TITLE: Torture Garden
YEAR RELEASED: 1967
DIRECTOR: Freddie Francis
CAST: Burgess Meredith, Jack Palance, Michael Ripper, Beverly Adams, Peter Cushing, Maurice Denham, Ursula Howells, Michael Bryant, Barbara Ewing
REVIEW BY SELENE PAXTON-BROOKS
The Torture Garden is Amicus Productions’ second anthology film, based around a group of five people visiting a sideshow in a fairground.
My problem with this movie is that it really doesn’t seem British at all!
Created by the usual Amicus team, the film seems more American than British, and lead by Burgess Meredith who was playing ‘The Penguin’ in ABC’s ‘Batman’ TV series at the time, you wouldn’t necessarily guess this was an Amicus production at all.
The sets aren’t of the traditional Hammer/Amicus ilk, in fact they seem quiet shoddy compared to some of their contemporaries.
However, the story is a credible one and in some places quiet shocking.
Bloch offers us a moral dilemma – could the devil really offer an opportunity for greedy and selfish individuals to escape their fates by giving them foresight into the future?
The film begins by drawing us into Dr Diablo’s fairground sideshow.
The visitors are shown around various instruments of torture by a man dressed in hangman’s attire, he moves on to the ultimate torture exhibit – the electric chair (“for the execution of condemned criminals in the United States”).
The showman (Burgess Meredith) changes into top hat and red silk cape, wielding a cigarette holder, in true ‘Penguin’ style, and delivers a macabre speech to his unimpressed audience.
He offers the spectators the chance of seeing their own private exhibit, only five take up the offer and step behind the curtain for the thrill of a life time. Diablo burns his fee, for he knows that what they are going to experience will not disappoint them!
Diablo introduces them to ‘Atropos’ (Clytie Jessop), who in Greek mythology was the oldest of the three fates, known as the inevitable, and mortals were cut to death with her ‘abhorred shears’.
He tells them that she will reveal the ultimate horror for each and everyone of them.
And the portmanteau begins.
The first story focuses on the playboy, Colin Williams (Michael Bryant), who down on his luck goes to visit his uncle Roger (Maurice Denham), an ill recluse.
This is actually a very gruesome tale and even though Bloch uses the old ‘witch in the cottage’ excuse, the story plays on the evils of money and the desperation of a nephew who will do anything to secure his uncles fortune.
However, we don’t expect the shocking twist of the sinister man-eating cat, Balthazar, who rewards Colin for feeding him a nice fresh human head for his tea.
Terror Over Hollywood
Next we meet our American beauty and her hidden secrets are to be revealed, we find just how calculating Carla Hayes (Beverly Adams) can be.
After wrangling her way to an important dinner date, Carla manages to get a screen test from an ageless producer.
Bloch plays on the fact that people in the film industry want to be around forever, will do anything to stay in the limelight and anything for fame.
His perfect solution… androids that ‘never grow old and never slow down’.
The third segment is probably the most bizarre.
Dorothy Endicott (Barbara Ewing), a music journalist, gets the opportunity to interview a famous pianist, Leo Winston.
He introduces her to his grand piano, Euterpe, a present from his mother before she died.
Love blossoms, but the piano is not happy at the prospect of a rival for Leo’s time and makes it’s objections known.
I remember this segment vividly when watching as a child in the 70s, and although now this seems the most ridiculous of all the segments, the fact that an inanimate object could hold the spirit of a jealous woman completely creeped me out.
The Man who collected Poe
The final story is that of two collectors who will do anything to possess the most rare Edgar Alan Poe memorabilia, Lancelot Canning (Peter Cushing) and Ronald Wyatt (Jack Palance).
Canning lives in America to be close to Poe and invites Wyatt to visit his collection. Cushing and Palance complement each other beautifully in this segment, they make us totally believe in their characters, Palance playing the manic obsessive and Cushing giving us the smug collector who revels in his rival’s interest.
Canning’s involvement in the dark arts lead him to be the ultimate collector and when Wyatt discovers what’s behind the third door, he ends up making the ultimate sacrifice.
The final member of the audience isn’t all that he seems either, and deals with the devil need to be made before the film can conclude.
On the whole this is not a bad film, the segments are tied together well by Meredith and it’s suitably horrific in places. Unfortunately it hasn’t dated well, and is there is little in it that makes it stand out from the crowd, only the final segment with Cushing and Palance can be seen as reasonably engaging.
I’ve seen better, but I’ve also seen a lot worse, I think you should give it a go… but will you?