Movie Reviews 470 – It Happened at Nightmare Inn (1973)

The Italian ‘giallo’ genre of thriller-horror (giallo all’italiana) films had spread to Spain by the ‘70s creating a mini cottage industry of its own with prolific stars like Paul Naschy and director Jess Franco to name a few. While few of these films can claim to be classics by any standard, many are none the less highly entertaining, It Happened at Nightmare Inn (natively titled Una vela para el diablo and perhaps better known as “A Candle for the Devil”) is a fine example of an absorbing giallo that hits all the right nostalgic notes.

Following the tradition of having one or two English speaking stars in these foreign language films, Judy Geeson arrives at a small Spanish villa in search of her sister who is supposed to be staying at one of the local hotels run by sisters Marta (Aurora Bautista) and Verónica (Esperanza Roy). Laura (Geeson), surprised to learn that her sister had left suddenly and without any message or forwarding address, begins a search that will have disturbing results.

Marta and Veronica are middle aged, bun haired spinsters that share a prudish attitude, especially when it comes to the young women tourists who come and stay with them. While Veronica shares her sister’s respectable outlook, it is Marta who cracks the whip and openly confronts those who do not meet with her highly critical eye.

As Laura continues to search for her sister another young tourist, a brazen hussy comes to town. Not only does Helen (Lone Fleming) have the audacity to wear skimpy hot pants, giving all the men in town an eyeful, but she purposefully flaunts her lifestyle in front of her puritan hostesses. Helen’s sudden surprising ‘departure’ adds to Laura’s suspicions that something is amiss. When yet a third , this time supposedly modest mother of a young child,  joins the list of unanticipated exits, Laura who by now has left the hotel, sets in motion a plan that will get her back in and solve the mystery once and for all.

Gorehounds will be disappointed as this film does not rely on flashy kills although there are a few onscreen deaths and one surprise ‘eyeful’ that will figure into the resolution. Neither is this a whodunit as the sisters divulge their complicity early on but without going in details or specifics. This film slowly hints at Marta and Veronica’s back history, surprising and unexpected, which cultivated their current motivations and actions.

Director Eugenio Martín (who also gave us Horror Express) metes out hints at just the right pace and portions to have viewers guessing what the big picture is going to be. And speaking of pictures we get treated to some ghoulish frescos from a Museum which Laura frequents as part of her investigation as well as some devilish artwork adorning Marta’s bedroom. I must confess that Bautista was the standout among the two sisters and I hoped she had many other such films to look forward to, but it seems that aside from one other major starring role in an acclaimed thriller (La Tía Tula) she never featured in any other giallo.

On the other hand in trying to find out more about this film I discovered that there are lots of other Spanish giallo out there that sound interesting and that I hope to catch at some point. Another reminder that some films that are not in the top echelons of fandom are still worthy of a watch.


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One Response to “Movie Reviews 470 – It Happened at Nightmare Inn (1973)”

  1. mikestakeonthemovies Says:

    Nice pick on a nifty little thriller.

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