Inn Of the Damned/ Night Of Fear ...With Commentaries!

I know it seems like I've been on the Umbrella bandwagon lately, but what can I say? They've been putting out some good stuff. And today's DVD is actually a very old DVD that's just been reissued, possibly to cash in on a little attention Code Red is drumming up (it's suspiciously region free). This is the double feature of two of Australia's earliest horror films by Terry Bourke: Inn Of the Damned and Night of Fear. It's just been released here in the US last month by Code Red, but you might rather import this month's edition from Umbrella instead.

We've already looked at one of Bourke's subsequent horror films, Lady Stay Dead, which debuted on blu-ray from Code Red last year. And you can definitely feel touches of the same director's hand in these two films, though all three are very distinct.
1974's Inn Of the Damned is a Western horror, set in the Australian 1800s rather than the American. You get a lot of shifting tones each act like you did in Lady Stay Dead, this time switching between a classical-style western and a horror almost like they're two different films with the same characters. The plot, however, very cleverly interweaves them. Australian troopers are having a hard time keeping the peace, so they bring in an American bounty hunter (played by American actor Alex Cord) to play a little tougher with the locals. But none of them suspect that the bulk of their unsolved murders might be taking place at a quiet, little out of the way inn run by Dame Judith Anderson, who's hiding a whole collection of dark secrets.
So yeah, this film goes rather deftly from quiet suspense in a dark old house to high riding action with horse and stage coaches racing through some really impressive locations. If you're looking for lots of blood and Grand Guignol kills, this probably isn't the film for you... although there are one or two nice payoff scenes towards the end. The soundtrack is also a bit clunky, especially when it plays overly comic music over scenes that are actually being played more naturally. Some cinematic influences are also pretty heavy-handed and the last five to ten minutes lose all sense of pace. But it's a good story (possibly based in part on the infamous Bender family of Kansas?), well acted and the production values are really high for such an apparently low budget film. I liked this film even more the second time I watched it than the first, which is a very good sign particularly for a horror film.
Night Of Fear, then, was actually made first, in 1972. Unbelievably, it was originally produced and intended for Australian television. But when you see how dark and shocking it is, you can understand why they wound up rejecting it, and Australian censors even initially banned it from playing in cinema. Not that it's X rated or anything close to it, but it's a pretty unrelenting, wordless film very much in the line of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which of course this preceded. I say "wordless," because there is no dialogue at all in this hour long film, where a killer terrorizes a woman for nearly the entire running time. It's essentially just about the experience of terror.
Sorry, Intruder, it looks like somebody did it first!
But it's clunky. Think of other early, cult horror like Eraserhead or Night Of the Living Dead, which has that weird dichotomy of an almost amateur feel to it on one hand. And the three films I've compared this one to are classics, which this isn't. It's veers near them at times, and has some great imagery and production values. Plus, its star Carla Hoogeveen (who also had a secondary role in Inn Of the Damned) is convincingly at the end of her rope through most of this film. But the music and editing are sometimes a little too experimental, effective in being annoying rather than scary. And some of the extras at the end seem to be trying acting for the very first time. Both films actually feature the same move at one point, where a killer chops someone lying in front of them with a big axe, and then it cuts to a solid red frame, which is kind of cool but kind of artificial and jarring. So it's an interesting film and I'm glad I saw it, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone expecting a slick entertainment. This is strictly for the people who attend midnight screenings and collect off-beat VHS tapes.
So this is a brand new release (5/4/16), but it's a reissue of an old DVD from 2005. You can tell the new version apart from the old one by the "Ozploitation Classics" logo on the bottom right-hand corner. But there's no real reason to worry about it anyway, since they're essentially the same uncut discs with, I believe, the same transfers as both the 2005 disc and Code Red's recent US disc. They're fine transfers by 2005 standards: 16x9, richly colored and clearly taken from a film source. There's occasional dirt and debris, but not to the point of being distracting. But when you look at these screenshots full-size, they come off as pretty dated now. Fine for DVD, but you'd really have to make new masters for HD, which is probably why neither Code Red nor Umbrella opted for blu-rays here.

By the way, the back cover lists Night as 1.66:1 and Inn as 1.85:1, but they're really about 1.69:1 and 1.78:1, respectively. But that's not a criticism, except of the accuracy of the cover. They both just have standard but clean and robust Dolby 2.0 audio tracks, with no subtitle options or anything.
So if they're the same transfers (which again is my understanding; but I haven't actually seen the Code Red disc to confirm this), why would people want to import the Australian version? Extras! The Code Red disc is barebones, but the Umbrella disc (both the 2005 and 2016 editions) feature full length audio commentaries. Inn of the Damned has producer Rod Hay and actor Tony Bonner giving a very enthusiastic and informative history of the film. Then Night Of Fear has a slightly more defensive Rod Hay commenting with an anonymous moderator and star Hoogeveen (who repeatedly begs them to cut one scene out of the film when it appears on screen!). There's also a cool stills gallery of articles, posters and behind the scenes photos for both films. I usually pass over stills galleries, but I found this one pretty interesting. And there's the trailer for each film, plus some bonus trailers for four other "ozploitation" flicks.
So yeah, I'm real happy Umbrella re-issued this, because I'd been holding out hope Code Red would include the trailers, since I was having no luck finding a copy of the old Australian DVD. Now I don't need to. And since Australian dollars are one of the few currencies doing worse than the US dollar, it was actually cheaper to import it anyway, especially since I was ordering another title, which you'll be seeing here very soon... 😉

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