Film: Sound of Horror / El sonido de la muerte (1966)

August 16, 2014 | By


SoundOfHorror_Sp_poster_sFilm: Weak

Transfer:  n/a

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Synopsis: Dynamite-wielding ‘treasure hunters’ unleash a primordial creature and attempt to shield themselves in a remote cabin from the invisible yet cacophonous thing from hell!

Special Features:  n/a




This small footnote in Spanish film will maintain a place in horror history largely because it co-starts the pretty Soledad Miranda (soon to appear in Jess Franco’s Vampyros Lesbos and She Killed in Ecstasy before her tragic death), and it offered a small role to future Hammer horror queen Ingrid Pitt (The Vampire Lovers, Countess Dracula), but there’s a bit more to enjoy in this otherwise flaccid B-thriller in which treasure hunters unleash a monster after blowing up one too many sections of a cave system and exposing petrified eggs.

Taking place in Greece, the budget-conscious tale by occasional American writer / mostly producer Sam X. Abarbanel and several others begins as Dr. Pete Asolov (ex-pat James Philbrook) and his male partners dynamite sections of a cave for a treasure they’ve tracked down using two halves of an old treasure map. As chunks of rock fly off dangerously close, the group, which includes pretty niece Maria (Miranda), seem unconcerned neither will be brained by sharp projectiles.

They repeat this ludicrous process several times before encountering an entombed mummy (no reason for its presence), and eventually a chamber that may house their sought after booty. The party’s membership is somewhat augmented by the arrival of good ‘ol Pete (Arturo Fernandez and zaftig Sofia Minelli (Pitt), but when their Jeep’s engine stalls, the new arrivals hang around and add to some late night fun (which mostly consists of the girls dancing to the sweet sounds from a small radio, and in-house maid Calliope making coffee – not drinks – for the group).

Plans go awry when a member is scarred and killed by some unseen clawed creature, sending the group into lockdown at the remote hacienda, and that’s when things get loopy. With no money to show a creature (let alone a detailed monster suit), the group is terrorized from the outside by the ‘horrifying’ sounds of the approaching creature and its efforts to claw its way inside.

The initial lockdown is well-handled by director Jose Antonio Nieves Conde – a montage of pull-backs from rooms, locked doors, and shuttered windows are eerie – and with most of the film dealing with people trapped inside a house fearing the unseen, there’s more than a sense Conde was inspired by the arctic eggheads trapped inside their remote base in The Thing (1951), especially moments of calm between mini-spikes of ‘terror.’ (The camera’s shifting positions and the use of sound to signal danger also recalls Sam Raimi’s demon / siege shocker The Evil Dead.)

Whereas Howard Hawks’ film balanced the horror with humour, sexual teasing, and fast-paced dialogue, Conde’s film makes a point to clarify the pasts of the men: former soldier’s in Greece’s anti-Nazi liberation movement, scarred with memories, and perhaps feeling a little aimless in peacetime.

Conde also makes use of spilt baking flower to show the creature’s footprints, and enable the group to conceptualize their unseen enemy much in the way snow was used to track the madman in The Invisible Man (1931) and the veggie-monster in The Thing, and use of sand to track the giant ants in Them! (1954) – a film which, for its first half, almost exclusively relied on sound to convey horror before finally revealing the giant aggressors in a memorable shot.

Conde may have been inspired by these predecessors, but there’s much ineptitude stemming from having no money to show a creature, Conde’s hack direction, and moments of blatant illogic. The wail of the creature (supposedly a dinosaur) is odd rather than scary, and we’re shown choppily edited after-effects of victims with clawed faces (which are unusually graphic).

Whereas Calliope’s death is clumsily built up with a weirdly long sequence in which she works in the kitchen before going out not once but twice for water to make coffee, there’s two sequences that are patently dumb.

The first occurs as the group place furniture and their bodies against the front door to prevent the creature from clawing and pushing its way in… except that a few feet away is one of many windows sealed with easy-to-smash shutter panels. The second idiocy is almost epic: Maria is trapped in a room with opposing entry doors, so someone runs out to lure the creature away from the room’s rear door so Maria can unlock the front door… and enter the bigger room where the group’s been talking to her all this time. One senses the script had mandated a different room, but the set designers goofed, and the production was stuck with what had already been built at considerable expense.

When the creature appears in the daytime, it’s ever-so-briefly seen in a brief superimposition, and its death is no different from The Thing, in terms of the set-up: instead of being lured to walk on a raised set of planks under which lie electrified wires, the group toss flour in front of the house to see the creature’s footsteps and aim their weapons with precision… except the whole plan relies on the creature coming in for a frontal assault instead of staying invisible and sneaking up from behind to maul them (which it’s been doing for the past 24 hours!).

Most of the film’s dialogue is patently ridiculous and sexist – the women are regarded as less than intellectual, fragile, and silly – and the twist finale isn’t a surprise, but what’s interesting about Sound of Horror is how much of the movie will feel familiar to modern audiences weaned on films about people trapped in confined buildings, and escaping to vehicles where they hope they can out-pace the monster – aspects that are de rigueur in zombie films (Night of the Living Dead), ghost films (The Haunting, which heavily emphasized sounds), or hybrids like Return of the Blind Dead (1973).

Manuel Berenguer’s cinematography is passable – with no good print in circulation, and in its proper aspect ratio of reportedly 1.85:1, much of the tense atmosphere and details in dark shots are weakened – but there is Luis de Pablo’s unusually strong score: either the composer was determined to transcend the film’s limitations using his classical training for some sharp orchestral writing, or the producers mandated a substantive allowance be allotted to the score to give the film a bit more scope and dramatic oomph. Pity de Pablo’s music isn’t available, because it’s as fun as a classic Universal monster movie (if not Bronislau Kaper’s own Them! score).

After a steady cluster of films in the sixties, Conde’s next effort didn’t come until 1971, after which he directed a few more films before disappearing. Writer Abarbanel also co-wrote the star-studded Summertime Killer / Un verano para matar (1972), but he’s perhaps better-known for writing Prehistoric Women / The Virgin Goddess (1950) with director Gregg C. Tallas, also credited with co-writing Sound of Horror. Tallas, also an American, swerved career-wise from editing (The Southerner, Whistle Stop, Flight to Nowhere) to writing, and finally directing in the seventies.



© 2014 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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