THE WHIRRING OF VADER'S INTERROGATION DROID ECHOES WITHIN DE PALMA'S SLOW-MOTION ELEVATOR MOMENT
I revisited George Lucas' Star Wars (A New Hope, 1977) last week, and the scene in which Darth Vader submits Princess Leia to an interrogation droid struck an odd déjà vu feeling. It made me think of the elevator suspense scene in Brian De Palma's Dressed To Kill (1980). The kicker is the whirring sound effect that enters the soundtrack in Lucas' film when the droid appears on screen. The whirring appears over John Williams' music, and so appears to be a sound effect, not part of the score. As the camera, from Leia's point of view, zooms in closer to the needle being held by the droid, the whirring sound slowly gets faster and faster, eventually raising its pitch, as well, until we (via a cut) step outside the room. The sound of the door slamming shut from top to bottom drowns out the whirring as well as any other sound, followed immediately by a set of hard shoes on a walkway grid that the camera then follows.
In De Palma's film, a similar whirring sound begins as Liz turns and meets the killer's eyes in the mirror. As in Lucas' film, this sound appears to be an effect separate from Pino Donaggio's music. In fact, it sounds like the effect may have been achieved (I am taking a guess) by gradually speeding up a sound on a reel-to-reel tape player. It is interesting to note that the sound quickly fades as Bobbi's eyes turn away from Liz, breaking their gaze and then dropping the razor to the floor.