Color, 1973, 86m.
Directed by Eugenio Martin
Starring Judy Geeson, Aurora Bautista, Esperanza Roy, Víctor Alcázar, Loreta Tovar
Scorpion Releasing (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Odeon (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK R0 HD/PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Color, 1973, 86m.
After scoring a worldwide horror success with the classic Horror Express, Spanish director Eugenio Martin struck again one year later with a considerably more modern and sordid tale, A Candle for the Devil, which made it out t most drive-ins in edited form as It Happened at Nightmare Inn. Unfortunately the film was presumed to be in the public domain and has suffered for decades from substandard transfers and butchered TV prints dumped onto multi-disc DVD sets, usually running just over an hour with all of its mood and shock value completely sapped away. Fortunately that oversight is corrected with the limited Blu-ray release from Scorpion, which presents the film in its much longer, unclothed export version, at last rehabilitating the reputation of one of the essential Spanish horror titles of the '70s.
In a quaint Spanish village, religious sisters Marta (Bautista) and Veronica (Roy) run a small hostel where they rent out rooms to tourists. Their newest lodger, May (Tovar), has no problems flaunting her sexuality and sunbathing topless, which eventually sends the aggressive and unhinged Marta into a murderous rage. The more submissive Veronica is actually carrying on a fling under her sister's nose with one of the local town studs, but she still goes along with her sister's murderous plot including an unorthodox and gruesome disposal of the body. Soon the pattern starts repeating itself, but they hit a speed bump when May's sister, Laura (Geeson), shows up asking a lot of questions...
Like many Spanish horror films of the Franco era, this was shot in both a clothed version for the local market and a spicier international cut with one fairly lengthy nude scene between Veronica and her beau. However, much of that material was scissored out of American prints along with some gore, with multiple versions eventually floating around on home video to muddy the waters even further. Seen in its full-strength form, it's a riveting little psycho shocker that rarely slows down with Bautista in particular delivering an unhinged, feverish performance. It also bears an interesting resemblance to the American softcore horror staple Evil Come, Evil Go, which was made the previous year by Walt Davis and focuses on two women driven by religion and sexuality to kill those who cross their path. This variant is definitely Spanish all the way though with its intense, guilt-ridden sense of Catholic torment and earthy local color.
Scorpion's DVD and Blu-ray releases contain identical extras and come from the same HD master, though the Blu-ray notches up a bit in the detail department a few degrees. It's a very "vintage" looking presentation similar to a very nice 35mm print, so you can weigh whether it's better to go for the SD offering or the pricier but likely to be rarer limited edition Blu-ray, sold exclusively through Screen Archives. Either way it's by far the best the film has ever looked on home video, and good luck finding a print this complete or in such prime condition. The sole audio option is the English track, which is just as well since that features Geeson's original voice and line readings (while the principal Spanish actors spoke in English and were looped in later by other voice actors).
The film can be played as is or with wraparound "Katarina's Nightmare Theater" segments with hostess Katarina Leigh Waters (and her scheming French sister, briefly seen in a devil outfit) offering tidbits about the cast and crew. Geeson also appears in an 18-minute video interview about her excursion to Spain, the language barrier with her fellow stars, recent convention appearances, her other signature roles including To Sir, with Love, and the fact that she hadn't seen the movie until the present day. The international English trailer is also included. In England the film was released earlier on DVD in a ragged but complete flat letterboxed transfer, which was followed soon after the Scorpion release by Odeon's Blu-ray which is also complete and features a slightly different, longer music intro at the beginning. For extras and presentation though, the American release is likely to stand as the definitive one for quite a while.