Ozploitation Classics: Inn Of the Damned and Night Of Fear

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 (2005) that's just been reissued, possibly to cash in on a little attention Code Red is drumming up. 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.

Update 5/11/16 - 11/26/22:
I kind of like updating these very early posts from 2015 to 20166, because it gives me a chance to rewrite them so they're more in keeping with the style I've developed here over the years. But I like it even better because it means we've gotten a long-awaited new release, as in this case where Umbrella has updated both films to blu with all new special features - woot!
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 for 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 horses 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, as the pilot for a proposed series called Fright. 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 (well, technically there's one), 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 a little 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 those two films I've compared this one to are classics, which this isn't. It 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 even at under an hour, the pace drags, with the camera seemingly determined to give each item of set dressing its own, lengthy close-up. 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'm not sure I'd recommend it to anyone expecting a slick entertainment. This is more for the people who attend midnight screenings and collect off-beat VHS tapes.
2016 Umbrella DVD top; 2022 Umbrella BD bottom.

The back cover of the DVD 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.  Now, the BD has clearly made some changes framing-wise.  They've matted Inn to actual 1.85:1, and while Night is still 1.69:1, they've zoomed in tighter this go around.  Otherwise, the DVD was already pretty good: 16x9, non-interlaced, richly colored and clearly taken from a film source. There's occasional dirt and debris, but not to the point of being distracting.  The blu-rays now, well, as you can see in the first two pairs of shots, some of the debris (in this case white flecks) have been cleaned up.  Though as you can see in the third set of shots, some has gotten a little worse, so I suppose it's a tie on that front.  The colors are definitely better separated (the DVDs have a light red cast over them that's been removed) now, so that's a clear improvement.  The increase in clarity with the higher res is real, too, probably more obviously with Inn.  So these are some solid upgrades if not showroom floor HD.

Both films have standard but clean and robust Dolby 2.0 audio tracks, bumped up to DTS-HD on the blu.  The DVD has no subtitle options, but the BD adds them for Inn (not for Night, even though there are a couple of spoken sentences).
So here in the US, the Code Red DVD was 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.

And the BD turns this into even more of a special edition.  The excellent commentaries are still here, but now there's plenty more.  For starters, there's about 45 minutes worth of previously unreleased interviews, filmed for Not Quite Hollywood, with Hay, Hoogeveen (still arguing to have that scene removed!), and fellow Night actors Norman Yemm and Briony Behets, which are first rate.  Then there's a complete episode of Spyforce, which Bourke directed, and stars another cast member from Inn Of the Damned.  It's surprisingly good, and has an introduction by Spyforce star Jack Thompson.  and critic Paul Harris gives us a very informative and engaging video essay overview of Bourke's filmography... even if he fails to appreciate the writing of Lady Stay Dead.  There's also a trailer reel of Bourke's films, which the box says is "introduced by Terry Bourke," which is flat-out untrue.  Bourke has been dead for twenty years, and what I guess they're referring to is a vintage film clip of Bourke promoting one of his early films that they've stuck into the reel[pictured above].  I'm glad to get that clip, but it's not what we were promised.  Anyway, the trailers for the two films are still here (separate from the reel), and the photo gallery has now been broken up into two, divided by film.  This release also comes in a slip cover and includes an exclusive poster if you pre-ordered it direct from Umbrella.
So I was happy when Umbrella re-issued these on DVD, but I'm much happier now that they've really done them justice with a packed special edition on blu.  It's a very satisfying package, rewarding even if you're not a huge fan of either of these films in particular.  But you'll also probably come away with a greater appreciation of them after all this, so you might end up a proper fan anyway if you give this a chance, which you absolutely should.

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