A CANDLE FOR THE DEVIL (1973) – The Dungeon Review!
A Candle For The Devil is an interesting little Spanish offering that explores the rather popular theme of religion gone amuck. Anti-religious sentiment was pretty commonplace in horror films from Europe in the 60’s and 70’s, which is just one more reason why I love the films from this period. I should warn you that this film might be more readily available in North America under the title It Happened At Nightmare Inn. From what I understand there are versions of this film that are heavily edited and may be missing entire scenes. I would recommend doing a little research before picking this one up.
A Candle For The Devil is about Marta and Veronica, two middle-aged sisters who run an inn in a tiny Spanish village. When Laura Barkley arrives at the inn to meet her sister Loreta she is told by the two women that she checked out. Needless to say, Judy is concerned about her sister but doesn’t immediately suspect the two innkeepers. Marta eventually shares her feelings with Laura about her sister Loreta’s inappropriate attire and questionable morals. The more she learns about the duo the more suspicious she becomes. When another female guest of the inn also “checks out” suddenly Laura becomes convinced that the sisters are up to no good. After an infuriating exchange with Marta, Laura decides to find lodgings elsewhere. But when she spies a new female guest with a baby her concern overwhelms her and she is compelled to act. The tiny town doesn’t even have a police station so she speaks to the mayor. But without proof, there isn’t much the mayor can do. When this newest guest also disappears Laura takes it upon herself to do some sleuthing.
A Candle For The Devil was made in El Paular, Madrid, Spain. What a stunningly gorgeous locale! I definitely have to see Spain in person one day! The architecture is fascinating and it all looks so wonderfully worn down by time. A great setting for our delightful little tale! The two sisters with their repressive attitudes guided by religious principles believe they are doing the lords work. More accurately, Marta, the dominant of the two sisters believes this, and she always knows what’s best. Marta takes the accidental death of a young female tourist who was sunbathing on the roof topless, as a sign that they are to punish such women of loose morals who end up as guests at their inn. Veronica is the subservient sister and although she doesn’t agree with everything Marta says and does, she obeys her nonetheless. Veronica is having an affair with a young man that works for the two who is twenty years younger. She refuses to get completely undressed during these trysts for moral reasons. Marta has no such outlet for her sexual frustrations and was once engaged to be married until her fiancée ran off with a younger woman. Marta is a severe woman that is not easy to like, but she is not portrayed as a monster, which allows her actions to have a greater impact. I actually felt a lot of empathy for Veronica, who although blinded by religion and an accomplice to her sister’s crimes knows what they’ve done, is very wrong and is overwhelmed by guilt. The sisters are a fascinating pair and are definitely the films greatest asset. Their escapades are complimented by all manner of religious imagery and expression. In one of my favourite scenes, Marta is spying on some young men swimming and runs guilty through some thorny bushes arriving home lashed, bleeding and breathless, frantically washing and scrubbing the sin from her flesh.
The adorable Judy Geeson is very likeable and is quite good as Laura, but this one really is about the two sisters. Aurora Bautista and Esperanza Roy who plays Marta and Veronica do one hell of a job! Although these are two huge personalities they are played with a fair amount of restraint that doesn’t allow the performances to get campy. Really the entire film is about restraint. The film is subtle and isn’t nearly as exploitative as similar films from the decade. Admittedly, I found this just a wee bit disappointing being a huge fan of that type of thing. I do enjoy a little bit of hysterics in my anti-religious imagery. There is very little nudity and violence and what exists is not very graphic. I’ve come to expect a certain amount of hoopla from Horror coming out of Spain, but I guess it is a little juvenile of me to expect everything to be Paul Naschy-like! Director Eugenio Martin also directed one of my very favourite Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing vehicles Horror Express and turns out another very respectable outing with A Candle For The Devil. The film is very stylish and looks great aided considerably by the spectacular scenery. The only real issue I had with the film would be the ending. I actually quite liked the final scene but it seemed ridiculously rushed! The film is evenly paced throughout but then is tied up in a matter of minutes in a far too brief climax. A Candle For The Devil is a great looking film with an intriguing story and excellent performances. Highly Recommended.
Dungeon Rating: 4/5
Directed By: Eugenio Martín
Starring: Judy Geeson, Aurora Bautista, Esperanza Roy, Víctor Alcázar, Lone Fleming, Blanca Estrada, Loreta Tovar, Montserrat Julió