Night of Fear/Inn of the Damned Review
A young woman (Carla Hoogeveen) drives away from her lover (Mike Dorsey) but is run off the road by means of a false road sign. This is a trap set by a man (Norman Yemm) who lives alone with a colony of rats…
Night of Fear is a sometimes crude but nastily effective little horror film. It began life as a television pilot, for a proposed anthology series called Fright. (This is reflected in the credits, which begin with Fright – Created by Terry Bourke before the Night of Fear title card comes up.) However, it was rejected by the network, so Bourke and his producer Rod Hay distributed the 35mm-shot film into cinemas, despite it being under an hour long. The Australian censor banned it, on grounds of “indecency and obscenity”, though after an appeal they relented and passed the film with the newly-created R rating, restricting it to over-eighteens, and the film was finally shown in Australian cinemas. As far as I am aware, it has never had a British showing.
Nowadays, you may wonder what the fuss was about: what was almost beyond the pale in 1972 now earns an M rating. It’s certainly no more explicit than horror films being made elsewhere at the time. One possible consideration, as Hay suggests in the commentary, was that horror films were an alien genre in Australia back then: the only previous film near to the genre was 1968’s Wake in Fright (known as Outback overseas), which was far more respectable. Night of Fear is closer to an exploitation film. Bourke isn’t subtle in suggesting a sexual motivation for the man’s actions: in one scene he seems to be masturbating, while meanwhile Bourke crash-zooms into Hoogeveen’s chest when the man rips her dress, and cuts in a close-up of her knickers while she plays tennis with her lover. Add to that a really quite mild sex scene and a quite over-the-top nightmare sequence, and perhaps you can see what might have rubbed the censors up the wrong way thirty-three years ago.
Night of Fear suffers a little from Bourke’s direction, which causes the pace to slacken between the tense highlights. Fifty minutes is about right for a story like this, which is really just a pre-credits prologue (featuring Briony Behets as an earlier victim) with a single-act main storyline. The other notable thing about the film is that it has no dialogue at all. Sometimes this becomes a little artificial: although you can believe that the man is mute, wouldn’t his victims plead as well as scream?
Night of Fear is really just a curio, but anyone interested in the stranger byways of Australian cinema or of the horror genre may wish to take a look. It has been all but unseen for the last thirty years, so this DVD is a welcome opportunity to see it. It is paired on disc with Bourke’s feature from two years later, Inn of the Damned.
Set in 1896 in Gippsland, Australia, Inn of the Damned tells of the disappearance of unwary travellers, all of whom have stayed at the inn run by Caroline (Dame Judith Anderson) and Lazar Straulle (Joseph Furst). Trooper Moore (Tony Bonner) and American Cal Kincaid (Alex Cord) investigate. Bourke was apparently a fan of Hitchcock, but certainly lacks any of the Master’s talent. The film feels relentlessly padded out at just under two hours, throwing in comedy relief in the form of John Meillon’s drunk act, not to mention a lesbian hot-tub scene between Diana Dangerfield and Carla Hoogeveen, whose only bearing on the rest of the plot is that it takes place in the Straulle’s inn. There’s no suspense or tension, just some chocolate-boxy scenery (from British DP Brian Probyn), poor acting and a lot of tedium. This was at the time the most expensive Australian production to date, hence the decision to import some big-name actors from overseas (though Anderson is actually Australian by birth). It had a British video release (in what may be a slightly cut version, from the running time on the BBFC site) but has certainly slipped into obscurity over the last three years – rightly so, as it’s a turkey.
Terry Bourke, born in 1940, had broken into the local industry by working for television on such series as Spyforce. His first feature, Sampan (1968), was a softcore sex comedy set in Singapore. After Inn of the Damned, Bourke went on to make Plugg, a sex comedy set in the offices of a seedy detective agency, which has the dubious distinction of being named by at least one critic (Brian McFarlane) as, despite strong competition, the worst Australian film ever made. He made further films and had a secondary career as a showbiz writer. He has apparently died, but such is the obscurity he has sunk into, I can’t find a death date for him. [Update: since I wrote this review, the Ozploitation documentary Not Quite Hollywood revealed that Bourke's dates are 1940-2002.]
This all-regions disc belongs in two of Umbrella Entertainment’s DVD lines: it’s an Oz Classic and also an Umbrella Horror DVD. Both films have anamorphic transfers, Night of Fear in 1.75:1 and Inn of the Damned in 1.78:1. With a much smaller budget, Night of Fear has some grain, but Inn of the Damned is intentionally slicker-looking, with more vibrant colours, though blacks are not as solid as they could be.
The soundtracks are monophonic for both films, which reflects the mix available at the time: there are no problems with clarity and sound balance. There are no subtitles on either film, which seems like Umbrella policy and is to be regretted. You could excuse them for not providing any subtitles on Night of Fear as it has no dialogie: the subtitles would be “[screams]” and “[grunts]” and not much else. There are seven chapter stops for Night of Fear and twelve for Inn of the Damned. My Film rating is the average of a 7 for Night and 3 for Inn.
Both films are provided with audio commentaries. On Night of Fear, it features Rod Hay and Carla Hoogeveen, moderated by Mark Hartley. Or rather it’s by Rod Hay with the other two getting the occasional comment in edgeways. Hoogeveen does get to say that she asked Bourke to remove the dream sequence, which she considers gratuitous. The commentary on Inn of the Damned is a much more even-handed affair, featuring Hay and Tony Bonner, both of whom seem to rate the film much more highly than anyone else seems to do.
In addition to the commentaries, each film’s trailer (Night 2:01, Inn 3:29) is provided, both anamorphically enhanced. There is also a stills gallery for each film, which are models of their kind: along with the usual photographs there are press cuttings and advertisements for screenings. In the case of Night of Fear, these trace the story of the film’s banning and eventual passing. For Inn, these include ones talking about how Carla Hoogeveen – who, at the time, was a TV star in a series called Class of ’74 – was going to appear nude and take part in “daring” scenes in this up-and-coming Aussie feature. That could be a tabloid headline today. Some of these cuttings will be a little small and hard to read on some displays.
Finally, each film’s Special Features menu links to the same “Umbrella Propaganda”, namely trailers for other films released on DVD by the company. Here, they are Long Weekend, Thirst, Turkey Shoot and Roadgames.
Here you get two films on one disc for the price of one, which is good value. Even if it is no good, Inn of the Damned is of interest as an early attempt by the reviving film industry to make a large-scale commercial feature which would appeal overseas, before Picnic at Hanging Rock did so in more upscale terms. Night of Fear is the better of the two, and remains a little-seen curiosity that horror fans might wish to check out.