Director/Screenplay – Terry Bourke, Producers – Terry Bourke & Rod Hay, Photography – Brian Probyn, Music – Bob Young, Visual Effects – Les Conley, Makeup – Deryck De Niese, Production Design – Gary Hansen. Production Company – Terryrod Productions/Australian Film Development Corporation/Medich Productions/TVW Channel 7 (Perth)
Dame Judith Anderson (Caroline Staulle), Alex Cord (Cal Kincaid), Joseph Furst (Lazar Staulle), Tony Bonner (Trooper Moore), Robert Quilter (Biscayne), John Meillon (George Parr), Michael Craig (Paul Melford), John Morris (Martin Cummings), Diana Dangerfield (Mrs Millington), Carla Hoogeveen (Beverly)
Australia, 1896. American bounty hunter Cal Kincaid is determined to apprehend the wanted murderer Biscayne. After a long pursuit, he finally succeeds in capturing and shooting Biscayne. Kincaid’s partner Trooper Moore travels on alone in search of a missing English traveller Cummings. Moore comes to an inn on a remote backcountry station run by Austrian immigrants Lazar and Caroline Staulle. However, the Staulles kill all who stay there and Moore becomes their latest victim. Kincaid then comes to the inn in search of Moore and discovers the Staulle’s grisly secret.
Australian director Terry Bourke made only a handful of films, none of which are particularly well known. These have included the likes of the spy thriller Noon Sunday (1975), the sex film Plugg (1975), the acclaimed missing child film Little Boy Lost (1978), and a couple of films beyond that. The most well-known of Bourke’s films have been his horror films, which include Night of Fear (1972) – a remarkable film that prefigures The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) that was originally made for Australian tv but banned, Inn of the Damned and the slasher film Lady Stay Dead (1981).
Inn of the Damned is probably the most well-released of Terry Bourke’s films and received some sporadic cinematic screenings in the US, which none of his other films appear to have done. Inn of the Damned is an oddity however. Its poster/dvd cover clearly identifies it as a horror film. However, for a long time, one sits wondering whether this is the case or not. For at least the first 45 minutes of an overlong 118 minute running time, there is almost nothing to indicate that Inn of the Damned is anything other than an historical film. During this time we follow John Morris and his entourage of women as they turn up at Dame Judith Anderson’s inn and are killed in bed; follow two rogues who rob a landowner’s house in a plot that never seems to lead onto anything else; and then a long series of scenes involving horse chases and Alex Cord’s American bounty hunter pursuing and capturing outlaw Robert Quilter. (There is a nice scene in this latter sequence where Quilter grabs Alex Cord’s gun and Cord psychologically manipulates him into surrendering). However, there is not much during this time that suggests that Inn of the Damned is the horror film it is sold as being or even that its title suggests. For nearly the first hour at least, Inn of the Damned could play entirely as a straight historical film. There is no denying that Terry Bourke has an artistic eye and is good at capturing character nuance and historical detail but he certainly takes a long and meandering time to get there.
Even when we do come to the parts that can be classified as such, Inn of the Damned does not have much in common with genre-identifying horror – although there is a very gruesome scene with Joseph Furst beating up coachman Phillip Avalon in a barn. When it eventually does, Inn of the Damned reads like a sex-reversed version of Deranged (1974) with Judith Anderson in the role played by Roberts Blossom, where she gets a series of scenes tending a roomful of dead bodies, even playing the piano to them. In other ways, you could consider Inn of the Damned as one of the films that came out in the aftermath of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), all featuring aging actresses of the 1930s and 1940s going mad. It is not too much of a stretch of the imagination to imagine the inn located in the American boondocks and Judith Anderson as another Bette Davis clone. The end explanation for the events – something to do with Judith Anderson’s children having drowned and her believing their portraits are alive – leaves one not entirely clear about what is happening.
You also cannot help but wonder how a film with a schlock title like Inn of the Damned ended up with Dame Judith Anderson as its lead actress. Though Australian born, Judith Anderson became one of the grand ladies of the British stage and was knighted in 1959. She sporadically appeared on film, with roles in classics like Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940) where she was Mrs Danvers, Laura (1944), And Then There Were None (1945), The Ten Commandments (1956) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), although was probably more known to genre fans for her role as the Vulcan priestess in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984). Anderson does ok, although the performance she gives is never a barnstormer that lights the show up the way that Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and others did in the Batty Old Dames films. For international American appeal, the film has imported Alex Cord, a name that was way down on a C-list rung around the time with Cord largely being known only for his tv work.