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Black October 13: It Happened At Nightmare Inn

October 13, 2009

The title is terrible; this film is also known as A Candle For The Devil, which is slightly better, but has nothing to do with the movie. The only devil in this movie is whoever edited it.

This is one of those public domain jobs with multiple versions floating around out there. I have the 1974 cut, which is about 70 minutes long and features one very blatant and very grating scene slice. The rest of it fares all right, I’ve always thought; the violence is minimized, thus accenting the dread. As a result of this editing, there is more on-screen violence in this commercial than in the actual film.

It Happened At Nightmare Inn is a Spanish film from 1970 that has suffered hard in its years in the public domain. It’s scratched and faded and worn, but like I’ve said before, that adds to its appeal to me. This is the story of a small pensione in a tiny Spanish village. The two sisters who run it are sickened by the loose morals of the tourists who stay there, and decide to do something about it. When an English visitor learns her sister has mysteriously vanished from the inn, she begins to investigate.

It’s better than it sounds. The lead, Judy Geeson, is a busy character actress (Mad About You, Star Trek: Voyager, lots of other stuff) and the sisters are played with the exact amount of self-righteous creepiness by Esperanza Roy and Aurora Batista, veteran Spanish actresses.

This movie works because it reverses the stranger-menaced-by-locals formula. Laura is the English tourist, but most of the story is told through the eyes of the sisters as they watch tourists cavort in miniskirts and swim in the nude (this is the scene that is truncated; Esperanza Roy watches the swimmers, but in the next shot she’s dirty, disheveled and half-naked, and we’re left to wonder what happened). Telling the story from the sisters’ point of view is tricky, but director Eugenio Martin handles it just right; we see their story but we never sympathize.

There is one particularly shocking scene in this film, which is just as powerful in the edited version. It involves the fate of a young mother who visits the inn. I won’t say more. But it works, and it’s a real kick in the kidney.

You’ll see elements of Psycho in this, and later, you’ll see things that might have migrated into Suspiria. Overall, you’ll see a lot of very familiar things. But you’ll see them presented in an unusual way. And once you get past the 70s cheapie-film conventions (endless crowd shots of random people, for instance), you’ll find an engaging quick hit of free horror.

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