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Sound Of Horror (1966)

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.