The version of It Happened at Nightmare Inn that I watched came from the collection Classic Drive-In Series Horror, one the DVDs from the Let the Nightmare Begin Horror ultimate collectors edition (50 movies). Sadly, this version was heavily edited, clocking in at little over one hour. Thus, most of the nudity and gore had been removed—all these missing scenes also meant a less cohesive and understandable plot. Another issue is that this version was dubbed in English, and from my lip reading I noted that the translation was less than accurate.
Originally released in 1973 under the title Una Vela Para el Diablo (Spanish for “One Candle for the Devil”), It Happened at Nightmare Inn tells the story of a pair of sisters who own and run a bed and breakfast called Las Dos Hermanas (“the two sisters,” natch). The older of the two, Marta (played by Aurora Bautista), is fanatically prudish and religious (although she yearns for sexual contact, although it disgusts her to feel this way), and although Veronica (Esperanza Roy from Return of the Blind Dead) gives lip service to being the same, she has found the time to fall in love and has an appreciation for lust and sex.
The movie takes place in Spain. In the little community where the sisters live, tradition is of utmost importance, particularly when it comes to putting up a dignified and cultured front. However, the community has been slowly invaded by tourists who are more free spirited in their dress, demeanor, and behavior. Marta finds such behavior disgusting, so much so that she takes matters into her own hands and actually begins to murder the young single women who come to stay at her hotel.
The bulk of the tale involves Marta’s obsession with cleaning up the Spanish town and of Veronica’s blossoming sexuality. A relationship that Veronica develops with a young man by the name of Luis is hinted at in this truncated version, but there must be more footage that was excised. Also, there is a sequence in which Marta is possibly gang raped by some young men (or she possibly fantasizes about it), but again the edits make the sequence confusing and frustrating.
Added to the plot is the character of Laura Barkely (played by Judy Geeson of To Sir, With Love), the sister of a girl murdered early on in the movie. Laura becomes a snoop and subsequently discovers that the sisters are committing the murders and feeding some of the remains to their customers at the hotel’s small restaurant!
I cannot recommend the truncated version of It Happened at Nightmare Inn. However, even this version tapped my curiosity, and I would very much enjoy a full-length screening of the film, as the direction by Eugenio Martin (director of Horror Express, among others) and the performances by all the actors are very effective. It’s not so much that the added gore and nudity would make for a better film; it’s that key plot points are crucial parts of these excised scenes, leaving what is left as a complicated mess.
Fortunately, there is an 82-minute restored version by Sinister Cinema of It Happened at Nightmare Inn available. Those who have sat through the truncated version would do well to get this version. Those piqued by this review should also seek out this version, as it will yield a much more satisfying experience. As an exercise in 1970s psychological horror leading to the cannibal/slasher films that would follow, It Happened at Nightmare Inn definitely has all the goods.