“Inn of the Damned”: No reservations needed for this 1975 Spaghetti Western-influenced Aussie horror flick

By on August 27, 2016

Our contributor Josh Hadley thinks the 1975 Spaghetti Western-influenced Aussie horror flick Inn of the Damned — one of the most unique and honestly satisfying exploitation films you’re likely to encounter in our selection of movies over on Night Flight Plus — is worth checking into, and you won’t even need to make reservations first.

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Writer/Director Terry Bourke is not really known outside of Australia and yet has had a hand in crafting a few amazing Ozploitation pieces, of which Inn of the Damned is his finest.

Inn of the Damned is a hard film to classify, and an even harder one to fit into the little box required of many genre films. This is very much an Ozploitation film but it’s also a down and dirty western as well as an effective horror film.

On the surface any of the three genres that Inn of the Damned occupies would be enough to warrant a look, but the odd combination of 70s grindhouse drive-in movie — co-mingled with that unique Ozploitation vibe and rounded out with shockingly effective horror elements — make for the perfect experience.

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American bounty hunter Cal Kincaid has tracked a child rapist and murderer into the outback near New South Wales, Australia.

This being 1896, things are done a bit differently, with Kincaid — portrayed by TV stalwart Alex Cord, veteran of just about a single episode of every TV program broadcast in the 1960s and ’70s — being subject to a legal system which hampers him, all while he is able to exploit the “wild west” nature of things.

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Seemingly unrelated, we have Caroline and Lazar Straulle, a kindly old couple who run the local Inn at the edge of town… the titled Inn of the Damned.

Unable to cope with a personal tragedy, the Straulle’s have taken to murdering their guests in a most creative manner, all while remaining out of the law’s sight.

Eventually, the two plots merge in a very satisfying and unconventional manner. If we tell you any more, it will ruin some genuine surprises — rest assured, the movie is worth it.

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Terry Bourke crafts a magnificent interwoven story alongside beautiful cinematography and a steady hand at directing. With a background mostly in Aussie television, Bourke seems to stretch his creative legs here with long luxurious shots taking in the beauty of the natural surroundings with the vicious violence occupying the foreground.

A radical technique used here is one of juxtaposed audio with strange camera movements and edits that give everything a very arthouse feel with an exploitation undercurrent.

The violence is brutal and intense while the characters do everything they can to defy conventions and keep you guessing. One example of this would be our “hero,” Kincaid, who seems almost as bad as the people he brings in.

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Kincaid chooses the dead part of “Wanted: Dead or Alive” most of the time because he gets off on killing. We even see him screwing a whore with the corpse of his latest “bounty” propped up in a chair watching them.

Remember, he’s the movie’s hero.

Then, we have the Straulle’s, who are killing “innocent” people for their own perverted gains, and yet… the movie never portrays them as evil so much as insane which gives them some much needed (and appreciated) depth. The groupings of supporting characters are also unexpectedly deep.

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We have a set of lesbians on the run from the law — they are also step-mother and step-daughter and the daughter may not actually be a completely willing participant in their relationship — and we also have Kincaid’s “handler” Trooper Moore, an Aussie policeman, who is so suave that one finds themselves drawn to him. An odd mix to say the least.

The cast is made up of mostly Australian mainstays. Dame Judith Anderson was a regular in features and the boob tube down under but most Americans will recognize her as the Vulcan High Priestess from Star Trek III (unless you happen to be a huge fan of the soap opera “Santa Barbara,” or you’re a fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca — she played the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers).

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The funny thing about Ozploitation is that the market was not large enough — maybe twenty films a year for the entire country — to create a division between the “B Movie” films and the large budget films. This allowed for actors and directors to ebb and flow from one to the other effortlessly.

It was not uncommon at all to see someone such as Dame Judith Anderson in a film like Inn of the Damned one week and then in an A -ist Hollywood production the next. Work was work.

What is Ozploitation? Ozploitation is the amazing realm of Australian (OZ) exploitation films, a welcome and valued entry into the exploitation marketplace, which comes in a variety of genres, such as Horror, Sci-Fi, Porno, Comedy and Action.

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The “formula” for an Ozploitation film, no matter the genre, was dictated by its low budget, which played up the elements routinely associated with the exploitation market — blood, boobs and beasts — along with an American star or two complimented by Aussie stars.

Use of the local scenery made for a film that indigenous populations could relate to and their use of American stars made it easy to sell the films overseas.

The blood and tits didn’t hurt either, these were both usually played up quite a bit, as you’ll see in Inn of the Damned.

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Those of us who are exploitation fans are likely already familiar with so-called “Spaghetti Westerns,” Ital0-westerns made for, and then unleashed on, Americans with bad dubbing and outrageous sound effects.

Well, there are some choice Aussie Westerns (Veggimite Westerns?) out there as well, and these may number far fewer than their Italian counterparts but are oddly just as impactful.

Australian films tended to lack the infrastructure that the U.S. film industry had cultivated so well, which required cross-marketing with U.S. distributors. Many of the films in the Ozploitation genre were greatly altered for their U.S. theatrical release, even though they were being somewhat crafted for that market in the first place (in the 70s there were only so many theaters in Australia so for a film to make its money back they had to sell it to the yanks).

Cutting 15-20 minutes out of a movie and dubbing out the (sometimes VERY thick) accents were routine when Ozploitation movies were brought to the states.

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VHS cover art courtesy of VHSCollector.com

Inn of the Damned seems to have evaded these troubles, however, as the film was released without being dubbed or cut on Paragon Home Video, although it was released with a very misleading cover.

Running at just under two hours, the film was heavily censored for its television run, losing 28 minutes and several characters in the process. Being part of various syndication packages kept the movie in the shadows but it was Elvira — who showcased it in 1984 with her Movie Macabre series — that brought about it’s largest American exposure.

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Now long considered a public domain film, Inn of the Damned has been released on innumerable cheap-o DVD releases, which all seem to use the same print.

Inn of the Damned should have left a larger cultural impact than it did but it was caught in an exploitation glut that the market of the early 80s created with the VHS boom and it was lost in the static.

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The story is engaging and smart, the characters are complex and the direction is beyond amazing. The writing is clever enough to never let you know what will happen next and is complex enough that it’s made clear that the archetypes, as we know them, are not held fast but toyed with to add depth to the proceedings.

This is a film that punishes you for assuming you know what will happen next, which, in a way, also plays with the tropes of the multiple genres that are all criss-crossed here.

We recommend heading over to Night Flight Plus where you, too, can check into the Inn of the Damned, but you must always remember, you can never check out!

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About Josh Hadley

Josh Hadley is an analog warrior writing for the varied likes of Fangoria, Hustler, Delirium, Cashiers du Cinemart and many others. He's a veteran of low-budget television and producer of the many products including the 1201 Beyond brand (http://www.1201beyond.com/) and the 1201 Beyond TV program for the OSI 74 channel. Flying through the night with a VCR and the perspective of a Luddite, Hadley zigs while others zag and takes you along for the ride. He's based out of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.