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A common audio cue used when you want to establish that something is deeply Insane, Evil, or Unnatural, but the Ominous Latin Choir is off on vacation - A series of sharp, screeching notes on any string instrument. Sometimes this is paired with the Vertigo Effect.
In most horror movies, if it's not strings, it's probably a waterphone.
Anime and Manga
- The entire shower scene is parodied in Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei, strings and all. It only serves to make Fuura Kafuka even creepier, too--while the stabber changes between every shot (Bruce Lee, Freddy Krueger, and the Drunken Master to name a few), it's Kafuka we see dashing around the corner out of the bathroom.
- Used in the first episode of The Slayers when the Black Dragon attacks.
- Used in episode 11 of Ghost Stories.
- Used near the end of Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood when Greed attacks Father.
- Used in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya when the SOS Brigade discovers their host stabbed to death on the island.
- It also makes up the majority of Asakura's theme music.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion has the tracks "EVA-00", "THE BEAST" and "The End of Midsummer."
- Sort of used in a sort of parody of the Psycho shower scene in Digimon Frontier just as Izumi is about to change into a swimsuit. Interestingly, it doesn't appear to be any more than an excuse to have her scream, alerting the rest of teh Five-Man Band.
- Played nearly shot-by-shot in an episode of Kirby of the Stars complete with the strings. (skip to the 2-minute mark)
Films — Animated
- Finding Nemo, when Darla arrives.
Films — Live-Action
- Used famously in (duh) Psycho. Alfred Hitchcock supposedly wanted the murder scene to be totally silent, but film composer Bernard Herrmann had a better idea.
- And the very same strings are used whenever Carrie uses her telekinetic powers.
- This was later sent up in The Simpsons, when Homer hears the strings from Psycho while lost in the woods... but it turns out to be an orchestra driving by on a bus.
- Used in "Bob Next Door" when Homer, Lisa, and Walt enter a room and find hundreds of pictures of Bart that have knives stabbed into them.
- A similar-sounding variation of the shrieking violins plays several times in Maximum Overdrive when the machines are trying to kill someone. But then, considering the nature of the movie and the fact that it's a "horror" movie that's not scary at all, the Psycho Strings come across as sort of a Large Ham.
- Planes, Trains and Automobiles when Neal discovers what Del did to the bathroom, and that he had been washing his face in the water Del was using to soak his socks.
- The background music for Cabin Fever features a motif that uses double beats of a creepy string note, adding a sinister undertone to a passionate sex scene. The music cue and dialogue during the scene suggest that one of the characters is passing the deadly disease to their one-time lover. This is later revealed to be true.
- The soundtrack for There Will Be Blood.
- In Mel Brooks Hitchcock spoof High Anxiety, the Psycho shower scene parody uses the shrill cries of an angry bellhop in place of the strings: "Here! Here's your paper! Here's your lousy, stinking paper! Happy now?"
Thorndyke: That boy gets no tip...
- Used in Monty Python and The Holy Grail.
We want... a SHRUBBERY!
- The Joker's signature theme in The Dark Knight, "Why So Serious?" is built up of this. The best example is probably in the interrogation scene, where upon Joker's revelation that both Dent and Rachel have been kidnapped, the music begins, and comes to a climax where the Joker laughs manically at Batman's attempts to force details out of him.
- This is more along the lines of Psycho Synths, but in Terminator 2, that note they play whenever the T-1000 is bearing down relentlessly on someone and it gets faster and more intense the closer he gets.
- Used in Kill Bill Vol. I. Said piece, "Twisted Nerve," is also by Bernard Herrmann.
- Used in Daddy Day Care when Max "misses".
- Pick any episode of Lost.
- The whole soundtrack, really.
- Lampshaded in an episode of Parker Lewis Can't Lose: A man in a trenchcoat looks at a journal saying "The Chameleon escapes!", then orders a string quartet (which wasn't there before) to play a chilly music.
- Doctor Who:
- Whereas the Daleks get the Ominous Hebrew Chanting, the Cybermen get the Psycho Strings. The same sound effect was used for the Family of Blood.
- The Master gets his own distinctive Psycho Strings theme, which is four loud drum beats.
- As does Davros, which is actually a re-arrangement of the Midnight monster's theme.
- The Weeping Angels' Leitmotif is nothing but Psycho Strings.
- In the Hogfather tv series, these form the leitmotif for Psycho for Hire Jonathan Teatime.
- In Pee-wee's Playhouse: "I'm going door to door, to make you this incredible offer..." (AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH! Ha ha!)
- The ridiculously awesome extended version of Lord Zedd's Theme from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
- These appear in an episode of Castle.
- American Horror Story uses the actual Psycho Strings as Maria is stabbed in the back to death at the end of the flashback in 'Home Invasion'.
- Parts of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia".
- The opening of Krzystof Penderecki's Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (written in 1960) may be an inspiration: all fifty-two string players are instructed to play "the highest note on the instrument" as loudly as possible, producing a very harsh and grating high-pitched tone cluster which sounds a bit like a scream. (Its relation to the subject matter is actually purely incidental; Penderecki originally intended to call the piece simply 8'37", but figured a memorial to the victims of American nuclear bombs would be more likely to be accepted by the government of Poland as more in line with their Social Realist artistic policies.)
- Serial music in general can sound really weird. Anton Webern's Fünf Sätze could easily be included in a survival horror soundtrack.
- György Ligeti's music, which is also serial in nature, utilizes a similar method in his Atmospheres, where the string players play every chromatic note over five octaves at once. That's 60 notes. This is the largest tone cluster ever written in a serious piece. Then things get weird when the string players start using microtones.
- There's also George Crumb, and his famous piece, Black Angels, the introductort section of which, which is titled "Night of the Electric Insects," literally makes you feel like there are bugs crawling all over your skin. It was used very effectively in soundtrack of The Exorcist.
- Sonata Arctica use this at one point in "Juliet".
- Avant-garde metal band Unexpect use Psycho Strings a lot, but most notably on "Silence 011010701".
- "O Green World" by Gorillaz opens with a sort of deranged banjo-plucking solo. The entire song may be a deliberate Shout-Out to Alfred Hitchcock, as you also hear crows screeching throughout the instrumental portions of the track.
- "Opheliac" - the album, not the song - by Emilie Autumn is full of creepy notes on electric violin.
- The Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich was fond of using these for political commentary. For instance, the Party-mandated Fifth Symphony's grandiose, triumphant finale is rather undermined by the string section sawing away in the background, rendering the whole thing rather hollow, creepy, and artificial. Not that anybody important noticed.
- Not surprisingly, this was included in Sycho Sid's entrance music.
- Used in many songs in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, "Epiphany" in particular.
- The Reduced Shakespeare Company uses Psycho Strings as the music cue for Hamlet stabbing Polonius.
- Richard Strauss's opera Salome uses an effect of this sort as Salome is listening for Jokanaan's death cry. The short sharp sound, made by double basses playing far higher than their usual range, is meant, according to the composer's footnote, to "resemble the stifled moans and groans of a woman."
- Grim Fandango: Used a few times, including when Chepito reveals the Demons of the Deep.
- Used often in the F.E.A.R. games whenever Alma appears, along with other scare events. At least one soundtrack piece uses a waterphone.
- The opening of "One Winged Angel" from Final Fantasy VII, as well as Exdeath's theme from Final Fantasy V.
- Used throughout Drakengard to great effect. The composer favored repeated Psycho Strings to set the mood in some cutscenes.
- If Laura Bow has a shower in The Colonel's Bequest, and she gets killed for it.
- Also occurs in the second game, The Dagger of Amon Ra, whenever she finds the corpse of a murder victim.
- The second game also has it as the first thing you hear while Laura is chased by the killer.
- Also occurs in the second game, The Dagger of Amon Ra, whenever she finds the corpse of a murder victim.
- Heroes of Might and Magic III.
- Halo often uses this during Flood encounters, eg in the songs "Devils... Monsters", "Shadows"(sounds much like the actual Psycho strings), "Lament for Pvt. Jenkins", "Ancient Machine", "Dread Intrusion", and "Gravemind".
- The music played in X-8 in Eversion is basically just this, with the occasional drum sound in the background.
- Also, it ends with a Last-Note Nightmare.
- "Purge the Xenos Scum" from the Dawn of War 2 soundtrack (usually played during defensive missions when you have to hold the line against waves of enemies).
- Surprisingly, this shows up in Katawa Shojuo. The piece is called "High Tension", and the first time you hear it, it is seriously unnerving. It comes right the hell out of nowhere and it's not he sort of thing you've expect out of a game like Katawa Shoujo.
- Used in various forms in the Silent Hill series. Sometimes it sounds like the aformentioned Psycho Waterphone. For example, in this clip. One piece in the first game sounds like bowed piano strings, and a variation is pitched an octave down, making it much scarier. Also used when Pyramid Head kills Maria in the hospital basement. And the first game's alley sequence uses psycho industrial percussion.
- All the bacteria in Left 4 Dead. Can be heard here.
- Also, the main and horde themes for "Swamp Fever" campaign from the sequel.
- Chancellor Cole's Leitmotif in The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks.
- Also, the Bomb Trains' theme, to great effect.
- The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. is fittingly fond of these, being used in many tracks, notably in all of the main villain's themes, and the title opening, which has a last note nightmare.
- Clock Tower: The First Fear has it in some of the times Jennifer goes into panic mode or discovers something, examples including when strangled by her reflection in the mirror, when seeing blood come out of the sink, when finding Rolla's body, either in her shower or armor deaths, seeing the zombie in the closet, and so on.
- In The Legend of Zelda: A Link to The Past, the Cave and Dark World Dungeon themes use this.
- "Death Marshes", "Hive of the Mantids" and "Oblivion" from Turok 2. "Death Marshes" also uses "psycho trumpets".
- The Nightmare in Metroid: Other M gets these in its battle theme.
- In Metroid Prime: Hunters, Sylux's battle theme consists of high-pitched strings which actually use the "psycho note pattern" in some parts.
- Used liberally in Batman: Arkham Asylum, especially during the Scarecrow encounter.
- It's even played for laughs once. In the beginning, as the Joker is wheeled through Arkham, a doctor looks over the Joker. The Joker suddenly goes "BOO" accompanied by a scare chord, and scares the poor doctor shitless as he starts laughing. Quite funny the first time it happens.
- The In the Groove song "Determinator".
- Used throughout the Resident Evil series, such as Tyrant's theme in the original, the Bandersnatch theme in Code Veronica, the Leech Zombie theme in 0, and the Neptune shark danger music in RE 1 Remake. The Noche (night battle) music and Mendez's battle theme in Resident Evil 4 overlap this with Drone of Dread.
- A lot of Bioshock's music uses violins to represent madness, such as in Doctor Steinman's battle theme.
- Dusknoir's battle theme from Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time/Darkness/Sky.
- The "Sniper's Last Stand" theme from Medal of Honor: Allied Assault.
- In Deadly Premonition, Psycho Strings are widely used.
- Warhammer Online's music for Chaos-controlled areas uses these to full effect. To help things sound even more discordant and unnatural, the musicians played their instruments upside-down.
- Aside from the scare chords that accompany some xenomorph encounters, Aliens vs. Predator uses Psycho Strings in parts of its rarely-played soundtrack.
- Not sure if it fits in here, but in Conkers Bad Fur Day the music for "Frying Tonight" sounds like a track mostly composed of this.
- The Banjo-Kazooie games remix the music depending on where you are in a level. When you're, say, very, very deep underwater, strings of this ilk kick in, to sometimes unsettling effect.
- The drowning music used throughout the Sonic the Hedgehog series.
- Doom II's title music.
- Pikmin 2's theme for the battle against Titan Dweevil is full of this. In fact, the more parts you take off of him, the more intense the Psycho Strings get! Pretty much every single song (about to attack, [insert element here] attack, and so on) during this battle has these at some point.
- Halo: Reach uses this in the first encounter with Zealots; specifically the "Bait and Switch" movement of the Winter Contingency OST track.
- Gothitelle uses it as it's Battle Cry.
- The shower scene gets parodied in this Order of the Stick strip, with the Psycho Strings represented as sound effects.
- Ren and Stimpy: In the episode "Stimpy's Fan Club" we see an insane Ren contemplate strangling a sleeping Stimpy. It's after he says the line "Just...one...twist!" when the Psycho Strings start to come into play.
- Also used in the episode "Haunted House" when Stimpy's taking a shower, in homage to Psycho.
- Used in the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Bummer Vacation" in which Sponge Bob's sitting in Patrick's house after being forced by Mr. Krabs to take a vacation and hiring Patrick as his temporary replacement. When Patrick finds him, Sponge Bob looks (and acts) completely insane, complete with Psycho Strings.
- Used in the episode "Squeaky Boots" when Mr. Krabs goes insane with guilt after stealing rubber boots he gave to Spongebob.
- In Star Wars: Clone Wars, General Grievous' nightmarish assault on the beleaguered Jedi is set to a mix of trumpets and Psycho Strings, proving that that possessing mastery of the force will still mean nothing in the face of shock-and-awe tactics and superior swordsmanship. And that Jedi are still very much capable of feeling absolute terror.
- In Avatar the Last Airbender, several of the scenes in the series finale, featuring Azula's Villainous Breakdown, are accompanied by these.
- Kim Possible does it twice, once with Bonnie taking a shower as a homage to Psycho's famous scene, and again when music from the film plays after Ron falls off his bike and water comes from his head.
- Hilariously lampshaded in The Simpsons, in the episode The Springfield Files, when Homer hears the strings from Psycho while lost in the woods... but it turns out to be an orchestra driving by on a bus.
- Heard twice in Invader Zim, once when an old lady throws up sawdust on GIR in "Door to Door", and again during one of Dib's crazy fits in "Halloween Spectacular of Spooky Doom".
- One of the BBC2 idents shown at Halloween in 1992 showed the 2 covered by white cloth, getting stabbed by scissors, complete with a horrifying re-doing of the Psycho Strings.