Tuesday, October 7, 2014

It Happened at Nightmare Inn (Eugenio Martín, 1973)

Spain in the 1970s could be a strange place for filmmakers. Jess Franco fans know that he left the country to avoid government censorship. Granted, Uncle Jess has a reputation for lurid films. Despite pressures there were some exploitation films being made, such as the series of The Blind Dead films, as well as this entry, A Candle for the Devil, aka It Happened at Nightmare Inn.

I will get into what happens, so if you'd rather watch it first, it is at Dailymotion. See you in an hour.

The basic plot involves two spinster sisters, Marta (Aurora Bautista, La Bambola di Satana) and Verónica (Esperanza Roy, El Lobo Negro), who run a hotel in a tourist village. The pair is prudish and superficially religious, but deep down are slaves to their own lusts. A new guest, Laura (Judy Geeson, Carry-On England), has come to town to meet her sister only to discover she has disappeared. Another guest, Helen (Lone Fleming, Tombs of the Blind Dead), raises the sisters' ire by "causing a scandal" in the village with her provocative clothing and loose behavior. When a new guest, Norma (Blanca Estrada, Kilma, Queen of the Amazons), comes to town with a baby in tow but no husband, the two go completely over the edge.

The sisters are a mismatched pair in some ways. Verónica seems genuinely religious, though is under the thrall of her sister. Marta was jilted in her youth, and has turned her religious prudishness into a bitter hatred for women with any sexual liberation. Bautista and Roy do a wonderful job of pulling off the sex-starved spinsters. Bautista was age 48, and Roy was age 38 at the time of production. Both are very plain to the public, but pull off sexy well when called for, and unraveled in the end. Esperanza Roy is a favorite of mine, and the main reason I watched the film. I can't vouch completely for their acting as the version I saw was an AIP dub, but both certainly have presence.

There are a few interesting things about this movie. Oddly, I think the edit improves the story. I have read that in the full version we see that Marta has killed Laura's sister. In the edit, we get some indication that this happens, but it is never spelled out for us. Marta continues to discuss the matter as if the girl just ran off, even to her sister. Whether Verónica knows or not is also unclear. I think that improves the tension. You don't know the sisters are killers until they actually kill someone. If that happened in the first 20 minutes it would have been too-much too-soon for me. Secondly, there are some interesting things done to avoid the censorship laws. Marta is really quite the horn-dog. We see her watching several men skinny dip (there is no nudity in the film), then cut to her going home. She is walking the streets disheveled. Her blouse is half open, and her hair is a mess. When she gets to the house we see she is also rather dirty. There is dirt or mud on her arms, and she is frantically washing while avoiding Verónica. Was she just watching? Was she "polishing the pearl"? Did she take on a group of guys down by the water? It is hard to say, but that sort of mystery really adds something to the film. I am by no means pro-censorship, but let's face it, you know exactly what is going on in a Jess Franco film, down to Lina Romay's nether-grooming habits. At this point in It Happened at Nightmare Inn, we have not seen Marta kill anyone, and to see her in such a state makes you wonder just how depraved she is. Not knowing is part of the fun. Lastly, the film ends with no resolution. The townspeople have massed out in the street, Marta and Verónica have Laura gagged and subdued. The picture focuses on Laura's crying eyes, and that is it. Sue me, but I like that as an ending.

Ultimately, not a great film, but an interesting one. I have a feeling that if you are making a B-Movie and have to avoid the "Three Bs" (Blood, Breasts and Beasts), you have to push the story and the mood. The cinematography is good, with what looks like two camera dialogue shots (though that might have been a luxury), and the actresses are quite good. When you take showing your tits off the table, you can probably get a better class of actress. [For the record, Roy appears in the all-together in Franco's X-312: Flight to Hell that same year, and at 38, she is bangin'.]

The 68min version at Dailymotion looks to be the same length as the available DVD versions, so is likely the same.

Verónica has one of those dreams.
Marta doesn't approve, though she is sitting creepy-like by her the whole time.
Verónica has a thing for the house boy. Don't let Marta find out!
Helen's booty-shorts are too much for the sisters to handle.
Marta watches some skinny dipping men... and maybe more?
Later, she decides to get prettied up.
Helen needles Marta about her new look.
Helen is pushing Marta too far.
Esperanza Roy, because she is awesome.
Laura, it is not looking good for you.
The big ending.
The town discovers the sisters' hobby.
Caught red-handed.

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