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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: who’s the mysterious woman in Anna’s dreams? Is she dead or alive?

As with all things in life, timing is everything. Metempsyco (or Metempsychosis, released in France as Le manoir maudit or The Cursed Mansion, in Germany as Die Bestie von Schloß Monte Christo or The Beast of Monte Cristo Castle, and in the US and on the international market as Tomb Of Torture) is a minor entry in the Italo gothic horror cycle of the sixties and by no means a classic or essential. For its 1964 North American release it was put on a grindhouse/drive-in double-bill with Cave Of the Living Dead (1964). On release it had to contend with far stronger and more compelling domestic genre exercises and it understandably fell through the cracks. Over half a century of critical examination has not revealed any meaningful insights only attesting that this was rightly ignored.

No wonder that in the annals of Italian horror and Eurocult at large Tomb Of Torture is but a forgotten footnote. The sixties were an especially prolific and prosperous time for Italian horror. The decade had opened with Renato Polselli’s The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960), Piero Regnoli’s The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960), and Giorgio Ferroni’s Mill Of the Stone Women (1960). In 1963 it was preceded by Mario Bava’s proto-giallo The Girl That Knew Too Much (1963) (Bava would codify and innovate the giallo subgenre along with Dario Argento, Luciano Ercoli, and Sergio Martino) and a few months after that, The Whip and the Body (1963); Riccardo Freda’s The Ghost (1963), the entertaining The Blancheville Monster (1963), and Antonio Margheriti’s The Virgin Of Nuremberg (1963). A year later there were Camillo Mastrocinque’s Terror in the Crypt (1964) and Polselli’s The Monster of the Opera (1964). In short, in the glory days of gothic horror competition at the domestic box office was stiff and Tomb Of Torture was swamped by better and more memorable examples of the form. While not exactly terrible or lacking Tomb Of Torture simply missed the innate starpower and visual grandeur (a few scattered artsy shots here and there notwithstanding) to become nothing more than a pleasant little genre piece overshadowed by far superior exercises in the genre.

And who produced and directed Tomb Of Torture is equally as mystifying as the movie itself. As near as we can tell this was the first thing Francesco Campitelli ever produced and on the basis of it he carved out a respectable career as a writer and production manager. Campitelli is known around these parts for co-writing the Spanish co-producton Two Males For Alexa (1971) (with Rosalba Neri, Emma Cohen, and Pilar Velázquez). Here he also doubles as director of photography. The director behind Tomb Of Torture was mountaineer, climber, and sometime pulp novelist Antonio Boccacci. Boccacci was a graduate in mathematics, a teacher, and avid alpinist. In fact he’s credited with inventing Val di Mello climbing, he was one of the first to scale the valley walls along the Luna Nascente trail at the Scoglio delle Metamorfosi, and he’s said to be a pioneer in the field of bouldering in Italy. His extensive experience in mountaineering and ski mountaineering led to a steady career in writing specialised guides of all kinds on the subject alongside the occassional fiction novel. For whatever reason somebody apparently thought that this was reason enough for Boccacci to try his hand at screenwriting. In that capacity Boccacci co-wrote the peplum Revolt of the Mercenaries (1960), the adventure film Rampage Of Evil (1961), today’s subject Tomb Of Torture, and the Alfonso Brescia spaghetti western Days Of Violence (1967) (again with LWO favorite Neri, Spanish almost-star Beba Loncar, and Italian professional warm body Bruna Beani). After this Boccacci returned to paperback writing and it’s anybody’s guess how popular (or respected, if he was at all) he was in Italian literary circles.

1910, somewhere in Europe. Schoolgirls Esther (Emy Eco) and Cathy (Terry Thompson) have taken to invading a local grand castle where Countess Irene (Annie Alberti, as Annie Albert) disappeared under mysterious circumstances some twenty years earlier. The countess is presumed dead but her body was never recovered. The two girls are spooked when current inhabitant Countess Elizabeth (Flora Carosello, as Elizabeth Queen) materializes out of the shadows and warns them of the horrors the castle holds. The two girls try to make their escape but they are stalked and murdered by deformed, droopy-eyed hunchback Hugo (Bernard Blay or Fred Pizzot). First on the scene of the crime is inspector Dobson (Bernard Blay or Fred Pizzot) and he’s mystified. For the last several weeks 20-year-old ingénue Anna (Annie Alberti, as Annie Albert) has been haunted by strange dreams of a woman looking just like her dying in a shadowy torture dungeon. Doctor Darnell (Adriano Micantoni, as Thony Maky) believes that bringing Anna to the castle she sees in her nightmares will cure her of her affliction. In the castle Anna becomes transfixed by the portrait of the dead countess. Journalist George (Marco Mariani, as Mark Marian) is visiting the village to report on the disappearance and murder of the two schoolgirls. In complete happenstance he meets Anna when his car overheats and he’s in need of assistance. George not only is instantly smitten with Anna, he’s intrigued by the strange story she tells. Meanwhile, Sikh prince Raman (Antonio Boccacci) of some unspecified Hindu kingdom has returned believing Anna to be a reincarnation of his long lost Irene. Raman was romantically involved with Elisabeth but callously cast her aside once he laid eyes on Irene. As a scorned woman Elisabeth is none too happy with Raman’s return and his inquiring after his former lover. What horrors dwell in Irene’s abode? Does Anna really see ghosts, and who’s the mysterious force encased within that suit of armor? Can old man Darnell, George, and inspector Dobson save Anna from the certain doom that awaits her?

To make matters worse, not only has Tomb Of Torture the most unlikely producer and director duo, it reeks with the vile stench of good old nepotism. Boccacci not only casted his wife Flora Carosello in one of the lead roles but does the same for Emy Eco (or Emilia Eco, the sister of writer and academic Umberto Eco) in what probably could be construed as a favor from one academic to another. The biggest stars here are arguably Marco Mariani, he of The Monster of the Opera (1964) and sometime fumetti novel star Annie Alberti. Some allege that the script was co-written by Giovanni Simonelli, the son of Giorgio Simonelli. Most contemporary sources attribute it to Simonelli the elder. However Giovanni seems the more logical choice given that the Anglicised moniker listed here is Johnny (and not George) Seemonell. There’s a tendency in the blogosphere to lambast the title but Metempsyco (or Metempsychosis, the supposed transmigration of the soul into a new body at the moment of death) perfectly encapsulates what the movie’s about. The exteriors were filmed at Orsini Castle (restored and housing an exclusive hotel) in Nerola with interiors shot at Palazzo Borghese in Artena. Since Italian imports were popular on the North American market everybody hides behind Anglo-Saxon pseudonyms. It was a very common practice in Italian exploitation at the time and one that would persevere over the ensuing decades. Tomb Of Torture is not nearly as good (or as memorable) as the English-language title would have you believe, but it’s not exactly bad either. It’s just very utilitarian. "Sex or terror?", asks the Italian promotional poster. Either seems to be scarce, regardless.

That Tomb Of Torture is a relic of bygone, less enlightened time becomes painfully clear pretty much from the onset. It begins with that old chestnut of two rebellious schoolgirls (they’re more college-age rather than high school) being chased around the bowels of a creepy castle before ending up tortured and finally killed. Then there’s Antonio Boccacci in brownface and turban trying his darndest to pass himself off as a Sikh prince (and failing at it spectacularly) and Flora Carosello as his scorned former lover. Annie Alberti is an attractive enough a lead but she was no Graziella Granata and even second-stringer Hammer ladies were better on average. The first act is actually surprisingly effective and atmospheric with an extended tour through the torture dungeon. Unfortunately that’s for the most part undone by the unintentionally loopy cartoon music that Armando Sciascia insists on during the romantic scenes that could have come from a Laura Efrikian rom com. Francesco Campitelli acquits himself well enough and actually manages to line up a few artsy shots here and there. The special effects make-up is remarkably gory and well-realized (especially the hunchback) for the time and budget this was made in and on. Overall Tomb Of Torture is far from bad but it’s understandable why it was ostensibly ignored when it was originally released.