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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.

Usually part of a "Psycho" Shower Murder Parody. See also Scare Chord.

Examples of Psycho Strings include:


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


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?"
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  Thorndyke: That boy gets no tip...

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 We want... a SHRUBBERY!

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Live-Action TV

  • 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'.


Music

  • 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.


Professional Wrestling


Theatre

  • 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."


Videogames


Web Comics

  • The shower scene gets parodied in this Order of the Stick strip, with the Psycho Strings represented as sound effects.


Western Animation

  • 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".

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