener to wake up. Except for the last, who exclaims "look who's here to see you!". It's never explained what it is that's paying a visit, but it most certainly sounds terrifying. Then, after you've gotten over the initial shock of the music crashing in, a terrifying demonic voice shouts at you, just to make sure you've completely evacuated your bowels.
For whatever reason, the CD mix sucks a lot of the life from the song, merely making it sound a bit strange. While it's still shocking and unexpected, to really get the full effect you have to listen to the mix on the original vinyl run.
Black Sabbath do a rather impressive one on their self-titled song off their self-titled album. After a 1-minute jam session, the song ends. No less than 3 seconds, you're treated to a sudden blast of sound. Shouldn't be surprising considering it's the first "official" Heavy Metal album.
There's a really effective one at the end of Alice Cooper's Da Da album. It seems like a regular ol' fadeout and when the song is almost gone.. BOOM. Got me more than once.
Klaus Schulze's "Bayreuth Return" abruptly ends with a white noise blast.
Vernian Process's single Something Wicked (That Way Went) contains a scare chord at the beginning of the second verse (as well as creepy laughter at the end of the song).
In Bach's St. Matthew Passion, the movement "So ist mein Jesus nun gefangen" starts out as a peaceful duet, only with very startling and unexpected interjections of "Laßt ihn, haltet, bindet nicht!" (Leave Him, stop, don't bind Him!). This happens several times in the duet, before it turns into a chorus filled with Ominous German Chanting.
The very last movement of Handel's Messiah oratorio, "Worthy is the Lamb", contains a moderately long and soft instrumental part in the middle of the movement's famous "Amens". At the end of the instrumental, the chorus abruptly starts singing "Amen" again; this can be startling to even those familiar with the work.
Deathspell Omega, quite atypically for a Black Metal band, have a chant section in their song "Carnal Malefactor" (frequently mistakenly assumed to be Gregorian chant, it's actually in Old Church Slavonic). What qualifies the song for this trope is that immediately after the chant's conclusion (before it's even finished echoing, in fact), they go straight back into blasting black metal, and if you're not prepared for it, it is terrifying.
Bruce Springsteen's "State Trooper" contains at least two of these near the end of the song.
Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons uses this every week in the opening where Captain Black appears, and often repeats at various intervals in the story to denote the appearance of a Mysteron agent.
The first episode of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy ended with the Vogon commander threatening Arthur and Ford with either being Thrown Out the Airlock or (dramatic chord)having to appreciate his poetry. This sequence was repeated at the beginning of the second episode, where the sound cue in the script read "DRAMATIC CHORD (SHRUBBERY)." The actual chord used in the recording of the first episode is a snippet of Ligeti's Volumina, an organ piece which amounts to a lengthy discordant scare chord.
In the final minute of The Consul, Magda is rudely awakened from her Dying Dream by the telephone ringing, and each ring is followed by a discordant slam which is the pianistic equivalent of Symbol Swearing (though only loud in comparison to the preceding diminuendo). There is also a nasty chord at the climax of the Act II Nightmare Sequence.
Also notable are the ear-piercing factory whistles used to punctuate various dramatic moments.
The shrill, piercing factory whistle in Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is first used to make the audience jump and shut up in time for the opening number. Every subsequent use of the thing gets more and more hardcore - Sweeney's first kill, for instance - until the final use of the factory whistle coincides with Toby killing the main character in the world's creepiest Freak Out. Yeah, you're still going to jump when you hear it on the soundtrack later.
Stephen Sondheim was conscious of this trope, and wrote what amounted to miniature scare chords into the Overture and main theme of the score. They were tiny crescendos every two measures. The audience automatically expected something to happen during these crescendos, and the fact that nothing happened added to the suspense already present.
Victoria: An Empire Under The Sun just knows how to play this trope. The distinctive sound that comes with a declaration of war is by far the loudest and terrifying one. It doesn't help either when the full message reads "Sir, the rotten swines in GERMANY have declared WAR upon US".
The original Alone in the Dark trilogy used a classic string tritone hit to good effect.
Tomb Raider III makes frequent use of these, and they're extremely effective. At some points, such as in the Expansion Pack, Tomb Raider: The Lost Artifact, it uses the scare chord for no reason at all. Damnit!
Illbleed had every single trap, even the deactivated ones, prefaced by a classic scare chord. The upside to this is that people who've played this game tend not to jump nearly as high whenever a movie tries to pull one on them.
* Violin screech* (+ 30 Adreneline) "Cool!"
Minecraft's cave noises have this in spades! Your walking around in a dark cave, when suddenly, "WHOOOOooooooooooo!"
Being spotted in the Metal Gear Solid games results in an iconic sound best described as '!'.
Being seen in Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell triggers a sudden Scare Chord. The first level from the first game, for example, uses a strong, sudden piano note.
Resident Evil 3: Nemesis first signals the approach of the Implacable Man Nemesis with a piece composed of low tritone string chords, then when he enters the room, the music elevates to a scare chord crescendo. Horror, along with his demonic growl of "STARS", which you sometimes hear before he enters.
Resident Evil 2 had at least two scare themes in the various scenes where zombies broke in through the windows or doors. There was also a big choral scare chord played at the beginning of the Final Boss battle of each scenario, especially disturbing with the One-Winged Angel forms William has taken on.
Another scare chord was played during the appearances of Mr. X in the second scenario.
A secondary character hands the player a key before locking himself into another room. Finding a way into that other room triggers a cutscene with the above-mentioned scare theme playing as he slowly transforms into a zombie.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted and Carbon play a Scare Chord to a camera pan every time you're spotted by a squad car.
Sort of happens in NFS II and III with the Variable Mix music when crashing your car before resuming the previous section of music it was playing.
Heavy Rain: A symphony of high instruments play at some points when Norman starts to suffer from the effects of Triptocaine. It's also included in Norman Jayden's main theme.
Gears of War does this in the PC version when a wretch runs past a door, and it's a very loud one too.
The Xbox 360 version does this, too. Several times. Whether it's finding people on meat hooks in the prison, seeing a wretch, or kicking open a door only to have a handful of krill escape into the night, they really like to use this...
Silent Hill 1 has a Scare Leitmotif, heard in the first encounter with an Air Screamer and in the scene where you have to save Dr. Kauffman from a Romper.
Certain rooms in the otherworld hospital serve little purpose other than to scare the hell out of you with a loud crashing or banging noise as you turn to exit, often accompanied by possessed nurses appearing just outside the door.
X-COM: Terror From The Deep had quiet, eerie tension music that suited its deepsea enviroment, until DAH!DAH! Agh! [Panicked search for aliens who are still hidden.] These scares had nothing to do with events; they just jerked you out of your seat.
The first time you get a good, up close look at a Hunter in Half-Life 2 Episode 2'' you know, where you turn around AND IT'S WATCHING YOU THROUGH THE WINDOW NEXT TO YOU! a scare chord goes off. It's actually the Hunter bellowing a war-cry of sorts, but it's to the same effect. To make things worse, it then guts the Love Interest in front of you and buries you under rubble. Hunters = best enemy ever.
In Episode One, in the first of the tunnel sections with several Zombines with them, a loud, grating chord is played which sounds just like distorted Combine "death beeps"... it's actually a context-activated piece of music, like all the others in Half-Life 2, but just as effective.
And in the original Half-Life 2, after the beach section of Sandtraps, there's a nice Scare Chord when the Antlion Guard rises from the sand right in your face.
Exact same thing happens when you down the hunter chopper at the end of Water Hazard.
In Half-Life, the same chord played when you killed the Gargantua with the generators in the level "Power Up"
Monster Hunter plays a scare chord whenever you are spotted by a large monster, or if you dropped an egg or a valuable rock.
Star Trek: Elite Force 2 is riddled with these, every time an enemy comes at you, or you die by, well, anything.
The song "Devils, Monsters" from the Halo: Combat Evolved soundtrack, aka the Flood theme, seems to be made up entirely of scare chords.
Two more scarechord and Psycho Strings based pieces, also associated with terror or the Flood are "Shadows" (prominently heard at the beginning of Two Betrayals when Cortana tells MC about what Halo really does) and "Ancient Machine".
Then there's that sound that sounds like a rusty metal trapdoor that appears in several soundtrack pieces, eg "Shudder" and "Guilt and Punishment".
During the cutscene right before encountering the Flood, a scare chord is played when MC opens the door and a Peek-A-Boo Corpse falls out. It is heard on the OST in "Lament for Pvt. Jenkins". The same chord plays if Capt. Keyes is killed during his Escort Mission.
After an ominous choral and Psycho Strings build-up, a scare chord plays when the Arbiter kills Truth.
Several tracks from the EverQuest II sountrack, such as Nektulos Forest, seem almost entirely composed of scare chords or rapid string notes. A scare chord which signaled a player character had broken from combat and is attempting to flee has been removed.
So you're playing Bioshock, and you've just beaten the second boss. The game has changed level, and you're happily walking down a narrow pathway with no enemies in sight. With no warning whatsoever, you have a very sudden vision of three pictures with a Scare Chord (in this case a scream) along with it. Managed not to jump up and yelp like a little girl? No? You're not alone.
F.E.A.R. makes heavy use of the Scare Chord in conjunction with sudden appearances by Alma or Replica attacks. Or sometimes just for false scares.
On the level with the automated gun turrets, a certain scare chord plays when a turret activates.
Players of the series have also noticed the major flaw in a Scare Chord. In the first (and scariest) game, the chord was a subtle, creepy little ringing sound. Later games had much sharper, louder scare chords... which often did more to ruin the suspenseful atmosphere than make anything scary.
How can you mention Zelda without mentioning the ReDead? You're wandering around in a dark temple, or below a scary well or tomb, minding your own innocent business...then suddenly, a terrifying mutilated scream sounds and before you can even spin around to see the source, BOOM, you're frozen in the paralyzing fear as the ReDead shambles toward you...
In Resident Evil 4, in the kitchen section of the last chapter, the music is silent for several seconds before a disquieting piano chord.
In Chapter 4-1, scare chords are used when Verdugo is stalking you right before you fight it.
The NES adaptation of Friday The 13th plays a scare chord whenever Jason appears, or when he kills one of the children.
The Commodore 64 game is even worse, with the scare chord being a blood-curdling scream combined with a scary image, such as an axe in someone's head. These come up whenever someone is killed. It doesn't help that the music playing the rest of the time is calmingnursery rhyme music.
Dead Space practically runs off this trope. It's both used straight and played with - At times, you'll hear what sounds like a scare chord, bring up your weapon and frantically look around the room for something to shoot, only to find that the noise was made by something completely harmless, like a sprinkler system starting up. Other times, you hear one right before you get your head clawed off, so... Yeah.
Metroid Prime had an EXTREMELY effective one whenever the the Chozo ghosts appear.
Then, we have Mother Brain from Super Metroid, whose entire theme is essentially one long Scare Chord.
One of these, appropriately titled "Shock", shows up in Super Mario RPG, when Mallow finds out he isn't a tadpole.
At times in Condemned 2: Bloodshot, fights will be accompanied by a scare chord every time you or an enemy takes a hit or blocks, along with a long violin screech when an enemy dies. This happens only in certain fights, but the enemies are not at all different from the others.
There's another one besides the infamous DUN DUN, the odd horn whenever a nastier thing such as cholera or an infection occurs.
A later version had different banjo riffs associated with different events. The one for your axle breaking sounded like someone had ripped the strings right off the banjo.
Left 4 Dead is chockful of musical cues, some subtle and some not, depending on what enemies are nearby or attacking your friends. Or you.
La-Mulana plays one if you trigger a trap. Also, the HD version of "Wonder of the Wonder" starts with a shriek.
Mewtwo and Arceus both have pretty unnerving cries in the otherwise (fairly) innocent Pokémon games. Arceus compounds this by having a musical theme consisting almost entirely of drums and shrill trumpets.
Black/White Kyurem's battle theme starts off with one.
Pokémon Conquest throws this at you when you fail a story mission. Not looking at your DS will definitely leave you with a "WHAT HAPPENED?" look on your face.
Resistance sometimes does this in the middle of perfectly peaceful places, just to keep you on your toes.
Clock Tower: The First Fear does this every time Bobby attacks, as well as a few other scenes. It's especially effective because there is (typically) NO music when he isn't there.
The scraping, shrieking noise that Husk spikes make in Mass Effect 1. Worse, the newly spawned Husk will usually charge straight at you, gibbering and screaming the whole way.
When Kazuya Mishima is holding his grandfather, reminiscing about the old times when he used to train with him, it seems like a sweet scene. The musical cue that accompanies his evil smile and glowing red eye just before he kills Jinpachi is the classic stinger chord and interrupts this out of nowhere. The way the scene is set up lends itself to this, as when Kazuya picks up Jinpachi, he's facing the right side, thus his left eye (the one that glows) is unseen. When he smirks, the viewer is given an full-on headshot, and then as he looks over his shoulder afterward, his evil eye is the only one visible.
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind does this to a lesser extent, the ambient background music will change from "exploration" themes to a random "battle" theme once the wandering player is attacked. The exploration themes are typically quite and soothing while various battle themes will start with a loud drumbeat or trumpet blast. This can be quite surprising and startling when the player is already fairly tense, or concentrated on something else.
In the horror The Suffering, in addition to scripted scares, you get sudden, short and completely random flashes of scary images accompanied by a high-pitched scare chord. It happens frequently in the later parts of the game. The result is that you are afraid even if you are backtracking or just standing on a spot with your character.
Turok 2: The Mantid Hive music has a lot of scare chords in it.
Higurashi no Naku Koro ni does this even better. Especially when a sentence stops midway for a second, and when the shocking part is said, SCARE CHORD! If the text itself isn't enough to make you go 'oh shit', then the scare chord is the push that WILL make you go 'oh shit!'
The Sims has a Scare Chord whenever something bad shows up, usually a robber but also for things like a raccoon showing up.
Even worse is when the sound appears to play for no apparent reason. No raccoon, no burglar, nothing. You frantically pan around a darkened house where everyone is asleep, and nothing is out of place. Much worse.
Fatal Frame is an example of the scare chord done right: very loud and dramatic chords are extremely rare; most of them are minor background noise. This makes the games a lot scarier, as it alerts the player that something is happening, but doesn't break the suspense.
In the Edutainment game Dr. Healthenstein's Body Fun, there are three two instances where the character you play will visit the Imp's cave. He represents all the bad habits one can have as far as drug use (smoking, drinking and dope), and to avoid having your character lose points on their health scale you have to answer a question that is usually about "what do you do if so-and-so happens", where only the best answer counts. Get a question right and you get a soft "ta-daaa!" sound while your character avoids actually doing whatever bad habit was thrown at you. Get it wrong, and you not only hear the loud sound of someone slamming two handfuls of keys on an organ blaring in your ears, but it's also followed by the creepiest gif image of the imp overlapping the number choice you picked popping up suddenly that will give ten year olds a good freak-out, which is exactly the age group the game was aimed for. Since the game is aimed for kids, the questions are fairly easy and older players or ones equally good at knowing what kids are expected to do in these scenarios can very well go through the game without ever hearing the dreaded organs. However, there is one particular question where your answer may be right to you but wrong to the game. Hmm... So my parents might be getting a divorce. Should I try to see how I can solve this the calmest way possible or just sit it out, "accept" the problem and act as if it is never there or it will never change no matter what I do? According to the game, you have to accept it and do nothing.
The original Police Quest had a "dun dun da dun" stinger when something bad was about to happen, which would sometimes mean Sonny being killed ("bang bang", :dies:). Open Season played a Psycho Strings and piano scare chord when you found the dead body in the dumpster, and for other disturbing scenes (eg, the severed head in the refrigerator).
A scare chord begins to play whenever you trick-or-treat at a house in Costume Quest. It ends either happily or frighteningly, depending on whether an adult or a monster opens the door.
Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door had this, accompanied with camera zoom abuse, on a couple occasions, including when you first see Flurrie in a cutscene and she flips out at being unable to find her necklace and when you first meet Ghost T. and he asks for your soul. He's just kidding, though.
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon 2. had the dimensional scream. The first you get it, you hear a high-pitch noise as you pass out. If that wasn't scary enough, the 'H-H-Help!' that accompanied it made it so.
Assassin's Creed: Revelations has a scare chord play during a Templar stalker attack. Foreshadowed only by creepy whispers, the scare chord coupled with a completely random attack by what you thought was an ordinary citizen makes a stalker attack absolutely terrifying.
The Action 52 game Non Human had loud dissonant chords that accompanied the entrance of one type of enemy which may have been intended to look scary but is actually easily dispatched.
Fable II has the winter lodge area, which first appears as a pleasant lodge. Upon entering, the entire level smash cuts to a burned out version of the same location with an accompanying scare chord.
Get a game over in Dragon's Lair and your reward for failing will be an image of Dirk decaying into a skeleton accompanied by a very effective organ chord.
The Slender Man Mythos-themed indie horror game Slender has a rather startling one play any time you turn around and find that Slendy's just a bit too close to you... This noise also means that your running speed is boosted for about ten seconds due to your character having been spooked so badly. Most Wonderful Sound, or Hell Is That Noise? You decide...
A favorite tactic in RPG Maker classics such as The Witchs House and Ao Oni has a short track play as the monsters try and kill you.
Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter has a ringing scare chord signalling enemy ambushes.
Used in Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas when enemies detect you, and again when the area is cleared. Sometimes in the latter, scary stings are randomly heard out in the wasteland for no particular reason.
The latter game also has a short sound clip that ED-E plays whenever he discovers an enemy while he's your companion that serves the same purpose. Combined with the massive boost to Perception he gives you, and you will never be surprised by an enemy again - just mildly annoyed.
Every enemy in Metro 2033 has a distinctive audio cue, each of which is heard before an encounter.
Lurkers make a very high-pitched which can often be heard near pipes. Only around 50% of the time, will one actually turn up. Another sound: the wet, squelching sound you can hear where one is nearby... and feasting on a corpse.
Nosalises growl like dogs, and roar like lions. Like the lurker, sometimes done simply to spook you, at other times it's done to herald an impending attack.
Watchers make a wolf-like howl. Hearing one is always the precursor to an enormous horde of them turning up.
Librarians make a low-pitched growl. Along with Nosalises, they have a disturbing roar, but even more unsettling is their low, heavy breathing, which can be heard all around the Library.
Giant Amoebas make a plopping sound, which is not scary except for the fact it signifies a Giant Amoeba is nearby...
The Dark Ones have hissing, rattling voices.
The flapping of wings and shuddering roars of an incoming Demon.
The squelching noise of Spiderbugs emerging from their nests, followed by their clicking mandibles when they move in to attack.
Amphibian Shrimps only let out their sharp, hissing roar just before they swing their claws to attack. Since they generally just wander around, and don't always notice Artyom, it's particularly disconcerting. They are perfectly capable of walking past without attacking... only roaring once they're in attack animation.
Alien vs. Predator Game examples: The motion sensor in the Marine campaign. In the remake, they also use the Scare Chord from the movies whenever xenomorphs appear in the Marine Campaign.
It doesn't help that near the end of the Perseus Mandate you have to go through an area where all the automatic doors produce a sound similar to the cackle/laugh that was the only hint those near invisible shades gave you before attacking.
Max Payne: The sharp clack... clack of a grenade bouncing on the ground. Scripted sequences often involved fleeing enemies suddenly tossing them through doors or down flights of stairs, and they are often difficult to see. Once you hear that sound, you've got about a second or two to haul ass, or you're toast.
Castle Wolfenstein: The original version had the random chance of an SS officer shouting "SS" in computerized Mockingboard speech and appearing out of nowhere behind you. Back then it would scare the bejeebies out of you.
Every Track in the OST of Baroque's remake contains the noise one of the enemies on those floors will make. They make this noise only when you can't see them.
Hatoful Boyfriend, in the BBL route, has the faint creaking sound that presages an appearance by Labor 9. The characters think they'll be able to hear it coming and avoid it. They don't imagine that it could be lying in wait.
In Battlefield: Bad Company 2 - Buildings can collapse. While you are in it. They possess a distinctive creaking sound prior to that happening,giving you a chance to sprint out of the building. Better try it, no matter how many people are firing at you at the moment.
In Penumbra, a tone plays whenever monsters are nearby.
You can hear most monsters before you see them. The low, demonic growl of a rabid dog, or the shuffling of a spider getting closer...
The Dragon Quest series has a Scare Chord that plays when you don a cursed item that can scare the pants off of an unsuspecting player, especially when it's their first time equipping a cursed piece of equipment.
You'll also hear that tune in the NES games if one of your save files gets erased.
You wouldn't think that an infant would ever be able to utter one of these, but this game accomplishes it. The game is game already known for being one of the most horrific experiences ever created (by the few who have heard of it) and it has this gem: if you kill an innocent person, you get treated to the disturbing sound of a baby crying. The fact that this means your Karma Meter just took a hit (in a game where keeping it high is problematic and very, very important) doesn't help matters. The sound that plays if you kill an evil person (a boy laughing maniacally and applauding) is arguably even worse.
There's also the sound effect that plays when you're infected. It sounds like a distorted, drawn-out sound of glass screeching and then shattering, all while freaky whispers that sound like they're played backwards assault your ears. It doesn't help that infection level is one of the hardest meters to manage, so this will quickly evoke feelings of dread from players due to gameplay reasons as well.
Stalker: The bloodsucker. It is preceded by a weird shriek when the beast spots a prey and grows louder and louder as it closes in on you. Veteran players immediately start looking around for distortions in the landscape, as the bloodsucker becomes invisible while hunting and is one of the most dangerous creatures in the zone.
Batman: Arkham City: Solomon Grundy. I mean, you beat the thing down twice, take all the fight out of it, hop on top of it, and are about to deliver the final blow. BAM. Suddenly, you're in this long-dead monster's grasp, and it's angry, and you're backing away from your TV in fear because of that stupid chord.
The music playing when Olimar takes Luigi to his spaceship in Episode 5 is haunting, but not quite scary. It does, however, start setting the tone for what comes next. Once they enter the spaceship, the music gets creepier, and the violin screeches when Olimar kills and chops up the Pikmin, combined with their death screams, will make you shudder every single time, even when you know it's coming.
Probably the most famous scare chord in Western cartoon history isn't even 20 years old! Dick Walter composed a 6-second-long, three-note jingle for The Ren & Stimpy Show and it's been used EVERYWHERE.
Ren and Stimpy owed most of its horrific atmosphere to this trope. This saw theme is a good example. Practically every episode has some of this, particularly whenever Ren went Ax-Crazy, which was often.
The music that plays in this video. It's the 'generic' Spongebob creepy music.
It also plays during the sequence in "Squid's Day Off" where we see Squidward going insane and blocking off his door to his house to prevent him from going back to the Krusty Krab to check up on Spongebob.
The "I DON'T NEED IT" scene in "Tea at the Treedome". Spongebob's dried up face is zoomed in on in terrifying detail, complete with an unnerving heartbeat sound.
Animaniacs often parodies this, after a Scare Chord it is usually revealed, that one from the trio plays it on a piano or even church organ.
A subtle, but very disturbing, one happens in Adventure Time, in the episode "Holly Jolly Secrets Part II.'' When we first see Simon Petrikov], the music is soft, but it's obvious there's tension brewing. When he opens the cabinet to reveal the the Ice King's crown, there's a quick crescendo on a rather unsettling chord, and it quickly dies down, as Simon narrates his tale. That subtle scare chord as we see the Ice King's crown is one of the most unsettling scare chords this troper has ever heard.
Even Beavis And Butthead got in on the act. During one music video, Beavis complained that he had a nightmare where everything sucked, to which Butthead replied "But Beavis, everything DOES suck!" Cue the "Duhn duhn DUUUN!" while Beavis flipped out. This repeated for the rest of the segment whenever someone said that something sucked.
And in the episode where Beavis was watching a show of a woman with morning sickness, and thought his nacho-induced stomachache was the onset of pregnancy. Every time someone mentioned pregnancy, it would play a Scare Chord, followed by Beavis's trademark "Ngyaaaah!".
King of the Hillinvoked this in one episode when Dale bought a keyboard to mess around with while everyone hangs out and chats in the alley.
Happens towards the end of Ice Age 3. The main characters have succeeded in rescuing Sid and are heading towards the exit of the lost world. However, once they reach the tunnel, the previously cheery music turns downright unsettling and Rudy emerges from the cave.
Parodied in The Emperor's New School, where whenever the words "Condor Patch" are uttered, ominous music will play. Cue Kuzco saying it over and over.
Several Garfieldspecials from the 1980's were known for having the loud noise of a trumpet blare to startle the viewer. This happens in Garfield's Halloween Adventure when Garfield and Odie first encounter the creepy old man and later when the pirate ghosts first notice them, in A Garfield Christmas when Garfield climbs up the Christmas tree and then realizes just how high up he is, and Garfield's Babes and Bullets when it shows a giant thug spying on Garfield/Sam Spayde.
Whenever Katz made an appearance. You could tell a few seconds before he was actually shown, by the creepy beat that suddenly started playing. And it kept playing. Until it could cause shuddering years later.
The Doctor Who audio adventure Dead Air does this several times. It's written like a recording rescued from a sunken ship, complete with out of tune, too-slow voices and frequent staccato bursts of sound and creepy record screechings.
The Sosumi ("so sue me") beep sound on Macintosh computers is a tritone piano chord. Also the Chimes of Death on older Macs.