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.