Australia may not have a particularly impressive history of horror and exploitation, but in recent years – especially thanks to the attention brought by the deservedly lauded documentary Not Quite Hollywood (2008) – we have been reminded that a few gems peppered the past decades. Great films like Next of Kin (1982) and The Long Weekend (1978) have happily received decent DVD releases and a new audience from this exposure. A DVD release that particularly struck my fancy was Umbrella’s double-bill of Terry Bourke’s Night of Fear and Inn of the Damned. Bizarrely intended for Australian television, Night of Fear is a fun and almost silent short that plays out like an Australian version of Texas Chainsaw Massacre – only it came out two years prior to Tobe Hooper’s lone masterpiece. The other film in the set – the focus of this article – did not interest me as much. After years of owning the DVD, I’ve finally got around to watching it.


Australia, 1975, Terry Bourke

Inn of the Damned has to be one of the oddest films produced in Australia. It plods along in its far-too-long running time with the attitude that it is a mystery. But there is no real mystery to Inn of the Damned. We are told who the killers are from the beginning and their back-story is presented in hallucinatory flashbacks. The only reveal we receive is that of the murder weapon – which was quite a nice touch, albeit ludicrous. While its video cover and title would suggest Inn of the Damned is some sort of period piece zombie film, it is not. Still, it does bend genres as it sprinkles horror into a Wild West backdrop. The plot stumbles all over the place, but essentially we have the story of Caroline Straulle (Judith Anderson) and her husband Lazar (Joseph Fürst) – an Austrian couple who run an inn located in the Australian countryside. Some years ago, they lost their children to the hands of a madman and since then have been murdering any guest that happens to visit their inn. This goes swimmingly until an American bounty hunter (Alex Cord) interrupts their murdering practice.

The font used in the film’s opening titles is hideous

Some unlucky guests

Alex Cord plays the American bounty hunter

Inn of the Damned makes little sense – not in terms of its plot (the plot is very straightforward), but in terms of my reaction to it. The film, to be brutally honest, is a mess. It’s a film that seems to have little direction; a film unsure of what it wants to be. It’s shot with some skill and, at times, creativity, but for the most part it looks like a television drama shot with costumed actors straight out of Sovereign Hill. And running at almost two hours in length, it’s much too long. Yet somehow, I was entranced – hypnotised from start to finish. When the credits rolled, I realised that I had experienced something akin to enjoyment while watching Inn of the Damned. I’m not sure what it is, but there’s something strangely comforting about Inn of the Damned.

Two pointless but entertaining characters

Butchery in the barn

Alex Cord’s outfit reminded me of the cowboy from the Village People

Inn of the Damned is a little short on most things – it’s short on thrills, plot and gore. (Although it must be said, it’s certainly not short on nudity. It even contains an oddly creepy scene of lesbianism.) But somehow this overall “lacking” didn’t hinder Inn of the Damned as it should have. Instead it drew attention to the film’s more impressive qualities. The performances, for instance, are surprisingly good. In particular, Judith Anderson makes for a fascinating and sympathetic villain. Joseph Fürst is also imposing as her silent sidekick in murder. Stylistically, the film has its flourishes too. Director Terry Bourke takes his inspiration from Spaghetti Westerns from the film’s sometimes excellent musical score (other times, when the film is attempting comedy, the score is grating beyond belief) and a few explosive shoot-out scenes. While the epilogue’s extended exposition is unnecessary, the film’s climatic finale is genuinely solid.

A lovely scene of stepmother/stepdaughter romance

Judith Anderson, a consummate professional

A grisly looking corpse

Far from a perfect film, Inn of the Damned should still be embraced by exploitation fans for all its quirks and its refusal to follow any sort of genre guidelines. The late Terry Bourke may have had somewhat of a short-lived career, but I hope he was proud of what he offered b-grade Australian cinema. I would take Inn of the Damned over any of the government funded garbage that Australia dribbles out these days. I highly recommend picking up the DVD release of Night of Fear and Inn of the Damned. Night of Fear is the better film, but Inn of the Damned is a fantastic curiosity item.