NIGHT OF FEAR
Color, 1972, 53 mins. 7 secs.
Directed by Terry Bourke
Starring Norman Yemm, Carla Hoogeveen
INN OF THE DAMNED
Color, 1975, 117 mins. 12 secs.
Directed by Terry Bourke
Starring Judith Anderson, Alex Cord, Michael Craig, Phillip Avalon, Joseph Furst
Umbrella Entertainment (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD, Australia R0 HD), Scorpion Releasing (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
The name "Terry Bourke" doesn't mean anything to most people, but this Australian filmmaker (who had earlier worked as a production manager for Harry Allan Towers) went down in the record books as the first modern Down Under horror director. His official local debut, Night of Fear, originally began as the planned pilot episode of a proposed TV series called Fright, presumably to compete with the simultaneous (and outstanding) British horror/mystery series, Thriller. Needless to say, the harrowing final result proved way too much for the censors. Despite running under an hour, this brutal quickie was shipped off to a few theaters where patrons were left startled by its brutality-- and Australian horror on the big screen was officially born.
With nary a single word of dialogue, Night of Fear follows the plight of a young woman (Hoogeveen) who wrecks her car out in the middle of nowhere and falls prey to a crazy local (Yemm), who essentially victimizes her for the remainder of the story including a particularly nasty sequence in his basement with lots and lots of rats. The obvious antecedent to the crazy backwoods horrors to come throughout the '70s, it's an interesting curio and surprisingly nasty considering its history.
Best known to moviegoers as the sinister Mrs. Danvers in Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca, stage legend Dame Judith Anderson made her horror debut (and farewell) in Bourke's follow-up film, Inn of the Damned, an unlikely hybrid of suspense, sex and spaghetti western. One of the first Aussie shockers to get notable distribution abroad (and even a VHS release from Paragon), it was often sold as an outright horror film but doesn't quite fit neatly into that box. The plot follows intrepid hired gun Cal Kincaid (Alex Cord, fresh off Chosen Survivors and The Dead Are Alive) as he investigates a dusty western town where a coachman has a nasty habit of turning his customers over to a pair of homicidal hostel owners (led by Judy) who enjoy killing off their guests. Lots of beautiful scenery, dining, and buck-naked running around pad out the story a bit too much for comfort, but it's certainly a unique attempt at a grisly oater (similar to the much stronger Cut-Throats Nine) and worth seeking out for the curious.
Night of Fear pretty much disappeared after its local release but eventually resurfaced courtesy of a DVD double bill from Umbrella in 2005 with Inn of the Damned, presented widescreen for the first time. Apart from the trailers, the only extra for the first film - and it's a good one - is an audio commentary with star Carla Hoogeveen and producer Rod Hay, who talk at length about the furor caused by the film during its difficult initial release. The second film includes a decent audio commentary with actor Tony Bonner and Hay, who somehow manage to fill the lengthy running time and talk a lot about the Victorian shooting locations. In 2016, Code Red bowed both films as a double feature on DVD, featuring both trailers and bonus trailers for The Night the Prowler, The Sicilian Connection, Wheels of Fire, Equalizer 2000, and Shakma.
Umbrella Entertainment eventually gave both films their Blu-ray premieres in Australia in 2002 and in the U.S. in 2023 via OCN Distribution, and the new HD scans are significant improvements with better contrast, color, and detail; significantly, Night of Fear is correctly framed versus some obvious horizontal squishing on the DVD releases. Inn of the Damned is more correctly proportioned as well, though the difference isn't as visually dramatic (see below) with quite a bit of additional info at the top as a bonus. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono tracks sound perfectly satisfying for what they are, and optional English SDH subtitles are included. Both of the 2005 commentaries are ported over here, while the new featurette "The D.W. Griffith of Ozploitation" (17m54s), edited and directed by Mark Hartley, features film buff Paul Harris surveying the filmmaker's career from his early days through his dogged indie tactics on the Australian film scene that also included the skin-heavy sex comedy Plugg and the VHS cult favorite Lady Stay Dead, as well as the unrealized Crocodile. Then you get a batch of extended interview sessions from Hartley's Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! (46m28s) with Yemm, Hoogeveen, actor Briony Behets, and Hay offering extensive, very positive reminiscences about Bourke and his commercial instincts. Next is a Bourke-directed 1972 episode "The Raiders" from the series Spyforce (49m29s) with an optional 1m59s intro by actor Jack Thompson; though pulled from an obviously dated SD broadcast master, it's fascinating to see Bourke in a much bigger sandbox than usual including extensive South Pacific locations and a large roster of Japanese actors. Finally you get poster and still galleries for each film and a Bourke trailer reel (27m10s) including Sampan, Noon Sunday, both of these films, Plugg, Little Boy Lost, and Lady Stay Dead. The package also comes with an insert booklet featuring an Alexandra Heller-Nicholas essay about Bourke's importance to the Aussie genre scene.
NIGHT OF FEAR: UMBRELLA (Blu-ray)
NIGHT OF FEAR: SCORPION RELEASING (DVD)
INN OF THE DAMNED: UMBRELLA (Blu-ray)
INN OF THE DAMNED: SCORPION RELEASING (DVD)
Reviewed on November 5, 2023.