A Candle for the Devil (1973) | Atmospheric Gran Dama Guignol with a Sweeney Todd vibe
The international title of this underrated 1970s Euro horror, A Candle for the Devil (aka Una vela para el diablo) from Horror Express director Eugenio Martín is a bit of a misnomer as there’s nothing satanic nor supernatural going on here, and belongs instead to the psycho-biddy genre, but with a dash of Sweeney Todd and some 1970s-style sex and violence.
Now, I’m a real sucker for hag horror and this certainly belongs in the same sinister sisterhood as Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice (1969) and Die! Die! My Darling (1965). In the US, it was released as It Happened at Nightmare Inn, which actually makes for a better fit.
Fresh from Jimmy Sangster’s Hammer thriller Fear in the Night, Judy Geeson plays nice girl Laura, who arrives at the Spanish pension of sisters Marta (Aurora Bautista) and Veronica (Esperanza Roy), only discover that the sister she has intended on meeting has left town. Deciding to wait her sister’s return, Laura settles into the inn where she is disturbed by the sudden disappearance of another lodger. And she’s right to worry, because Marta and Veronica can’t abide the lax morals of the foreign tourists coming into their town and are killing them off as punishment for their ‘sins’ in the eyes of God…
Recently restored by Pinewood for its HD restoration release, Martín’s Gran Dama Guignol is more of a social comment on Catholic guilt and bigotry than a straight out exploitation slasher. Marta and Veronica might consider themselves God’s moral lieutenants, but they harbour their own illicit desires: Marta gets aroused watching naked underage boys swimming, while Veronica is shagging a much younger handyman. Bautista and Roy, two respected Spanish actresses, are the life and soul of this psycho-drama which, given some tweaks, could pass for Pedro Almodóvar-styled black comedy thriller.
Unlike the camp hysterics of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, Martino’s film is much more restrained affair, and actually shows the odd flash of artistry courtesy of Luis Buñuel’s Tristana/Viridiana cinematographer José F Aguayo, who uses the sun-drenched cobblestone streets of Ronda and Grazalema and the Monastery of El Paular as a backdrop to some very effective sequences. One that highlight’s Martino’s themes of religious cynicism involves Marta striding through bulrushes, which leave welts on her arms, in an act of orgiastic penance for her spying in young naked boys.
There’s little in the way of shock, horror and violence, and the death scenes aren’t as exploitative as you’d expect, while the nudity is limited to the odd exposed nipple and those youngsters Marta ogles. Geeson, meanwhile, doesn’t get to do that much with her amateur Nancy Drew character, and only gets to shine in the film’s climax, which is involves a grisly discovery in the inn’s impossibly large wine vats.
A Candle for the Devil is available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download from Odeon Entertainment in the UK
Posted on June 24, 2015, in Horror, Must See, Must-See, Psychological thriller and tagged 1970s horror, A Candle for the Devil, Eugenio Martín, Grazalema, hag horror, Horror, Judy Geeson, Monastery of El Paular, Psycho biddy horror, Ronda, Spanish horror, Una vela para el diablo. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.