It Happened at Nightmare Inn (Spanish, 1973): Read the reviews before booking!

I hope this Nightmare Inn place is as nice as it looks in the brochure...

I hope this Nightmare Inn place is as nice as it looks in the brochure…

The setting and tone of this movie reminded me a bit of Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960); it also has some elements in common with a pair of later films – Carrie (1976) and Misery (1990) – both based on Stephen King novels. Though British actress Judy Geeson received top billing, It Happened at Nightmare Inn is really the story of Marta and Veronica, two middle-aged sisters who run a hotel (more subtly named The Two Sisters) in a small Spanish village. They are respected members of the local community, leading almost monastic lives. However, the sisters each conceal a dark secret that will lead them down a shared path toward insanity and murder…

This film has so much potential. The setting is beautiful, the acting is pretty good, and the premise – a generational conflict aggravated by changing moral standards – is both compelling and relevant for the time. However, the version I viewed might as well be titled What Happened at Nightmare Inn? Almost 15 minutes have been cut from the original European release (titled A Candle for the Devil) to remove most instances of nudity, sex, and violence. Unfortunately, those 15 minutes also contained significant plot points that explained the motivations of the main characters. It didn’t help matters that the audio on my copy is fairly low volume overall, and much of the dialog is muffled. I found it difficult to keep up with what was happening.

Memorable visuals: Visually, It Happened at Nightmare Inn is very subtle. Still, Marta and Veronica have a couple great food-preparation scenes in the kitchen during the movie, culminating in a singularly unforgettable sight about five minutes before the credits roll. Judy Geeson’s character takes a break from the action to make photographs at the local museum about half way through the film; the amateur art historian in me was amused to spot Caravaggio’s Medusa among her subjects, even though the painting definitely isn’t in Spain!

Horror cred: Though I found the film enjoyable, it wasn’t very scary, nor was it particularly gory. It’s more of a thriller, though the confusion caused by missing scenes does much to undermine the suspense.

Is it worth 39¢: In this bowdlerized form – barely. I suspect the uncut version is well worth seeking out instead. If you do find yourself watching It Happened at Nightmare Inn, this website will fill in some of the blanks for you.

Find it here: It Happened at Nightmare Inn is available from multiple distributors on DVD. I got it as part of the Pure Terror 50-movie set.

It’s on YouTube as well.

The Bat (American, 1959): When it flies, somebody dies!

Not to fear – Lieutenant Anderson has the situation well in hand!

I tend to enjoy anything starring Vincent Price; he possessed an urbanity that often helped his films become more than the sum of their parts. The Bat is no exception, even though Price’s part in the film is more of a supporting role. The real star of The Bat is Agnes Moorehead – best known as Endora on the television series Bewitched. An interesting aside: Moorehead made her film debut in Orson Welles’ masterpiece Citizen Kane (1941).

Here Moorehead plays mystery writer Cornelia Van Gorder, who (coincidentally) rents an estate where a million dollars in stolen bank securities is hidden. The mansion also happens to be the favorite haunt of an enigmatic, vicious killer known only as “The Bat.” It’s nice to see a mature actress like Moorehead in this role; it would have undermined the character to cast the part for youthful sex appeal rather than acting ability. As played by Moorhead, Van Gorder is a bit imperious yet she remains likeable; she also has good screen chemistry with her maid, Lizzy. Their scenes together have a believable yet comedic tone that suits the story well.

The plot has some issues – characters that come and go for no apparent reason and a potentially interesting (but ultimately unresolved) subplot about a handsome, wrongly accused bank vice-president. The script casts our suspicions on three candidates for the killer: we learn early in the film that one of these is already a murderer, unbeknownst to the rest of the characters. Another can’t possibly be the killer – though his profession provides him ample opportunity to slink around unobserved. The third suspect admits a previous run-in with the law, though he also insists he was wrongly accused. Curiously, one of these possibilities is prematurely eliminated 15 minutes before the end of the film, putting a bit of a damper on the suspense.

Memorable visuals: Lighting and cinematography are handled competently throughout the film. The final confrontation scene is especially well executed.

Sci-fi cred: Absolutely nil – but that’s not much of a concern in this case. The film is one of several I’ve viewed from Mill Creek Entertainment’s Sci-fi Invasion set that has little or no connection to the genre; The Bat is, however, a fine little whodunit with a capable cast and plenty of atmosphere.

Is it worth 39¢: Certainly. In spite of the few flaws I’ve mentioned, The Bat an enjoyable film that I’d watch again.

Find it here: The Bat is also in the public domain and available from multiple distributors on DVD, including Mill Creek Entertainment.

Or watch it here on YouTube.