Friday, October 07, 2016

105. It Happened at Nightmare Inn and 106. Horror Rises From the Tomb

Jump to Horror Rises From the Tomb (1973)

105. It Happened at Nightmare Inn aka Una vela para el diablo (1973)
Director: Eugenio Martín
Writers: Antonio Fos and Eugenio Martín
From: Pure Terror

Laura, a British tourist arrives at a pensione in a small Spanish village expecting to meet her sister. The sisters who run it, though, tell Laura that her sister has left without a forwarding address. Laura's suspicions grow as other young women renting rooms likewise disappear.

Taking a cue from We Hate Movies' Spooktacular and The Flop House's Shocktober, all the movies this month will come from the Pure Terror set, a distinction that makes no difference whatsoever.

This is also, basically, the first anniversary of the Misery Mill. The first post with movies went up on October 9th, 2015 and featured Carnival of Crime and Absolution. Since the underlying purpose of this whole project is to find material for a potential horror host show, it only seems appropriate to start the second year focusing on horror films.

All that, of course, is said to avoid talking about It Happened at Nightmare Inn. This is a 67-minute movie that feels like a three-hour snooze. Although my blurb focuses on Laura as the main character, the movie generally focuses on Marta and Verónica, the sisters that run the pensione. After the credits end, the movie starts in the kitchen with them discussing what happened to “that girl” in oblique terms until Laura arrives. She's looking for her sister May who Marta and Verónica insist just checked out that morning, although they're being very suspicious about it. Laura checks in anyway, hoping to find May or at least news of her.

The movie plods along from there. Laura talks to people in town about her sister, Marta stares disapprovingly at a guest who runs around town in a too-short skirt, and implications about May's unfortunate fate come up in conversation between Marta and Verónica.

The young guest comes home drunk one night, tries to force Marta to take off her clothes, and Marta stabs her. I think this is the moment where Marta is supposed to be recognized as the villain, but it does feel like self-defense.

It's around this time that we learn Marta had been engaged, but her fiancé skipped out on the wedding at the last minute to run away with a “modern, foreign girl.” This, then, is the motivation, the why behind all the killings. Mrs. Voorhees killing camp counselors because their sexual distractions left her son to die, Marta killing liberated women in revenge for being left at the altar.

Anyway, Laura can't prove anything and checks out as a young woman with an infant checks in. Rumors spread around town that she's not married so the sisters decide to take the child to an orphanage and eventually raise him as their own. They murder the woman only to discover that she was married, but seeking a divorce, which Marta insists makes it okay. This sounds like Mike Pence's America.

Laura breaks into to the pensione to search the massive cisterns of wine in the basement, but hears Marta approaching before she can check the final one. She comes back the next day with a man, hereafter referred to as “Dead Meat,” who'd met both May and the murdered tourist. That night, he checks the final cistern and discovers a body. Marta stabs him in the back.

Meanwhile, that morning a woman had an allergic reaction to the food at the pensione and her husband grabbed the bit of food that she'd eaten. When it's checked later that night, it's revealed to be an eyeball. Verónica had drawn wine from the wrong cistern.

Laura discovers Dead Meat's body, is gagged and bound by the sisters, and is running through the pensione trying to escape as a mob approaches. The sisters grab her just as she falls against a window on the first floor, pulling the curtain down, revealing the sisters' actions to the mob that's just arrived. Close up on Laura's gagged, tear-stained face, THE END.

The movie has been heavily edited and it shows. There's a scene where Marta goes walking through town, hears the voice of a young man that works in the pensione, and spies on him and his friends skinny dipping. The next shot, she's disheveled, covered in scratches, and trying to rush home discreetly. I don't know if that was a scene of violence or if she took advantage of him, because he never shows up in the movie again and it's never mentioned.

There's also an odd logic at work. The town is so small that it doesn't have a police department—Laura is sent to the mayor to voice her suspicions—but is large enough to have so many tourists coming and going that three disappearing in the space of a week goes unnoticed.

This is one of those movies that would have been better if they'd pushed it a little further. Marta is running everything, but is she enacting the Puritanical will of the town (a local gossip is the one that tells her that the mother isn't married) or is she trying to get revenge for her fiancé abandoning her? Also, so many of the shots imply that the victims are being butchered and fed into the oven, only they're not. Let them get cooked and fed to the tourists! Why not? The revelation comes when a guest accidentally eats human flesh, so why not have them doing that all along?

Obviously, the movie missed the mark for me. It's just so blah in so many ways. It's Googlable if you'd like to watch it yourself and, while my copy doesn't have any copyright notice on it, it was originally Spanish so may very well have been GATT'd.

106. Horror Rises From the Tomb aka El espanto surge de la tumba (1973)
Director: Carlos Aured
Writer: Paul Naschy
From: Pure Terror

Hugo uncovers the severed head of Alaric, a warlock executed centuries prior. Now freed, Alaric starts exercising his diabolical powers in the hopes of resurrecting his sorceress wife.

This post has become an unintentional Spanish film double feature, and, like It Happened At Nightmare Inn, this movie is likely covered by GATT. I was initially excited about because I thought it might be one of the Coffin Joe flicks. Turns out that it’s a Paul Naschy flick.

On the upside, it turns out that it’s a Paul Naschy flick!

We start with a slow—which is the watchword for this movie, so much of it is slow—procession of medieval figures leading a witch and a warlock to their execution. The warlock, Alaric, is played by Naschy, beheaded with his head placed in a box to be buried separate from his body so that his soul may never find rest. The witch, Alaric’s wife, is stripped, hung from her feet, and whipped before also being executed. Most of that happens off-screen or between edits, but it lends a sordid tone to the film that, curiously considering how I’ve talked about these other movies, I kind of liked. There was no pretense that it was anything but sordid and I like when movies recognize what they are.

Jump to the present day where rich playboy Hugo, also played by Naschy, is checking in on his artist friend Maurice. Maurice is hung up on a painting that he can’t quite get right. It’s a figure in black, but the face just won’t come together.

You can guess where it goes from here.

Hugo and his friends go to a medium because Hugo’s heard rumors that Alaric’s head is buried on his property out in the country. As they contact the spirit and get the exact location, Maurice has a breakthrough on his painting and realizes the face is Alaric’s—the same as Hugo’s.

They all pile in a car, drive to the country, get harried by bandits that they easily dispatch, and learn that the townspeople in the region are a bit odd. They dig up Alaric’s head, but some thieves open the crate that night thinking it contains treasure. Alaric possesses one of them and kills all the witnesses present. Elvira, the daughter of one of the victims, comes to Hugo and Maurice with the news.

Alaric’s head is reunited with his body, he possesses Maurice and his girlfriend Paula, Hugo falls in love with Elvira, and Alaric raises the dead to stage a zombie attack on Hugo in the house. The scene doesn’t work narratively, but, according to Wikipedia, Naschy had just seen Night of the Living Dead and wanted to include something similar in his movie. You can tell just by looking.

Hugo and Elvira find a talisman that her father had hidden for just this occasion, but Maurice returns and kills Hugo. He tries to kill Elvira, but she hits him with the talisman and breaks the spell. Alaric and Paula run around town being vampires preparing for the great sacrifice which will allow Alaric’s wife, who’s possessing Paula, to be returned to her own body.

Climatic battle, everyone dies except Elvira who, having saved the day, wanders off in a daze and throws the talisman into the lake.

This movie lost me about halfway through; the energy just fell off. Until then, it moves at its own pace, but there’s just enough sense of weirdness to make it compelling. Once the zombie homage hits, though, it feels like they’re just playing for time. You can sort of guess where things are going to go from the start, although I’ll admit to being surprised that Hugo wasn’t possessed by or didn’t become the reincarnation of Alaric. They’re both played by Naschy and it seems like that would be the obvious turn.

However I think the movie is kind of fun, not despite the inevitability but precisely because of that. We know what’s coming so the pleasure becomes all the surrounding details—the setting and atmosphere. When the couples are driving up to the land, they’re attacked by a pair of bandits. Hugo kills one and the other runs into the woods where local townsfolk catch him and then execute him in front of the group. These folks are in a strange place and that weirdness, the particular Gothic tone of the movie, is really appealing. This could easily be adapted to a nice Call of Cthulhu game as parts of it feel vaguely Lovecraftian.

So, in short, not great but not without its charms. Good enough to have on while you’re doing ironing or taking care of other small chores.

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