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Plot: disabled morgue worker will stop at nothing to resurrect his lost love.

The Spanish Lon Chaney, Paul Naschy, is rightly associated with horror and the macabre as that was his genre of choice. Through out his long career he played most, if not all, of the Universal Classic Monsters. His most famous and enduring is, of course, El Hombre Lobo (the Wolf Man) but he also played Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, and the Mummy. At earliest this happened in the second El Hombre Lobo episode Assignment Terror (1969). While that was unarguably his bread and butter Naschy frequently utilized the conventions and trappings of the genre as vehicles for other, more ambitious ideas. El jorobado de la Morgue (or The Hunchback Of the Morgue) was one such vehicles and probably the earliest one at that. It put a macabre spin on a beloved fairytale and did so much with so very little. In other words, never underestimate the little guy. For one reason or another The Hunchback Of the Morgue is often mistakingly overlooked in favor of his popular El Hombre Lobo series.

Besides his El Hombre Lobo Naschy played an array of different roles, either historical or fictional, Paul Naschy had a penchant for recognizing which trend or was worth capitalizing upon. Whether it was history, superstition, religion, or a certain cinematic innovation catching his eye Naschy always had a screenplay ready to be filmed. As such he assembled a respectable host of worthwhile secondary features and lesser known memorable characters. These include, among others, his Gilles de Rais (1404-1440) inspired nobleman/alchemist Alaric de Marnac from Horror Rises From the Tomb (1973) and Panic Beats (1983) as well as the similarly inspired Barón Gilles de Lancré from The Devil's Possessed (1974), and the The Mummy (1932) inspired The Mummy's Revenge (1973). During the giallo boom he contributed The Killer Is One of Thirteen (1973) and Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll (1974). Then there are The Exorcist (1973) ripoff Exorcism (1974), the Liane, Jungle Goddess (1956) imitation The Jungle Goddess (1974), the Witchfinder General (1968) and Mark Of the Devil (1970) knockoff Inquisition (1977), the Biblical parable The Traveller (1979) (or his liberal reworking of the Old Testament theodicy scripture of the Book of Job) and his own deranged take on Andrzej Żuławski's The Devil (1972), or the late peplum The Cantabrians (1980) that chronicled the Cantabrian Wars. As things tends to go, these secondary features didn’t always generate the same kind of interest or debate.

In the banner year for erotic gothic horror that was 1973 Count Dracula’s Great Love was his response not to the psychotronic-pop art excesses of Jesús Franco’s Vampyros Lesbos (1971) but the Karnstein trilogy from Britain’s house of Hammer. He envisioned it as a bodice-ripping, bosom baring period horror and a celebration of the (preferably disrobed) female form with a selection of the hottest starlets of the day. However, nothing is ever simple and production was anything but smooth sailing. French New Wave star Haydée Politoff (briefly a muse for Éric Rohmer) suffered a head injury when she was involved in an accident on a winding mountain road and crew sustained injuries when sets collapsed on them. To make matters worse Ingrid Garbo and Mirta Miller fell seriously ill when a chemical compound used for the special effects turned out to be toxic and had an adverse effect on both. Faced with no other option but to temporarily halt principal photography so that Politoff could properly recover Paul Naschy proposed to producer Francisco Lara Polop and director Javier Aguirre that they retain director of photography Raúl Pérez Cubero and special effects man Pablo Pérez and the cast and crew they had in place and film The Hunchback Of the Morgue instead. It only required minimal location shooting in Feldkirch in Vorarlberg, Austria for some exteriors and the rest could be filmed back at home in Madrid. The ruins of Monasterio de Santa Maria la Real de Valdeiglesias - or the monastery that had featured prominently in Amando de Ossorio’s Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972) - was a key location. With the main cast and crew at the ready, all Naschy had to do was invite some marketable guest stars. As fate would have it, by the time cameras stopped rolling Politoff, Garbo, and Miller all were recuperated and filming on Count Dracula’s Great Love could resume. In the end, everything worked out.

In Feldkirch, Austria on the border with Switzerland and Liechtenstein med students Udo (Fernando Sotuela), Hans Burgher (Kino Pueyo, as Joaquin Rodriguez 'Kinito') and his friend (Antonio Mayans) are engaged in a drinking contest and the boys are enjoying the beer as much as their female company Eva (Sofía Casares, as Sofia Casares) and her friend (Iris André, as Iris Andre). Everything seems well until one of the waitresses (Susana Latour, as Susana Latur) scares herself half to death when she lays eyes upon an ominous stranger. Drunkenly Udo staggers outside dropping a photograph. Kindhearted Wolfgang Gotho (Jacinto Molina Álvarez, as Paul Naschy) tries to help the drunken student but is scolded for his charity. You see, Gotho was born a hunchback and his deformity has him ostracized, scorned, and shunned by pretty much all townspeople. When Udo collapses from acute alcohol poisoning his body is brought to the morgue of the municipal hospital. Gotho takes great pleasure in dismantling the boy’s body for the way he treated him when he was alive. Saturated in dejection the only ray of light in his lovelorn miserable existence is Ilse (María Elena Arpón, as Maria Elena Arpon – not using her international market alias, Helen Harp) who stays at the hospital. Alleviating his suffering is Ilse’s genuine kindness and attention. However, their romance is irrevocably doomed as Ilse is stricken with tubercolosis and terminally ill. One day on the streets he’s ridiculed and pelted with rocks by children because of his birth defect. When medical intern Elke (Rosanna Yanni, as Rossana Yanny) sees this she takes Gotho to her home and tends to his wounds. In awe of such humanity in gratitude he lowly kisses her feet.

Wolfgang enjoys nothing more than bringing Ilse a bouquet of flowers every day and pushing her around on the hospital grounds in her wheelchair. One afternoon their relaxing stroll is interrupted when the four med students from the pub insult and accost her. He takes to defending her honor but the opposition poses too great. Dr. Frederick Tauchner (Víctor Barrera, as Vic Winner) and dean of the hospital Dr. Maria Meyer (Maria Perschy, as Maria Pershy) are friendly to his plight and chastise the students. They help Gotho and as soon as he’s able he rushes to see Ilse again. Unfortunately the assault aggravated her already dire condition and she dies before he can get to her. Dismayed at the passing of his only friend Gotho is enraged when the doctors see her as a vessel for organ harvest. When two morgue workers (José Luis Chinchilla and Ingrid Rabel) try to steal Ilse’s golden necklace he kills them both with a hatchet in a fit of blind rage. He absconds with her body and takes it to his catacomb lair. Dr. Orla (Alberto Dalbés, as Alberto Dalbes) has lost his tenure, funding, and reputation as he was ousted from the medical community over ethical violations and the dubious nature of his research. When he learns of Gotho’s homicidal proclivities he promises to revive his beloved Ilse if he brings him the bodies he requires. Meanwhile, Elke the ginger intern has taken something of a shine to the generous and virtuous hunchback. As the bodies start to mount the commissioner (Ángel Menéndez, as Angel Menendez) dispatches two police inspectors (Manuel de Blas and Antonio Pica) to investigate the sudden spate of violent homicides in the area. Is Dr. Orla really trying to help Gotho or is he just exploiting his desperation for his own selfish interests?

While this might not look like much upon closer inspection Naschy’s script (that he co-wrote with Javier Aguirre, and Alberto S. Insúa) reveals quite some hidden depth. It places the iconic character of Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame in the plot of Robert Wise’s The Body Snatcher (1945) (produced by Val Lewton and based upon the 1884 Robert Louis Stevenson short story of the same name) that starred both Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. The Stevenson story was inspired by the 1828 Burke and Hare murders in 19th-century Edinburgh, Scotland and there are faint echoes of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s 1818 Frankenstein. Much less prevalent, but present all the same, are light shades of the classic fairytale Beauty and the Beast. At heart The Hunchback Of the Morgue is a romance, albeit it a very morbid one. Whereas Count Dracula’s Great Love (1973) was filled to the brim with beautiful girls in period costumes and a dizzying amount of heaving bosoms The Hunchback Of the Morgue is a contemporary gothic romance with splashes of blood and gore. The opening scene at the alm could have come from a German sex comedy (Tiroler or otherwise) if the deeply-cut dirndls and large pints of beer are anything to go by. The scenes at the hospital feel more like a women in prison flick than anything else. They’re never exactly as sleazy as the Brazilian examples of the genre but it’s the idea that counts. For one reason or another Naschy had something of a predilection towards playing tragic heroes in doomed romances around this time. Dracula (and his human alter ego Dr. Wendell Marlow), Wolfgang Gotho, and Waldemar Daninsky are all but slight variations of the same character that Naschy played in all these things. Italy got to cannibalism with Man From Deep River (1972) and Spain got there a year later with Amando de Ossorio’s jungle safari adventure Night of the Sorcerers (1973). In a break from convention Spain got to necrophilia earlier with this as Riccardo Freda’s The Horrible Dr. Hichcock (1962) (with Barbara Steele) was a gothic horror and Joe D’Amato would only delve into the subject with Beyond the Darkness (1979) some six years later.

And once again Naschy was able to assemble a cast of domestic monuments, some of the hottest starlets of the day, and notable supporting actors. First there’s Ángel Menéndez from The Loreleys Grasp (1974), Rosanna Yanni from The Mark Of the Wolfman (1968) (that also starred Menéndez), Malenka, the Vampire’s Niece (1969), and the soccer comedy Las Ibéricas F.C. (1971). Then there are María Elena Arpón from Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972) and Maria Perschy from the third (and last) Blind Dead episode The Ghost Galleon (1974), Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll (1974), Exorcism (1975), and The People Who Own the Dark (1976). Also present are Alberto Dalbés and Víctor Barrera from Count Dracula’s Great Love (1973), Horror Rises From the Tomb (1973), and Vengeance of the Zombies (1973) as well as José Luis Chinchilla from The Devil's Possessed (1974), The Werewolf and the Yeti (1975), and Return Of the Wolfman (1980). In a supporting role there’s Antonio Mayans from Nightmare City (1980) and Vampyres (2015) as well as a whole lot of Jesús Franco and Eurociné bilge including, but not limited to, Night of the Assassins (1974), Oasis Of the Zombies (1982), and Golden Temple Amazons (1986). Finally there are reliable second-stringers Manuel de Blas from Assignment Terror (1969) and The Vampires Night Orgy (1973). De Blas continues to act to this day and he even was in the recent (and much delayed) Uncharted (2022) movie! Then there are Susana Latour from A Bell From Hell (1973) (with Christina von Blanc and Maribel Martín) and Count Dracula’s Great Love (1973) as well as professional warm body Ingrid Rabel from The Dracula Saga (1973). Compared to other Naschy productions, before and after, this one isn’t as star-studded. Argentine import Rosanna Yanni is worth seeing in anything and María Elena Arpón is one of the unsung stars of Spanish exploitation (along with notable almost-stars as Carmen Yazalde, Cristina Suriani, and Montserrat Prous). For Arpón this was probably her biggest starring role this side of Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972). Screen monuments Maria Perschy and Ángel Menéndez both had seen better days.

No Naschy feature is complete without its share of behind-the-scenes anecdotes and The Hunchback Of the Morgue has at least two. For starters, real rats were used in the catacomb lair when María Elena Arpón is laying upon the medical slab and Naschy is fully engulfed by a ravenous wave. Second, and perhaps more disturbingly, as in Thriller – A Cruel Picture (1973) (with Christina Lindberg) a real corpse was used for the beheading scene. That is until Naschy became sickened during the throat slitting on the first take and it had to be replaced with a dummy head afterwards. The Hunchback Of the Morgue did well on the festival circuit and won several awards. Paul Naschy won a Georges Méliès Award for Best Actor on the Festival international de Paris du film fantastique et de science-fiction (International Festival of Fantastic and Science-Fiction Cinema of Paris) at the Théatre Le Palace in Paris. It also collected a grand total of 5 awards (including one for best script) distributed between this and Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll (1974) at the International Fantasy and Horror Film Festival Antwerp (a precursor to the present-day International Film Festival Antwerpen – IFFA) in 1976. Not bad for a Spanish fantaterror that remains underestimated to this day.

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.