Saturday, March 1, 2014

Trailer Park :: Shiverin' and Shakin' and Quiverin' and Quakin' to José Antonio Conde's Sound of Horror (1966)

Somewhere in the hills of rural Greece, a Professor Andre (Casas) is setting off dynamite inside an isolated cave, trying to unearth a hidden treasure trove of priceless Greek artifacts, which were stolen and passed from hand to hand by thieves since there discovery decades ago until they were all hidden away from the plundering Nazis when World War II broke out. First getting wind of this secret-stash while fighting in said war, Andre and his old platoon pals, Asilov (Philbrook) and Dorman (Bódalo), got their hands on part of a map that led them to this particular cave. And while the other two track down a lead on the missing half that hopefully has the 'X' that marks the actual spot, Andre, accompanied by his niece, Maria (Miranda), and fellow archeologist, Stavros (Piquer), have been excavating around blindly, but only manage to unearth the mummified remains of a 'neanderthal' and the fossilized egg of some unknown dinosaur. Unbeknownst to our trio, however, the last blast unearthed not one, but two, dinosaur eggs; one of which rolls away unseen while the other is taken back to the cottage they've been squatting in, where they find Calliope (Gaos), the cook and local doomsayer, warning them to abandon this fool's quest and the cave, which is, according to local superstition, an accursed place of evil. 

Meanwhile, Asilov and Dorman return triumphantly with the other half of the map. And while Maria gets acquainted with Asilov's girlfriend, Sofia (Pitt), and Pete (Fernadez), the hired driver, who, frankly, seems more interested in his car than the girls, the rest of the men return to the cave where, sure enough, Andre was digging in the wrong place. And so, moving a few paces to the left, they start digging again and soon come upon another obstruction that calls for more dynamite. (And after seeing pictures of the fragile antiquities allegedly hidden here, one can only wonder what will be left of them once these idiots blast them out.) Leaving Stavros behind, whose been busy examining that mummy, the others return to the cottage. Again, no one notices the other dislodged egg, which quietly cracks open, regurgitating something covered in goo that quickly and mysteriously disappears. But we do hear its harsh and hungry cries as it quickly draws a bead on the unsuspecting Stavros...

Video courtesy of Brutallodotcom.

A ripping yarn of treasure hunting, explosions, shrieks in the night, and a rampaging dinosaur that we cannot see, the history behind the production of Sound of Horror (1966) is very fluid and in a constant state of flux. For just when you think you've got a handle on it and things start to cohere, you unearth another nugget that lays waste to the existing fossil record, cinematically speaking. So, to start from the beginning, we need to talk about Sam Abarbanel, who worked as a promoter for Republic Studios before serving a hitch in the infantry in World War II. When he got out of the army, he moved to Los Angeles and started working as an independent publicist, promoting such films as High Noon (1952) for the majors and Hot-Rod Girl (1956) for the minors and several imports like La Strada (1954) and The Red Balloon (1956). He even took the plunge into feature filmmaking, producing the exploitation-minded Prehistoric Women (1950), which boils down to a battle of the sexes amongst a segregated tribe of cave-dwellers, which he shared a co-writing credit with Gregg Tallas, who directed it, and who would also play a part in our featured feature today. 

See, around 1963, Abarbanel moved to Spain, where he produced a couple of Frijole Refritos westerns. And around this same time, he concocted another film with Callas to cash-in on the American monster movie boom of the late 1950s, which were finally showing up in Spain, for producer Gregorio Sacristán, El sonido de la muerte -- The Sound of Death. 

To realize this opus, enter Spanish filmmaker, José Antonio Nieves Conde. Apparently, Conde was a movie buff since childhood but was pursuing a law degree when the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, which found him on the Nationalist side fighting for Franco. When the war ended, Conde abandoned college and got a job as a newspaper film critic, eventually serving as the senior editor for several film fanzines, making contacts with several directors, who eventually nudged Conde behind the camera, which resulted in Surcos (1951), where a rural family moves to the city and comes to ruin, which kinda boils down to a propaganda piece for Franco's dictatorial regime, yes, but it's still championed as one of Spain's greatest films. After, Conde's films started having troubles with the censors and the church for broaching taboo subjects, which derailed his career for awhile, leaving him ripe for the plucking to direct a certain independent horror movie. 

Now, to add even more confusion, we need to talk about Samuel Bronston. Born in Russia, Bronston migrated to the United States in 1939, where he caught on at MGM, which soon found him heading back to Europe, specifically Paris, to work for the studio's production unit there. But it wasn't long before Bronston formed his own company, Samuel Bronston Productions, which cut its teeth on a couple of bio-pics for Jack London and John Paul Jones. However, Bronston's biggest claim to fame came in the 1960s with a series of large-scale, Cinerama blockbusters, involving star-studded cast of thousands, including King of Kings (1961), El Cid (1961), and The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964). To save costs on these massive productions, Bronston set-up shop in Spain, building a gigantic studio in Las Rozas. 

This, obviously, brought a lot of money into the local Spanish economy. And other producers, also looking to save money, filmed in Spain using Bronston's facilities, including Ken Annikan for his World War II misfire, Battle of the Bulge (1965), a film Dwight D. Eisenhower himself denounced for its glaring historical inaccuracy; a film that was shot, edited, scored and released in a staggering eight months; a film that came in under-budget, and whose surplus, as one unearthed rumor has it, was partially skimmed off and commandeered to finance Sound of Horror, which also utilized several of Bronston's locations, including the cave, which leaves me to boggle that the cavernous home for Casper the Killer Dinosaur might have also served as the tomb for our Lord and Savior in King of Kings. Noodle that for a bit, why don't ya. Wow. 

And on top of all of that, there's even some confusion when trying to actually date Sound of Horror, too. No. Stop it ... I'm not trying to 'date' the movie, I'm trying to pinpoint the exact year of origin. *sheesh* Anyways, some sources say it was released in 1964, others 1966. Even its American debut is in dispute as either 1967 or 1968, depending once again on your source. Regardless, it did get here. It should be noted that producer Sacristán made this type of genre picture for the express purpose of an easy international sell. And he found a buyer with Europix Consolidated (later morphing into Europix-International), who repackaged El sonido de la muerte as the bottom bill for Mario Bava's Operazione paura (1966), re-tagging them Kill, Baby, Kill and Sound of Horror. Europix had already imported several Euro-Shockers, turning La lama nel corpo into The Murder Clinic (1966), and Il mostro di Venezia into The Embalmer (1965), pairing it up with La Sorella di Satana a/k/a She Beast (1966) for a fantastic double horror-terror show (see poster above). Sound of Horror and Kill, Baby, Kill were given the same ballyhoo, unleashed as 'The Big SQ Show', promising you'd Shiver 'n' Quiver and Shake 'n' Quake with each feature. 

The combination proved a hit and Europix kept cashing in, selling the features off for TV syndication, where it was packaged with several fright films throughout the 1970s on many a Creature Feature program. Europix kept re-titling and re-releasing their features, too, most notoriously as the Drive-In triple-bill avalanche of grisly horror -- “The Orgy of the Living Dead.” Also of note, Europix used the same dubbing studio (most likely, Titra Sound,) as many other imports, as we hear the same voices at work here in numerous Godzilla movies, vintage anime, spaghetti westerns, Hercules and his progeny, and the far flung denizens of Gamma One.

Back on target, aside from that convoluted origin and its notoriously transparent monster, Sound of Horror's biggest claim to fame is the two burgeoning Cult Movie Queens leavened into the cast. Born in Spain, Soledad Rendón Bueno was one of six children. And to help the family make ends meet, she started flamenco dancing for a traveling troupe of entertainers at the age of 8. Bitten by the showbiz bug early, she decided to become an actress, drawing her new stage name, Miranda, out of a hat. And the newly christened starlet immediately found work as a background dancer or bit player in a couple of Spanish films, drawing the attention of American producer, Sidney Pink, who cast her in The Castillian (1962) and the fairly under-appreciated revenge drama, Pyro -- The Thing Without a Face (1963), before she wound up in Sound of Horror. After, her career kinda stalled until she entered Jess Franco's orbit, where she became his personal muse for Count Dracula (1969), Vampyros Lesbos (1970) and She Killed in Esctacy (1970). Alas, this tale ends tragically. For just when it appeared that her career was really gaining traction, Miranda was killed in an auto accident while en route to sign a multi-picture deal with Franco's producers in August, 1970.

As for her co-star, born Ingoushka Petrov in Warsaw, Poland, at the age of five, Ingrid Pitt and her mother, who was Jewish, were sent to a concentration camp when her father, a noted engineer of German descent, refused to help the Nazis with their V2 program. There, the family survived for nearly three years before making a harrowing escape, spending the rest of the war hiding out with partisans and sympathizers. (The father and an older sister were sent to a different camp but the family was eventually reunited.) When the war ended, Pitt found herself in Berlin on the wrong side of the wall. Salvation came when she married an American GI, Laud Roland Pitt, and migrated to the States around 1950. This marriage did not last long, however, and Pitt soon moved back to Germany, where she studied acting at the famed Berliner Ensemble, honing her craft onstage until making her screen debut, here. After which, a few uncredited parts followed until her big break came starring opposite Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood in Where Eagles Dare (1968). Hammer and Amicus came calling after that, and the rest is Horror Queen history. 

Both women are simply gorgeous, Miranda hauntingly so, and Pitt, who passed away in 2010, already showing a brassy edge. Sadly, all they're really used for in Sound of Horror is set dressing and sounding boards for the men to schmooze or reassure themselves when the crap hits the fan and their dreams of fortune and glory run into an invisible raptor out for blood. That, and a couple of Bouzouki dance numbers that serve no purpose other than to show off some *ahem* assets and kill off a reel of film. However, despite the material, neither actress embarrass themselves. Nor the male cast members, either, for that matter. 

Which brings us to the real star of our show, our invisible monster -- who is not only an invisible dinosaur hatched out of a centuries old egg with the metabolism from hell, but an invisible dinosaur vampire as it seems hell bent on slashing open its victims to drink their blood and leave the rest of the body intact and uneaten. No. Really. Cheap on the surface, and absolutely silly everywhere else, at least in theory; but still, once one realizes how much Sound of Horror presages the shrieking POV, crash-cut attacks of the forest demons of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead (1981), which prove just as effective in 1960-whatever as far as I'm concerned, your perspective changes. 

With each attack, we hear the beast first with its trademark shriek, starting with Stavros as he's torn to pieces, never knowing what hit him. This is a bit of a shock as Stavros, the man of science, would normally be the heroic voice of reason set against the fortune hunters and the seemingly obvious romantic interest for Maria. Well, think again. From there, the movie follows a familiar pattern as the survivors hole-up in the cottage, with no means to track the monster laying siege, and no means of escape thanks to a temperamental automobile that refuses to start and no time to find out why before becoming dino-kibble. This is followed by the romantic interlude (where Pete forgets the car long enough to hook up with Maria) and the rational explanation portion of our program, until the proof -- remember that other egg?, hatches above the fire place. Luckily, the hatchling is quickly dispatched, rather gruesomely, before it can engage its camouflage and escape. 

After some dubious exposition as to why they can't see the creature (-- but none, oddly, on its rapid rate of development), once its established and accepted, there are a few original twists that follow, especially when these hardened veterans, with their goal so close to hand, actually side with the superstitious Calliope, who convinces them to abandon the area as soon as possible, sighting how hard it is to spend the loot when you're dead. And so, it's decided to make another run for the car come morning. Alas, Calliope does not heed her own advice when she carelessly retrieves some water from the nearby well and is shredded quite horribly. Later, Andre meets the same fate, whose motives for clandestinely going back to the cave are a little muddled -- Was he taking one more shot at the buried treasure, or was he trying to seal the monster inside it? Whichever reason, he doesn't make it. 

Again, I cannot stress how savagely effective and unsettling these attack scenes can be when given the chance, as the unseen monster howls, its victims, none of whom go quietly, scream for their lives, and we hear their clothes and flesh ripped open and slashed to pieces for untold minutes until they finally and mercifully succumb. (Poor Stavros is split open from pelvis to hyoid.) And though we never really see the monster, we do see the damage as its dished out and the ghastly end results of its claws and teeth. It isn't as laughable as you'd think. Kudos to editor Margarita de Ochoa for making this work so well, and to composer Luis de Pablo, whose pulsing riffs really drive the terror home. In fact, the only time the film falters is with the fleeting glimpses we do get of the beast, which, honestly, looks like a close-up of one of those old rubber monster-knobs I used to stink on the end of my pencils back in grade school. 


[In unison/] "Rahr!" [/In unison]

Then, the crap really hits the fan when the creature manages to sneak inside the house (don't ask), which also leads to their eventual salvation as our heroes find a way to track the thing due to some footprints found in the spilled flour on the kitchen floor. Thus, a trap is set, leading to a fairly hilarious sequence when Asilov and Pete chuck a couple of axes at the monster, which then stick into nothing and start moving around. Somewhat inexplicably, the creatures blood turns visible once bled, leading our group to believe it to be mortally wounded. And so, they make another run for the car and manage to get it started. 

Once safely away, however, the front windshield soon becomes occluded with blood. That's right. The monster was hiding on the roof of the car the whole time! And while the others abandon the vehicle, the wounded Dorman sacrifices himself by staying behind, igniting several gas cans, which explode, immolating him and the monster both, allowing the survivors to walk to safety. Hooray! 

When all is said and heard, Sound of Horror gets an enthusiastic passing grade from me but I also freely admit it is wildly uneven and it's overall plot makes not one lick of sense. At all. It takes some time to get properly going, and when the monster isn't attacking our characters, they spend way too much time navel gazing on how they all got here and taking political shots at the superpowers, bemoaning how the atomic age has basically rendered everything pointless when we can all go at the push of a button. Not to mention all the time wasted on repetitive reconnoitering sequences as characters cover the same ground, go to the cave, or load and unload everybody into the car only to abandon it, again and again and again. (Calliope goes to the well not once, but twice, and we get to see every step.) Still, I can safely say Sound of Horror is a lot better than its dubious reputation as that 'el cheapo horror flick with the invisible monster in it.' Don't believe me? Watch it, and then don't see it for yourselves. 

Okay, folks, this post is part of The Big Footprints Roundtable put together by a Motley Band of Blogs to honor really Big Monsters Gone Amok.
Checkpoint Telstar :: The Monolith Monsters.
Cinemasochist Apocalypse :: Godzilla 1985.
Terrible Claw Reviews :: Gamera vs. Baragon.
Micro-Brewed Reviews :: Sound of Horror.
Please check 'em out, won't you? Thank you.

Sound of Horror (1966) Zurbano Films :: Viñals Distribución :: Europix Consolidated Corp. / P: Gregorio Sacristán / D: José Antonio Nieves Conde / W: Sam Abarbanel, Gregg Tallas, José Antonio Nieves Conde / C: Manuel Berenguer / E: Margarita de Ochoa / M: Luis de Pablo / S: James Philbrook, Arturo Fernández, Soledad Miranda, Ingrid Pitt, José Bódalo, Antonio Casas,Lola Gaos, Francisco Piquer

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