This excellent 1973 Spanish thriller has been a perennial favorite in those multi-disc bargain collections of horror films that have been showing up in sale bins since the dawn of DVD, where most often under the title IT HAPPENED AT THE NIGHTMARE INN it's appeared in various running times (sometimes as a horribly butchered 67 min TV print). Featuring some superb work by its lead actresses and an unsettling atmosphere, this is a really outstanding example of 1970's Spanish genre cinema and its recently been given a new lease on life thanks to Scorpion with their new release of the full uncut version on DVD (with a blu-ray forthcoming).Although often categorized as a horror film, with an ad campaign & title that hoped to tie in to the 70's fascination with the devil, CANDLE FOR THE DEVIL is actually closer to a psychological thriller and can be compared to another excellent Spanish thriller LA RESIDENCIA as they both rely on a claustrophobic atmosphere and an aura of repressed sexuality. Directed by Eugenio Martin (who also helmed the excellent HORROR EXPRESS in 1972), like most continental 70's horror it has its share of nudity & blood but those don't overwhelm the film's overall mood which relies instead on it's atmosphere and is anchored by the mesmerizing performances of Aurora Bautista and Esperanza Roy in their central roles as two sisters with some twisted views of religion and people's morality.
In short order Marta is presented with a multitude of potential victims as a tour bus routinely discharges hordes of giggling mini skirted/ bra-less young women in front of their inn. Soon Laura (Judy Geeson) shows up at the sisters establishment as she was suppose to meet her sister there (May, the unfortunate sun bather) and upon discovering her missing is told that she's "checked out". Perplexed, Laura while not initially doubting the story, does begin investigating her sister's whereabouts and movements and later befriends a new boarder Helen Miller played by Lone Fleming (who had a bad time in both TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD & its followup RETURN OF THE EVIL DEAD). Helen frolics in the town square fountain (sans underwear) and carries on about in front of the male town folk, which soon incurs the wrath of Marta. This heightens Laura's suspicion which is compounded by disappearance of a young single mother (who in scene reminiscent of TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD's train climax is shockingly killed as she's holding her baby).
There also a high level of sexual tension permeating the plot, with the two sisters dealing with it in different ways. Veronica carries on with their handyman 20 years her junior (and with whom she remains partially clothed during the trysts to hide her guilt) and Veronica spies on nude young men bathing in a river while afterwards runs through thorn bushes as a kind of penance (although she does seem to have orgasmic like pleasure while doing it), while later at home scrubbing herself fervently clean. Later she dresses up and applies make-up (which triggers the attack on Helen) and we learn that she was jilted earlier in life by a suitor who left her for a younger women. It's also interesting to note that although the town appears heavily populated when the sisters view it from from their house, whenever they venture out it seems strangely deserted as if the world does not exist outside of the boardinghouse. The sisters (especially in the case of Marta - who is given some eerily gorgeous close-ups here) while presented as grisly murderesses with highly in doubt mental facilities are slowly developed into sympathetic characters.
The murders are presented in a quick and brutal fashion with the camera instead lingering on the bloody and messy aftermath, with Marta and Veronica's subsequent clean-up (again presented as a type of penance). There is a vague hint of cannibalism with the victims being chopped up and with close-ups of a stove shown, although the disposal point for the bodies is in one of two huge wine vats that are kept in the basement (which figures into the grisly climax).
Judy Geeson was one of the flood of blond haired English girls that popped up post Julie Christie in 1960's and 70's cinema. She appeared in the very excellent (and under rated) Hammer thriller FEAR IN THE NIGHT in 1972, in the ecological horror DOOMWATCH from 1972 and Norman J. Warren's British Alien knock-off INSEMINOID from 1981. I've always really liked her as she always seems to lend a touch of class to whatever she's in and always playing a believable character no matter what the role.
Although she has top billing here (most likely for her name recognition) her character is secondary to the sisters and spends most of her onscreen time (until the climax) wondering about the town asking people where her sister is, but she brings an excellent grounded performance to proceedings. She continues to work steadily (appearing in Rob Zombie's LORDS OF SALEM) and appears in a delightful video interview on the Scorpion disc.
The above screen caps are from the Scorpion DVD