THE LiViNG COFFiN
(aka SCREAM OF DEATH)
(1965), Color, 72 minutes
Distributed by Trans-International Films
Presented by Young America Productions
Produced at Soundlab, Coral Gables, Fla.
Produced by K. Gordon Murray
Directed by Manuel San Fernando
DVD-R comes packaged as shown in color DVD case wrapped in plastic!
This is one of the few Mexi-Murray “horror” pictures to feature a pre-credits teaser (a shirtless man, covered in blood, stumbles through a skeleton-infested swamp, and falls to the ground, dead), which appears to have nothing to do with the plot, but is effective in creating whatever atmosphere this meager flick has to offer. (Actually, it may be that the man is one of Chloe’s sons, who died a horrible death in the swamps and whose death precipitated her own breakdown.)
Titles roll over a creepy/primitive graphic of a cartoon skeleton laying on a prairie. One wonders if these charmingly cheesy graphics were designed by Murray & Company, or were the graphics for the original Mexican verison.
Otherwise, this is a lame, lame, lame entry in the Mexi-Murray sweepstakes, fun in a rip-off sorta way, talky and silly and corny to a fault, but probably unwatchable to anyone under 30! Hooray! Essentially a murder mystery set in a Western tableau, TLC has little in the way of horror to offer, other than the generally creepy notion of being buried alive, and the rarely-seen “Crying Ghost”.
This flick has alot in common with THE SWAMP OF THE LOST MONSTERS, including the star (Santos), the Western motif, the rare use of color, and the fake-out ending.
In its own way, the film is visually beautiful, with its grainy color pallete consisting of shades of red and blue, reminiscent of a 40’s poverty row B-movie filmed in two-strip Cinecolor.
But the Western setting, as well as the talky, convoluted plot, makes for rough going. For instance, an extended barroom brawl looks like it could have been lifted from any number of 40’s American B-Westerns.
And the star, Santos, is pretty ridiculous in his little rawhide Cowboy suit and scarf and hat, looking more like a escapee from a gay Halloween party than a bonafide macho hero.
Santos’ sidekick (the same sidekick he had in SWAMP) is just as lazy and shiftless and chicken as in the other film, sort of a Mexican Gabby Hayes. All he wants to do here is sleep through the whole thing; foreshadowing the sentiment of the audience perhaps?
On the plus side, there’s a nice, spooky village Main Street set, and a cheesy painting of the dead Aunt Ghostie, as well as the usual dank and spooky catacombs sets.
The unmasking ending is so similar to that in THE SWAMP OF LOST MONSTERS, one can see this as its companion piece, and be thankful one wasn’t lured into a double bill of these two red-n-blue stinkers!
* (updated 02-14-06) Thanks to a terrific new book we just received, “Ghouls, Gimmicks and Gold” by Kevin Heffernan, (2004, Duke University Press), we have been able to update the U.S. television release date for this Murray horror title to 1965. The appendices to this study of the horror film in America, circa 1955-1968, include complete listings of syndication feature film packages from many distributors, including American International Television, who subleased the K. Gordon Murray film catalog under the title THRILLERS FROM ANOTHER WORLD. It seems that 1965 was the watershed year for genre film sold to television, with a veritable flood of titles released by both domestic and foreign distribs.
* (effective 05-01-03) After a very brief window of availability, this long-sought K. Gordon Murray title is once again out of print, due to international copyright issues. Used video tapes of this title may be found on online video dealers and auction sites. Stay tuned for further developments!
* Fernando Méndez directed his first film in 1940, and eventually worked on 62 films before his death in 1966, but his reputation rests primarily on a handful of pictures he directed between 1956 and 1960: 4 horror films–Ladrón de Cadáveres, El Vampiro, El Ataúd del Vampiro, Misterios de Ultratumba–and 5 Westerns, 2 with Gastón Santos and 3 in the “Hermanos Diablo” series. His other directorial efforts are routine and adequate at best (more than half of his credits are for screenwriting work on films he did not direct), but these 7 films are well-known among Mexican film scholars for the skill and care of their execution. Ironically, the horror films and Westerns are almost diametric opposites: the Westerns, shot mostly outdoors on location, while the horror films are studio-bound, a very stylized, controlled environment. (David Wilt)
* Here’s an odd thing: when “the Cowboy” rides through the death swamp, there’s a close-up of a crudely-lettered sign, (“SKELETON SWAMP”) that looks suspiciously like an insert shot. Did Murray actually go through the trouble of filming this and sneaking it in for the benefit of his US audience? Why would he bother? Then again, why would the original filmmakers?
Mexican film fan Mark Barnard recently sent us this interesting revelation:
“The speculation concerning the sign at the swamp in EL GRITO DE LA MUERTE/THE LIVING COFFIN is on the mark. I recently picked up the Mexican prerecord of this, and the original sign is indeed in Spanish.
“The original sign is also in the same, rather murky color scheme (it looks to have been lettered on a sheet of trimmed down, mauve cardboard) that typifies the film’s fairly unconvincing “exterior” sets at the hacienda and at the nearby town.
“This, however, could be due to discoloration in the film stock of the master print used in making the “Clasicas De Oro” series tapes. My studio copy of PANTANO DE LAS ANIMAS is similarly dark, though nowhere as reddened as the TV (and U.S. prerecord video) prints for the reworked THE SWAMP OF THE LOST MONSTER.”