The year is 1896 and in this remote area of Australia it is hoped money may be made with prospecting - a lot of money. To that end, a wealthy English businessman is on his way to the region, taking the stagecoach overnight, acompanied by his manservant and a couple of loose women they have picked up while at a tavern. However, they stop at an inn run by elderly German couple Caroline Straulle (Judith Anderson) and her husband Lazar Straulle (Joseph Fürst) which seems perfectly nice, that is until the Englishman and his floozie get into bed and something unusual occurs...
Although that part of the film is largely forgotten about until almost an hour later, when the plot gets into gear. This was one of the films directed by Australian Terry Bourke where he attempted to make homegrown answers to the big foreign hits, which in that case meant Hollywood, so he decided to create a Western. Not a unique idea, there were plenty of countries which made their own versions of what was a specifically American genre, but as if lacking confidence in just the one form of moviemaking he added a dose of horror into it, apparently aspiring to be an Aussie Alfred Hitchcock, if the Master of Suspense had ever made a Western.
Not that Inn of the Damned came across as especially Hitchcockian, not for the main part at least, as the narrative grew bogged down in rather clichéd horse opera affairs such as the lawman hunting down the outlaw with a price on his head, the lawman in question being Cal Kincaid (Alex Cord, an American import should you be in any doubt of the aspirations here). Kincaid gets his man after quite a bit of running time, and as the movie ran a good two hours you might have observed some trimming could have been carried out to fashion a more streamlined chiller, but Bourke wanted to pack as much into his efforts as possible on this evidence, and that included making his Western.
But he didn't hire Dame Judith Anderson (as she was credited in the opening titles) for a mere handful of scenes as an innkeeper, as she had to go crazy in a Gothic kind of way, much like many a respected star of old would in the horror movies which arrived after Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? was such a hit. Despite being Australian herself, Anderson only made one film in the land of her birth and this was it, but at least she lent a touch of class, something enhanced by the extremely picturesque landscapes the work was shot in, all lovingly photographed by Brian Probyn as if he were making some kind of Australian heritage cinema rather than an exploitation movie with pretensions.
The inn is where the mayhem takes place, most memorably with a four poster bed which has its ceiling descend to crush the occupants, whereupon Mr Straulle dumps the bodies in the well. Quite why they feel the need to bump off their customers isn't explained till the end, and even then isn't hugely convincing outside of the movie needing an explanation for the bloody murder and that would have to do. In the meantime, in spite of the classy gloss, we did get to see such sequences as two women, stepmother and stepdaughter, visiting the inn to get out of the rain and spend most of the rest of their scenes stark naked, with the addition that the older woman is a predatory lesbian intent in taking advantage of her teenage charge. It is bits such as that which reveal Bourke's true intentions, as do the suspense sequences which end with people getting an axe to the brain or whatever, and it's true this rarely seems as if he could get the two genres to marry up, but it's fairly compelling no matter its overlength. Lush music by Bob Young.