The Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House is a 1964 album of scary noises created by Walt Disney Studios. I found the record at Barnes & Noble last spring (used, for $3!) and felt like I had struck gold. I mean, just LOOK AT IT.
(That cover image was made by artist Paul Wenzel as concept art for Disney’s Haunted Mansion!)
For months I was waiting for the perfect time to dust off my record player and take this LP for a spin, and today was that special day (while putting up Halloween decorations, no less). So how does it sound? Allow me to describe the listening experience and then offer a mini-review. (For those of you who would like to listen along, here’s a link to the entire album on YouTube.)
Side 1 features a female narrator describing spooky scenarios (e.g., “You are on a ship in a storm,” “You step out onto the swaying bridge,” etc.) followed by the sounds that depict them. This side is the aural equivalent of a map’s legend, identifying each individual noise for the listener.
Sound effects include wind howling through chains, screams of the human and feline variety, foreboding footsteps, and even space travel. There is one “sound-nario” that can be best described as a bumbling lumberjack’s mishap with a saw. This can either seem extremely silly or extremely disturbing, depending on where your mind goes while you listen to it.
Side 2 combines the disparate sounds from Side 1 sans narrator to create a continuous stream of unsettling cacophony. The biggest drawback to this side (and the album as a whole) is that, because it offers such a wide and random variety of sounds, it doesn’t set a consistent mood. One minute you’re hearing an ancient creaking merchant ship, and the next, a cackling flock of perturbed birds, and then suddenly, the beeps and boops of aliens.
I also wish there were more classic haunted-house-type sounds, rather than general noise. One of the sound effects is something I can only presume is intended to mimic the echoed slow dripping of water in a dark cave. Instead it sounds like a field recording of a New York City public restroom stall (which, I readily admit, is also terrifying, just in a different way).
Bonus: The inside sleeve, which includes epic 60s-style drawings and suggestions for Halloween party games.
Overall score on an arbitrary scale I made up: 3 out of 5 skulls.
One skull for the originality of the sounds and the narrator’s creative scenarios, and two skulls for the incredible art design, which strikes the perfect vintage chord.
Honestly, the record looks better on my Halloween display shelf than it sounds to my ears. But hey, it makes one hell of a decoration to add to my seasonal collection.