Hot on the heels of his “31 Days of Hammer” in January, Jules is at it again in March, treating us to a chronological run through the classic era of British Horror, from the late ’50s to the end of the ’70s, with one review every day for the entire month.
You can check out the rest of our “31 Days of British Horror” by CLICKING HERE.
Starring: Jack Palance, Burgess Meredith, Beverly Adams, Peter Cushing
Director: Freddie Francis
After exploding out the traps with their first two films before dropping the ball with The Deadly Bees, Amicus got back on safer territory with another portmanteau.
Unlike Dr Terror’s House Of Horrors’s five stories, Torture Garden is only four, meaning what it loses in punchiness, it gains in allowing each tale breathe more.
Again, there’s a framing device that’s as good, if not better, than the stories themselves and again, there’s some right top drawer acting talent on display.
Tucked away at the side of a very normal carnival is the Torture Garden, a chamber of horrors hosted by the sinister Dr Diablo (Burgess Meredith), but even that hides a secret attraction – an effigy of the female deity Atropos (Clytie Jessop), one of the furies of legend, who can foretell the future through the shears she uses to cut the very thread of life of all men.
Five customers are enticed through to see their future, each one not liking what they see. Not at all…
First up is Enoch, where Colin Williams, a greedy and unscrupulous young man (Michael Bryant) tries to get his hands on the money he suspects his invalid uncle (Maurice Denham) of squirreling away somewhere in his decrepit house, to the extent of letting him die in front of him. As it turns out, there is money hidden, but the house is also the former residence of a witch and her feline familiar Balthazar, who has a penchant for human heads and want Colin to supply them. It’s a grim little gothic thriller this one, with a throughly unlikable lead and a beautifully creepy house where most of the action is set. A solid start.
Next up is Terror Over Hollywood, where Carla Hayes, a brutally ambitious young would be starlet (Beverly Adams) discovers that her determination to do anything it takes for fame is nothing compared to what the top ten names in town have done. More of a Twilight Zone “sci-fi with a twist” shocker, this one has enough of a nasty and inhuman feel to it (even before the revelation of what the elites are up to) to more than justify its inclusion here.
The weak horse in this particular race is Mr Steinway, where classical musician Leo Winston (John Standing) falls in love with Dorothy (Barbara Ewing) only for his jealous and over-protective mother to try and break them up. Only thing is, she’s dead and her vengeful spirit is possessing his grand piano. There’s actually a lot to enjoy if not love in Mr Steinway, but the wheels really come off at the end. A genuinely creepy scene where the Dorothy hears the seemingly vanished piano playing the funeral march is smashed into a million ludicrous parts when it wheels itself out of a cupboard like a mahogany Dracula. Hilarious, but a poor ending.
The final segment brings back Peter Cushing up against the mighty Jack Palance no less. The Man Who Collected Poe sees the two men as Pie obsessively, Cushing’s Lancelot Canning has the greatest collection of memorabilia in the world, while Palance’s Ronald Wyatt wants to get his hands on it, no matter what. Canning is no mere collector though, as he has the greatest item imaginable under lock and key, Poe himself, brought back from the grave and at the mercy of his captors….
It’s pretty hard to fault this one. Cushing is wonderfully slippery, on the surface charming and polite, but clearly loving the envy and rage his collection provokes in the other man, while Palance is a bullying, self-obsessed thug, which naturally he’s perfectly cast for.
The closing framing sequence is a real joy too, with a bravura performance by Meredith as, well Satan himself. He’s a man of wealth and taste and he has Michael Ripper to “murder” him at the end of every show because he’s got a sense of humour. It’s lovely, lovely stuff and easily the best part of the film.
With the whole shebang written from scratch by Psycho author Robert Bloch, all four stories of Torture Garden feature deeply unpleasant people suffering deeply unpleasant fates, but it doesn’t detract from the enjoyment any. The casting once again is spot on, the score from Hammer stalwarts James Bernard and Don Banks is magnificent, switching from big band jazz to screeching horror strings and beyond, while Freddie Francis’ keen eye for a shot means the whole thing feels vibrant and alive.
Portmanteaus can be a patchy affair and Torture Garden is a long way off perfect, but it’s also a griping, nasty little chiller that’s rarely less than entertaining.
The Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy