Skip to content

Plot: scientific expedition is stalked by unseen monster in cave.

Sound Of Horror (released domestically as El sonido de la muerte, and El sonido prehistórico, or Sound Of Death or The Prehistoric Sound, respectively) would probably be just another Iberian horror obscurity if it weren’t for the presence of not one, but two Eurocult queens. And not just anybody. Oh, no. Sound Of Horror features a pre-Hammer Ingrid Pitt and one Soledad Miranda. Yeah, the same Soledad Miranda who would end up becoming a muse for the enfant terrible of Spanish cult cinema and master of the fringe, Jesús Franco - and whose untimely (and unfortunate) death would send him into a tailspin from which he never truly recovered. In 1966 nobody could foresee the tragedy that was about to befall Spain’s most talismanic actress. Sound Of Horror, as the scion of 1950s American science fiction as a thinly-veiled metaphor for the Second Red Scare (or, you know, McCarthyism), is as ridiculous as fifties sci-fi/horror was wont to be. While the premise might have been patently absurd, it had the good fortune of having two actresses that would come to define European cult cinema in major ways in their own ways.

Polish export Ingrid Pitt had lived quite the life by the time she debuted in the mid-sixties. She was a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps in World War II, trekked across Europe in search of her father in Red Cross refugee camps, and was a subversive who fled East Berlin to elude der Volkspolizei. She had a small uncredited role in Doctor Zhivago (1965), and received an “introducing” credit on José Antonio Nieves Conde’s low-key Sound Of Horror (1966). From there Pitt went on to play a supporting role in the World War II epic Where Eagles Dare (1968) (with Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood) and star in the first of Hammer’s Karnstein trilogy The Vampire Lovers (1970) as well as the Countess Elizabeth Báthory in Countess Dracula (1971). She also appeared in The Wicker Man (1973) (with Christopher Lee, and Britt Ekland). In 1998 Ingrid narrated “Cruelty and the Beast” from British extreme metal band Cradle Of Filth, a concept album about Hungarian aristocrat Countess Elizabeth Báthory, and a loose tribute of sorts to her years as a knickers and knockers starlet with Hammer.

Then there’s Soledad Miranda. Pop culture icon, tabloid regular, and often romantically linked to bull fighter Manuel Benítez (El Cordobés). By 1966 silky Soledad had starred in several peplum, macaroni westerns, dramas, and horror movies, and even released two mildly popular yé-yé pop records on Belter. As the niece of famous Spanish singer-actress-flamenco dancer Paquita Rico, Miranda often danced in her movies, and she does so here too. In Sound Of Horror Soledad can be seen dancing the Sirtaki. In the beginning of the next decade Soledad took to reinventing herself after playing wholesome roles for many years. In just one year Miranda starred in 6 features from Jesús Franco who had established himself with the stylish gothic horror The Awful Dr. Orloff (1962) (with Howard Vernon and Diana Lorys). As legend has it Soledad was on the verge of inking a lucrative contract with a German producer (either Artur Brauner, or Karl Heinz Mannchen, judging by the company she kept) that would launch her to certain stardom. On the morning of 18 August 1970 driving from Spain to Portugal Soledad was tragically killed at the tender age of 27 in a collision with a small truck. Ironically, as fate would have it, her husband José Manuel da Conceiçao Simões had just retired from racing to take a job in the auto industry to avoid exactly such a thing.

Archaeologist Dr. Pete Asilov (James Philbrook) and professor Andre (Antonio Casas) have come to the Greek countryside believing that there’s treasure to be found within the mountains. Superstitious native housekeeper Calliope (Lola Gaos) warns him not to venture into caves out of fear of what horrors may dwell in the unexplored, dark bowels of the earth. His benefactor (and business partner) Mr. Dorman (José Bódalo) and his associate Stavros (Francisco Piquer), their driver Pete (Arturo Fernández), as well as Dorman’s girlfriend Sofia Minelli (Ingrid Pitt) and Andre’s niece Maria (Soledad Miranda) soon join the two scientists and the two teams combine their respectives halves of the map to pinpoint where the riches might lie. A volley of dynamite is exploded to gain entrance to the mountain cave and soon the expedition finds a mysterious petrified egg. In their excitement about the discovery they fail to notice that a second egg has rolled off and hatched. Within the caves they find the desiccated remains of a woman and the bones of a man likely buried to safeguard the location of the treasure. When Stavros dies under mysterious circumstances from what appears to be an unseen assailant and Dorman is critically injured by that same malevolent force the survivors flee and barricade themselves in the mansion. What primordial horror have the scientist unleashed and will anyone survive?

Like so many horror – and science fiction movies of the time Sound Of Horror is a thinly-veiled Cold War allegory, a metaphor for the Red Scare, and a parable about the threat of nuclear annihilation. In the fifties it were giant monsters and humanoid aliens, in the sixties it were atomic abominations and strange technology threatening, “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Usually of the Americans, but never exclusively. Here the fear of the encroachment of communism comes in the form of an invisible dinosaur and, thankfully, there’s not a nuclear blast in sight. None of which really changes that Sound Of Horror feels like a 1950s Roger Corman monster movie. It has the stuffy scientist and world-weary housekeeper, the greedy business partner, and an eligible ingénue or two. The characters and premise feel like a leftover from the typical 1950s monster or science fiction movie. Once the monster starts besieging the mansion it turns into a crude and not exactly sophisticated precursor to Night Of the Living Dead (1968) whereas in the subterranean scenes it’s eerily prescient of Ciro Ippolito’s Alien 2: On Earth (1980). No wonder George A. Romero’s most enduring effort so profoundly and immediately changed the face of American horror. Most of the time however Sound Of Horror tries very hard to be serious in the face of abject absurdity. Unbelievable as it may sound when it hit North American grindhouses and drive-ins two years later it was put on a double bill with the Mario Bava gothic horror Kill, Baby, Kill (1966).

It’s unfortunate that Sound Of Horror has been overshadowed by the subsequent more enduring output that would grant Miranda and Pitt cult cinema immortality. After years of good girl roles you can sort of see Soledad slowly breaking away from the innocent roles she was typically cast in. Pitt was clearly going places and Sound Of Horror was the last low budget exploitationer she would appear in before her small detour into Hollywood with A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966) and Where Eagles Dare (1968). It also begs the question if Romero got his idea for Tom’s death scene in Night Of the Living Dead (1968) from Dorman’s corresponding death here. It’s entirely possible as there’s a full two years between the two, after all. The special effects are good enough for the most part and the black and white photography is decent for what it is. It’s also refreshingly straightforward about what it is. You probably wouldn’t be able to tell but within the span of four years Soledad Miranda and Ingrid Pitt would transform themselves into international sex symbols. Not that there’s anything remotely special about Sound Of Horror otherwise but it gets a long way on its old school charm and monster. This is as much a 1950s sci-fi movie (just look at that cast of ur-characters) as it is a monster movie from the same decade. In other words, Sound Of Horror is very much a product (and relic) of its time.

Sound Of Horror is pretty much emblematic of Spanish horror before people like Paul Naschy and Argentine import León Klimovsky revolutionized the domestic scene with a healthy dose of blood, boobs, and babes in 1968. This was clearly modeled on American monster movies from the fifties. As always this concerns a bunch of stuffy elderly men romantically involved with nubile women easily half their age. And you have to hand it to director José Antonio Nieves Conde and producer Gregorio Sacristán de Hoyos for actually having the cojones to include an invisible monster, thus avoiding the usual either ridiculous or non-scary looking monster model. It probably also helped that not having to construct a monster saved everybody a bunch of pesos. If you’re feeling charitable you could say that this has faint echoes of Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft but that’s perhaps giving Sound Of Horror more credit than it deserves. This could have been a counterfeit The Twilight Zone (1959-1964) episode. Sound Of Horror can be surprisingly atmospheric when it wants to be. The entire thing is patently ridiculous, yet Miranda and Pitt make it worthwhile or at least marginally more tolerable.

Plot: businessman gets lost in the Yugoslavian wilds and encounters vampires.

The Night Of the Devils (or La notte dei diavoli back at home in Italy) is a minor entry in the continental European vampire horror canon at the dawn of the wicked and wild seventies. The basis for the screenplay was the 1884/1950 Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy novel The Family of the Vourdalak. Mario Bava had first adapted it in the ‘I Wurdulak’ segment of his Black Sabbath (1963) and now almost ten years later it was time for a more contemporary adaptation. Overall it leans closer to the understated dread of Damiano Damiani's The Witch (1966) than to the psychotronic exuberance and excess of Jean Rollin, Mario Mercier, Luigi Batzella or Renato Polselli. In more recent years Tolstoy’s story was faithfully adapted in the Crimean gothic Vurdalaki (2017).

With credits dating all the way back to 1936 director Giorgio Ferroni was a dyed-in-the-wool craftsman who had a solid, if mostly undistinguished, career in Italian genre cinema. True to form he did everything from spaghetti westerns and poliziotteschi to comedies and documentaries. What he seemed to excel at, however, were peplum and horror on a budget. In that capacity he directed the atmospheric little gothic Mill of the Stone Women (1960) (an underseen and underrated Italian sub-classic) and a slew of entertaining pepla, including but not limited to, The Trojan Horse (1961), Conquest of Mycene (1963) (with Rosalba Neri) and The Lion Of Thebes (1964). His most prestigious and widely seen features were probably his liberal adaptation of Euripides' classic tragedy The Bacchantes (1961) and the World War II epic The Battle of El Alamein (1969). Amidst the vampire horror craze of the early 1970s he contributed the minimalistic, anachronistic and quiet The Night Of the Devils. Produced by Eduardo Manzanos and featuring an ensemble cast of Italian veterans as well as special effects from Carlo Rambaldi The Night Of the Devils would be Ferroni’s last horror outing before his death in 1981. Another minor classic is hardly the worst way to go out.

Yugoslavia, 1972. On his way to a business appointment Italian lumber importer Nicola (Gianni Garko) takes a dusty road through some particularly thick woods wrecking his 1967 Fiat 124 Sport Coupé as he tries to avoid crashing into a mysterious woman. Forced to look for help in these unhospitable environs he happens upon a family of eccentric woodcutters sequestered away in a 19th century tenement somewhere in darker bowels of the deep woods. When he spots the world-weary Ciuvelak clan they are in the process of burying the recently deceased brother of patriarch Gorka (William Vanders, as Bill Vanders). As Nicola asks Gorka whether there’s any possibility of someone driving him to the nearest village for repairs the old man spouts an ominous warning about the woods not being safe whenever night falls. Gorka invites Nicola to stay overnight at the family homestead and continue his journey home the following day. In short order he meets Gorka’s wife Elena (Teresa Gimpera), eldest son Jovan (Roberto Maldera, as Mark Roberts), daughter Sdenka (Agostina Belli) as well as his cousins Irina (Cinzia De Carolis) and Mira (Sabrina Tamborra). The next morning Jovan commences repairs on Nicola’s car as Gorka announces that he’s going to hunt down the “living dead” witch (Maria Monti) that supposedly haunts the woods and has cursed the Ciuvelak clan with an unspecified malady. If he doesn’t return that same evening at 6 o’clock sharp they are to kill him with no questions asked.

That night Gorka does return to the homestead and comes bearing a severed hand as evidence for his slaying of the witch. As the hours pass Sdenka insinuates herself into Nicola’s chambers and Gorka spirits little Irina away into the blackness of night. The strangeness becomes almost too much to bear when Nicola is witness to Irina returning as one of the living dead and Jovan is forced to drive a stake through Gorka’s heart. As one by one members of the Ciuvelak fall victim to the curse of the living dead Nicola soon finds himself in a fight for life and limb as the clan descends upon the homestead. Bloodied and bewildered he manages to escape within an inch of life and somehow he’s able to navigate the woods. Exhausted from his ordeal Nicola passes out near an idyllic stream. He’s brought to the local mental ward where he’s examined by doctor Tosi (Umberto Raho) and before long law enforcement in the form of officer Kovacic (Renato Turi) wants to interrogate the vagrant in expensive attire. The physician informs the inspector that the man spends his nights peering out of the window, “looking into the darkness like a scared, cornered animal.” Shortly thereafter a beautiful woman introduces herself claiming she knows the wealthy foreigner. As the doctor takes the woman to see the man, he flees from his room in abject horror.

Ferroni managed to assemble quite the cast for this atmospheric little horror ditty. First and foremost, there’s peplum and spaghetti western veteran Gianni Garko. Garko was a mainstay in Italian pulp cinema that somehow always remained somewhat of a second-stringer. His credits, among many others, include the giallo The Flower with the Deadly Sting (1973), The Psychic (1977) as well as the German sex comedies Three Swedish Girls in Upper Bavaria (1977) and Summer Night Fever (1978). The lowest he had to go was with Alfonso Brescia’s craptacular space opera Star Odyssey (1979) and bounced back with Luigi Cozzi’s space peplum Hercules (1983). The other monument here is Umberto Raho. Raho was a pillar of peplum, spaghetti western and Eurospy. Raho had acted alongside two of Britains greatest imports. First with Barbara Steele in The Ghost (1963), Castle Of Blood (1964) and The Long Hair of Death (1965) and in between with Vincent Price in The Last Man on Earth (1964). Towards the end of the decade he acted alongside unsung Polish import Magda Konopka in the fumetti Satanik (1968). He was in the giallo The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) from Dario Argento as well as Amuck (1972) from Silvio Amadio. Other noteworthy appearances include, among others, The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971) (with Erika Blanc) and the slightly deranged The Exorcist (1973) imitation Enter the Devil (1974) (with Lucretia Love and Stella Carnacina) from Mario Gariazzo.

Agostina Belli was one of the classic redhead belles that effortlessly alternated between mainstream fare, comedies and horror. As such she could be seen in the sugary sweet Romina Power-Al Bano musicarello period piece Symphony Of Love (1970), the horror Scream of the Demon Lover (1970), the giallo The Fifth Cord (1971), the Lucio Fulci sex comedy The Senator Likes Women (1972), Scent Of A Woman (1974) (the American remake with Al Pacino, Chris O’Donnell and Gabrielle Anwar from 1992 was as soulless as it was unnecessary – but, god forbid, if the average American has to read subtitles on an import), The Career of a Chambermaid (1976), the amiable The Omen (1976) imitation Holocaust 2000 (1977), the period piece Manaos (1979) as well as the comedies Dear Wife (1982) and Go Ahead You That Makes Me Laugh (1982). Her strangest outing was perhaps the E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) imitation The Brother from Space (1988) from the specialist in such things, Mario Gariazzo. The other illuminating presence is Teresa Gimpera, a reliable pillar in continental European pulp, who could be seen in Night of the Scorpion (1972), the gothic horror Crypt Of the Living Dead (1972), the Alfonso Brescia giallo Naked Girl Murdered in the Park (1972), the sex comedy Healthy Married Life (1974) and León Klimovsky's illicit The Last Man on Earth (1964) remake The People Who Own the Dark (1976).

What this most closely resembles are the two Mario Mercier features Erotic Witchcraft (1972) and A Woman Possessed (1975) as well as the American fantastique Blood Sabbath (1972) (with Dyanne Thorne, Susan Damante and amply endowed Swedish softcore porn star and sometime Russ Meyer muse Uschi Digard). Ferroni understands, perhaps better than anyone else, that less is always more. For this atmospheric, gothic-tinged horror he and director of photography Manuel Berenguer make full use of the sylvan location and the arboreal surroundings. It’s not a big leap from here to the naturalistic environs in which Jean Rollin frequently dabbled or something like Seven Women For Satan (1974) from Michel Lemoine. What little money there was, was obviously spent where it mattered. One year later León Klimovsky would use a similar premise for his The Vampires Night Orgy (1973), except there an entire town of vampires descended upon a travelling couple thrown together by circumstance. Amidst the deluge of gothic horror revivals, The Night Of the Devils was a sobering earthy and grounded affair with none of the supernatural overtones that more or less were the standard of the day. Instead it uses a sprawling natural environment to utmost effect and electrifying performances from Garko and Belli heighten the experience.

While arguably 1973 was the banner year for Italian gothic horror, 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of this little talked about slice of Italian gothic pulp. For an Italian production it comes off as either very French or British, depending on your preference. If you’re looking for a low-key production that’s overflowing with atmosphere and not some extravagant special effects spectacle as, say, The Devil’s Wedding Night (1973) (with Rosalba Neri) or The Dracula Saga (1973) (with Helga Liné, Betsabé Ruiz and Cristina Suriani), The Night Of the Devils will be right up your alley. What Night Of the Damned (1971) was to the giallo and what The Witches Mountain (1972) was to the Spanish fantastique and witchcraft horror, this is to the Italian gothic. This is a wonderfully understated feature that banks heavily on its natural surroundings to sell what otherwise is on its face a patently ridiculous premise. Just like Mill of the Stone Women (1960) twelve years earlier The Night Of the Devils is a boundlessly atmospheric and creaky gothic that manages to push all the right buttons and is custodian to exemplary performances from Gianni Garko and Agostina Belli. With the benefit of several decades of hindsight it’s near criminal that Giorgio Ferroni has gone down in history as a reliable but underappreciated second-stringer.