Saturday, March 24, 1973: The Sound of Horror (1965) / The Man They Could Not Hang (1939)

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Synopsis: Professor Andre (Antonio Casas) leads a group of cave explorers in the foothills of a mountain in Greece. They are in search of a fortune in Greek antiquities that are said to be buried there. He and his companions Dorman (Jose Bodalo)  and Stravos (Francisco Piquer), along with his niece Maria (Soledad Miranda), use dynamite to blow open a chamber behind a wall of rock. There they find an odd, egg-like object. After the day’s work is done, they take the fossilized egg back with them to a house they’re staying at just down the hill. Their cook Calliope (Lola Gaos), a native Greek, feels no good can come of all this, since it is rumored that the cave is cursed. But the men just tease her as they eat their evening meal.

Back at the cave, another fossilized egg, which the workers did not notice, splits open and a strange little creature oozes out of it, and then fades away.

Soon a Land Rover arrives at the house, adding three people to the group: Asilov (James Philbrook), an old friend of Andre’s; his main squeeze Sofia (Ingrid Pitt) and Pete (Arturo Fernandez), their driver and proud owner of the truck they arrived in.

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On the next trip to the cave the group discovers the mummified body of a Neanderthal, perfectly preserved and apparently ritually buried. Andre is also elated to discover a sealed chamber farther back in the cave, which he is certain contains the fabled treasure.

Alone in the outer chamber, Stravos sketches the mummy, but a a high-pitched shrieking sound alarms him and soon he is being shredded to death by a creature that is apparently invisible. The others rush back to the house, but they are determined to risk going back and claiming the treasure. In trying to do so Dormand is badly injured, and the group goes back to barricade themselves in the house. Realizing that an invisible monster is laying siege to the place, they give up their idea of claiming the treasure and instead focus on the important task of getting out with their lives….

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Comments: The Sound of Horror has a lackluster reputation among fans of the classic horror genre, but it does have its moments. In order to appreciate them, the viewer is advised to approach the proceedings with a fair amount of good will. Through much of its running time it’s rather talky, and the pudgy, middle-aged men presented to us as the protagonists are so poorly defined as to be almost indistinguishable from one another. It’s probably best known as the screen debut of Hammer siren and The Wicker Man hottie Ingrid Pitt, and Soledad Miranda, the actress who died at age 27 and is best known for appearing in Vampyros Lesbos, portrays Professor Andre’s niece.

The film suffers from some odd lapses of logic and continuity. We’re at first led to believe Professor Andre is leading an archeological expedition (albeit an unconventional one, as their main tool of excavation seems to be dynamite). But after they discover a prehistoric egg, and then a mummified Neanderthal (so astonishingly well-preserved that the ropes binding its body are still intact) Professor Andre expresses annoyance: where are all the priceless artifacts? It turns out he’s simply a treasure hunter, and making the archeological discovery of the century is not what he signed on for. It’s later explained that a fortune of ancient Greek antiquities were buried in the vicinity by thieves, but that this particular mountain has been preserved from looting because the superstitious locals fear a curse.

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This, of course, is a little hard to swallow, as there has never been a tomb in the history of the world that thieves knew about and didn’t plunder — curse or no curse. Moreover, after Professor Andre and his crew discover a stone vault in the floor of the cave they’re exploring, they suddenly decide they must break into it and get the presumed treasure out immediately. Why?  Because thieves have started gathering on the hillside, waiting for the team to go to sleep so they can get at the treasure themselves. But — how did these thieves hear about the discovery of the vault in the first place, since Andre and company haven’t told anybody about it?

But in spite of silly plot holes like this, I’ll give The Sound of Horror credit: it has an unusual structure, and actually does pretty well depicting an invisible monster that shrieks unnervingly when it approaches. The movie picks up momentum late when the monster lays siege to the house (Calliope’s unfortunate death is really quite well-done) and this part of the movie manages to build some nice tension.

The invisibility gimmick works best when the thing is loose inside the house and they’re trying to lure it away from a door behind which one of the characters is trapped. The creature slashes up its victims in a pretty novel way, and the idea of the creature being seen only by its footprints in spilled flour in the kitchen is a good one. Unfortunately, it was decided to show the monster in its final seconds as it’s being consumed by flame — it looks like a small dinosaur, and not like a 7-foot-tall rabbit, as I had been hoping based on the footprints.

What’s that? Rabbits don’t hatch from eggs, you say?

Oh sure, now you want the movie to make sense.

 

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The Man They Could Not Hang

Synopsis: Dr. Henryk Savaard (Boris Karloff) is a brilliant doctor as well as a great humanitarian. He has designed a machine that will keep the blood circulating in a patient’s body even when the heart has stopped. This is used in tandem with a coffin-like chamber that chills the body. With the body thus in a state of suspended animation, doctors can operate on a patient at their leisure.

With the assistance of his friend Dr. Lang (Byron Foulger), Savaard enlists his lab assistant Bob (Stanley Brown) to test the machine. Their plan is to stop Bob’s heart, use the machine to circulate his blood for a time, then restore him to life. But the police burst in during the experiment. Finding Bob’s heart not beating, the coroner declares him dead and Savaard is arrested for murder.

At his trial Savaard tries to explain his methods, but the jury is unimpressed. He is convicted and sentenced to hang. Embittered, Savaard vows to take vengeance on the judge, prosecutor, defense attorney and all twelve jurors .

On death row, Savaard arranges to have his body turned over to Dr. Lang after the hanging.



The prison chaplain makes a final visit to his cell in the hours before his execution, but Savaard seems unconcerned, even haughty, about facing death. Within the hour Savaard is hanged and his body is handed over to Dr. Lang.


Months later, a reporter notices something peculiar: six of the jurors in the Savaard case have apparently committed suicide. Soon he learns that the surviving jurors — as well as the judge, prosecutor and defense attorney — have been invited to a mysterious house. Going to investigate, the reporter learns that he and the invitees are trapped inside. Dr. Savaard’s voice comes over a hidden loudspeaker, telling his guests that they will die one by one, every fifteen minutes. Moreover, no one will ever suspect Savaard because he has the perfect alibi: he’s already dead….

Comments: The Man They Could Not Hang was one of a number of mad scientist pictures starring Boris Karloff that Columbia made between 1939 and 1940.  They were formulaic movies, and perhaps the most remarkable thing about them is how similar they are to one another. In each of these films, Boris Karloff played a kindly scientist whose important research is upended by a pack of paternalistic busybodies; as a result his line of research is ruined and he decides to take revenge on the parochial ninnies who thwarted him. In this picture, the police intrude on an experiment in suspended animation. The cops think the test subject (Savaard’s own lab assistant Bob) is dead, and they remove him from the cryogenic tank. This results in Bob’s actual death, for which Dr. Savaard is put on trial.  Embittered, Savaard swears vengeance against the judge, jury and prosecutor who rule against him.

We can infer that the decision to make Bob the fiancee of Dr. Savaard’s daughter Janet is designed to up the emotional ante, to make his death more of a blow to Dr. Savaard personally. But this decision is undercut somewhat by Dr. Savaard’s use of Bob as the test subject in the first place. For all his confidence in the procedure, Savaard had to know that something could have gone wrong; and in fact something did go wrong. He might choose to blame the meddling police and the small-minded doctors who pronounced Bob dead in the cryogenic chamber, but Savaard still bears some measure of responsibility.

But we need to go easy on the screenwriters here, because they have a pretty difficult task placed before them. Kindly humanitarians aren’t easily turned into stone-cold killers out for revenge — especially when the targets are guilty not of malice, but simple ignorance.

The best revenge stories put their heroes through Job-like punishments and when the victims finally decide to launch their vendetta we are right with them.  We root for Edmond Dantes in The Count of Monte Cristo not because we’re into payback, but because he has been so cruelly and thoroughly betrayed that we want the injustice to be righted and the perpetrators to be punished. In The Man They Could Not Hang we are supposed to buy into Dr. Savaard’s anger just enough to believe that he feels payback is warranted.  At the same time, we’re also supposed to understand that what he is doing is wrong and hope that he doesn’t succeed. Any movie built on such a wobbly foundation isn’t going to be entirely successful. But to its credit, the movie runs it by us so quickly that we don’t have a lot of time to think about it.

One comment

  1. The test subject in THE MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG was not engaged to Savaard’s daughter, in fact his fiancée (Ann Doran) is the one who causes her lover’s death by bringing in the cops. Never saw THE SOUND OF HORROR, and even Ingrid Pitt had nothing good to say about it. It certainly SOUNDS different.

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