So often used in trailers and horror movies, sounds played in reverse seem to have a heightened effect on viewers…

Any insights into this phenomenon, and are there any specific examples you can site?

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2 Answers 2


Some thoughts:

  1. Reverse speech has the non tonal afterbreath placed first, making it sound like whisper.
  2. Reverse speech is generally incomprehensible and sounds alien, so ends up in the general category of "fear of the unknown".
  3. The reversed natural trail builds up momentary suspense. That applies to the reversing of most naturally fading sounds.
  4. The reverse build up creates a sense of something closing in on you.
  5. Genre convention

Add those points up and you get something scary ;-)

  • These are some pretty great thoughts. I wonder if there fact the the release is a sudden drop off (i.e. the attack of the original sound) plays a part to. Our mind expects a slow drop off, but it's sudden, only adding to the effect. Oct 29, 2017 at 14:53
  • @JonathanArkell Yeah, good point - natural sounds with that signature usually inflicts pain (like a slap) or they involve force/violence in the form of hits; there is a movement/suspense, and a sudden stop (the hit) Oct 29, 2017 at 18:32

Adding on Michael's answer, there is an effect which makes you feel uncomfortable, but could be related to no.2. Like when a slow melody is played but the next note has no relation to the melody. It affects your brain like "Wow, wtf is going on here? This ain't right!". I think a reversing sound has a similar uncomfortable "WTF?!" effect, it's disjointed and pulls your attention, forcing you somewhere unpredictable, stopping your mind from settling anywhere familiar.

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