The Terror (1928)

Hollywood’s First Background Score in a Talking Picture


  • Gary D Rhodes Oklahoma Baptist University



Background Music, film history, sound cinema, talking pictures, horror movies


Largely forgotten in the history of cinema is Warner Bros.–Vitaphone’s feature film The Terror (1928). To the extent it is remembered, it is because the film qualifies as the second “all-talkie” feature, Warner Bros.– Vitaphone’s Lights of New York (Bryan Foy, 1928) being the first. The Terror has also rightly been identified as the first talkie to feature a scream, which would become such an important sound in future horror movies. However, the key reason The Terror deserves recognition and further study is because it crucially requires a major revision in our understanding of film history. Beyond any doubt, The Terror was Hollywood’s first talkie to use a background score (“nondiegetic” music), with the term “background” being critical in this context, meaning music heard along with (in back of) audible dialogue.


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Special Issue: Music in the Early Talkies/Michael Slowik

How to Cite

Rhodes, G. D. (2024). The Terror (1928): Hollywood’s First Background Score in a Talking Picture. Journal of Film Music.