EL SONIDO DE LA MUERTE
SOUND OF HORROR
Director: Jose Antonio Nieves Conde
Most will be seduced to see this film for the two young actresses who would later become horror genre's "scream queens" when that term was still not tarnished with overuse and inconsequence: Soledad Miranda and Ingrid Pitt. Soledad Miranda was barely into her twenties when the movie was made, a film veteran with over ten movies to her credit, but several years away from her appearances in Jess Franco's films (notably, VAMPIROS LESBOS), which have garnered for her cult myth status in recent times. In EL SONIDO DE LA MUERTE she appears rather anorexic, yet her sweet, hurtful and luminescent eyes are in their glory, and they do not fail to ignite a man's eagerness to take home this wounded bird and provide her with love and vitamins. For Ingrid Pitt, this was her first film and made before future surgeries would transform her bust into a cathedral of two fearless mounds and her aquiline nose into a pert upturned affair that seemed more Scandinavian than her actual Polish-Jewish roots would have naturally allowed. As the girlfriend of one of the lesser characters, Pitt has the least significant role, but does exude the impatient sexuality so much in evidence in her better known films (THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, COUNTESS DRACULA) and, frankly, does Miranda one better in a dance contest that implies, in the scene, a different result.
Seekers of watching well-known femmes in obscure films typically wind up drugging through the film itself, but this should not prove the case with EL SONIDO DE LA MUERTE. Director Jose Antonio Nieves Conde and his cast and crew knew well that they were making a B movie, "without pretensions," and set to work with a good-natured spirit of adventure and the invigorating employment of their craft. Conde, who had been directing films since 1946, was new to horror, but opined years later that: "All directors like to film this type of story because it creates technical problems that can be only be solved with the help of genius, like in the very early days of cinema." *
After unusual and effective opening credits that seem intended for an ersatz art film, the story begins in a cave, which is already a major plus for me, as caves (man's primordial sanctuary, home and arena for both dreams and nightmares of the outside and inner world) are the ancestral source for the movie theaters I used to go to: dark and cavernous and musty with well-earned age, palaces of fictions and possibilities, the places where we, too, as young ones, could take in dreams and receive nightmares so real in our imagination as to make them viable and compellingly dangerous. No horror film is as good as the one you saw as a child in such a theater, and damn the contemporary multiplexes with their antiseptic design and curtainless screens and the continual barrage of commercials and quizzes before the show begins. The sacrament of movie going has been tarnished, and your children and the progeny of the future will never know what has been lost. We are left to recreate some of these charms at home. Thank the gods for large-size TV monitors and the DVD. My palace is my home is my cave now....
Sorry for the interruption; now back to the review:
The screenplay voices the concerns of older men, edging closer to their own natural mortality, who wish for one last chance at the spice of life by finding the treasure that had been hidden away in the cave of their soon-to-be undoing. War veterans, these sympathetic men find themselves facing a horror more menacing and frightening than Nazis: an invisible monster awakened by their explosives work in the cave, a supernatural being, some prehistoric animal, who gives off an awful piercing sound, the sound of horror, at the moment of attack. Conde secures as much suspense and unease as possible from the plot and handles his duties professionally and without reproach.
The male leads--Arturo Fernandez, Antonio Casas, James Philbrook, Jose Bodalo, Francisco Piquer--are particularly solid and believable, and the venerable, craggy-faced Lola Gaos, instantly recognizable to fans of Paul Naschy's LATIDOS DE PANICO, is a welcome presence of wry folk-tale wisdom and good visual counterpoint to the beauteous duo of Miranda and Pitt.
EL SONIDO DE LA MUERTE was shot on a small budget of three million pesetas with American investment, spearheaded by Sam X. Arbarbanel, a Jersey City-born writer and producer (PREHISTORIC WOMEN, THE GOLDEN MISTRESS) who would follow the lead of Samuel Bronston and head to Spain to seek the fame and fortune that eluded him in America. Most of the special effects in the film where handled during its shooting and not in post-production, mirrors being chiefly employed to perform delusions of invisibility. (Conde claims all the effects were done on camera, but I have my doubts.) Location shooting occurred in the La Cabrera region of Madrid, and for the interiors cast and crew worked in Madrid's Samuel Bronston Studios. The musical score, important to Conde, was handled by Luis de Pablo, who at the time was investigating the sonic dimensions and emotional possibilities of electronic music.
Just a note: Several years after EL SONIDO DE LA MUERTE, Nieves would helm another Spanish horrors: MARTA, a 1971 psycho thriller starring Stephen Boyd and Marisa Mell. And keep your eye out for his far lesser known (okay, unknown) CASA MANCHADA, another effort with actor Stephen Boyd, made in 1975, which just may have horror overtones, though of the more subtle kind.
EL SONIDO DE LA MUERTE is now available as a DVD from Alpha Video under its English title and dub, SOUND OF HORROR. (Theatrically, the U.S. distributor of the film, Europix International, paired it with Mario Bava's KILL BABY KILL.) The picture quality is murky and tape-sourced, robbing the film of textures and subtlety, though such visual finesse is not important to the somber, claustrophobic mood of this film. SOUND OF HORROR has never been available on video in good quality, so I'm thankful that this budget presentation allows others to easily view the film and appreciate it as a solid entry in the legion of atmospheric minor shockers meant to fill out double-bills in cities and towns around the world, once upon a time.
* Quotes taken from JOSE ANTONIO NIEVES CONDE, EL OFICIO DEL CINEASTA by Francisco Llinas, Semana Internacional de Cine de Valladolid, Valladolid, 1995. Translation: Mirek.
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