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"It Happened at Nightmare Inn" is a 1973 film that was directed by Eugenio Martin, who has also directed a number of films including "Horror Express" (1972), "The Ugly Ones" (1967) and "Hypnosis" (1962). The film's original title was "Una Vela Para el Diablo" or "A Candle For the Devil".
Warning: Spoilers will likely be given during this review.
The film was 90 minutes in length and starred Judy Geeson ("Fear in the Night", "To Sir, With Love", "10 Rillington Place") as Laura Barkley, Aurora Bautista ("Sonatas", "Gangster's Law", "Octavia") as Marta, and Esperanza Roy ("The Priest", "Tigre", "Revenge of the Black Wolf") as Veronica.
The plot reads as follows: Two old maid sisters are running a little family hotel in Spain. They are very religious and the moral of the foreign tourist girl is too much for them, they start to kill them.
The intro music dates the film and you can tell it's the 1970s before you even see the clothes and fashion décor. It was a typical scene where you take everything in from an aerial view, wide shots and sweeping over the streets, houses and hills. It works with "The Lord of the Rings", for instance, but if you're filming a horror movie, I'm not sure what the relevance is here. It's a film largely shot in a hotel and the scenery has nothing to do with it, as far as I'm concerned, unless it was designed to give the impression that all is calm, friendly and serene on the outside while it's a very different story inside the house.
When the main part of the film begins, we get to see what life is like inside the hotel. What strikes me first about the two owners, sisters Marta and Veronica, is that they could be sisters in real life although I can't confirm that and I don't think they are. Marta seems to be more immoral than anyone in the film and she's supposed to be one of the prudish and introvert sisters, although there is a scene where she's alone in her bedroom and role-playing in front of her mirror as a sexy woman and another scene which is missing from the version I've watched where Veronica has sex with Luis, so they're both not shy of flaunting their bodies, and the cut version gives the impression that it's Marta only who is outgoing and unconstrained.
There is a scene where the sisters have just killed a young woman with a baby and their different personalities are tested. Veronica finds a letter in the woman's belongings and upon reading it finds that she was married and the husband had wanted a divorce. Veronica is tormented by this, but Marta is unmoved and throws the letter into the open fire. I think this is the best scene in the whole of the film because it shows the two sisters aren't as united as you'd expect them to be as murderous accomplices, but conflicts often happen between siblings and I can almost imagine them turning on each other if they'd been arrested and charged with their crimes.
During the film we find out that Marta's fiancé left her on their wedding day, which may have fuelled her hatred for foreign women that are flaunting their bodies, or it could be that they're jealous of them. Or both. I'm not sure. Either way, he left her for a younger woman, and I think this is why they started to take their revenge on holidaying teenagers showing off what they had. It must have been emotionally and psychologically damaging for Marta to go through that and her fiercely loyal sister probably felt she had no choice but to go along with whatever she did.
The final scene is where Veronica and Marta are chasing Laura first down the stairs and then through the hotel. It's long and drawn out without really doing anything before she's saved by the townsfolk who have finally realised what's going on. I don't really want to give away what happens at the end and I probably can't give it away, because it's pretty difficult to say exactly what went on. It sort of has a good vs evil feel to it but I can't help but compare it to the old Dracula films where the people have finally had enough and burn down his castle.
There doesn't seem to be much of an atmosphere about the film and I found myself trying to fill in the blanks to work out the plot but again, that was probably down to the editing of the version I saw. What I did see, though, was that the director seems to be focusing more on the women and their curves than a story line, which, as thin as the plot was, wasn't good directing at all. The DVD quality wasn't brilliant either and I found myself straining to clearly hear a lot of it but I understood most of the dialogue and limped along.
In summary, I understand there are two versions of the film, and I have the cut version which doesn't show Marta's full nature - and that of other shots which were cut out - so if that's the sort of thing you're after then you may want the uncut version, but you also may want the full version to understand what's actually happening throughout the film, because in its cut form it's very difficult to follow and doesn't make sense a lot of the time. Cutting murder scenes here and there made it more of a thriller than a horror but it was so heavily edited that it wasn't even thrilling. As a fan of old horror films, I can see past some of that and I did enjoy the performances from the two sisters, which is why I'm not completely labelling the film as a dud. I'm sure I'd have enjoyed it more in its full and uncut guise also, as it was nearly 15 minutes longer.
My rating: 4/10
A review of the Odeon Entertainment DVD, which is available for £6 on amazon.
This is a Spanish horror film from 1970. A small town in Spain has a sudden influx of British tourists, flocking to see its art museum. Two middle-aged, unmarried sisters run a guest-house. One is crazy religious, and takes exception to the scantily clad antics of some of the young tourists; her distaste soon boils over into murder. Their first victim's sister turns up looking for her, as is always the way in these things, and is not convinced when told that her sibling 'just left town'.
This isn't very good. It's the usual horror film formula: sexual repression + religious fervour = murdering hot young chicks. But it's been done before many times, and considerably better than it is here. It's perhaps interesting to see a Spanish perspective on the increasing popularity of Spain as a holiday destination - more and more Brits were travelling to what was still a very traditional country ruled by fascist dictatorship. But unfortunately this aspect of things isn't prominent enough to be anything more than a possible subtext (it might explain the dramatically unsatisfying ending, though).
The notional star is Judy Geeson, a pretty British actress notable for her later appearance in the lurid Alien knock-off Inseminoid. She's pretty good, although a bit too posh. The rest of the cast are Spanish and not familiar to me. As ever, their dialogue is dubbed into English, so it's difficult to judge their performances. They don't seem terribly animated, though; even the crazier of the two sisters is quite sedate.
There isn't much to praise here. There's one reasonably effective, Hitchockian suspense sequence, but I didn't care enough about the characters involved to be worried for them. Some of the sound effects are absurdly amplified in an almost-expressionistic way, although whether that's how they were intended is less certain. Otherwise there isn't a lot of originality or flair in the direction. Amusingly, whenever we see close-ups of the art in the museum, we always see bits of really famous Renaissance paintings that certainly aren't kept in a small Spanish town.
The music is probably the best thing (as is so often the case). Some great, blaring Spanish-style trumpet music is backed by funky bass throbs, the whole thing occasionally taking flight into insane lounge heights of unrestrained 'la la la-ing', or crashing mock-religious organ. This is another one I'd quite happily buy a soundtrack album for if it were available.
There's quite a bit of nudity, including a few flashes of female pubic hair (quite a surprise for a Spanish film of its era). There are a few flashes of male nudity, too (the crazier sister has a scene where she gets to spy on some boys bathing, hammering home a point we'd all figured out already). Oddly, the middle-aged spinsters have more topless shots than the young lovelies they victimise. This isn't a bad thing, it's just a surprise. Exploitation films usually revel in pert, youthful nudity, with the more mature lady rarely getting a look in.
What really dooms this, at least for me, is that after a while I started to see it as a Carry On film, but with blood and murder instead of comedy. There are plenty of shots of befuddled or randy locals eyeing up the latest bit of crumpet staying at the hotel (amusingly, as soon as one popsy dies, another arrives immediately). Amid shots of people cycling into walls because of distractingly buxom women, you half expect to see Bernard Breslaw going 'corrr', and the sisters could easily be Hattie Jacques and Joan Sims.
The plot is bad, the acting is nothing special, it isn't scary, it isn't particularly well made... it really isn't very good at all. I'm a bit puzzled by its 18 rating - there's no strong gore in it. It might be because there's a scene where someone's naked breasts get blood on them - that always flusters the delicate souls at the BBFC. I have no idea why it's called Candles for the Devil, I don't remember seeing any candles at all. The director, Eugenio Martin, later made the cult favourite Horror Express.
The picture quality on the DVD is poor, with quite a lot of damage to the print. The only extras are an image gallery (which has some of the film's best music playing in the background) and some trailers for other films. These are all other old horrors, some of which might be worth looking at. It includes a lot of Herschell Gordon Lewis trailers (all of which have the Something Weird Video watermark, I'm not sure why). The Blood Feast trailer alone is considerably more fun than the whole of Candles for the Devil. Oh, and there's a really annoying typo in the DVD blurb.
All in all, not recommended.