This blog is devoted to all those pieces of 20th century culture too often pooh-pooh'ed by the so called 'high brow' crowd. The stuff that conjoures words like 'vibrant', 'garish' and 'lurid'. Cheap paperbacks, b-movies, exploitation, fantasy, horror and hokey sci-fi - all have a place on this blog where the trash of yesterday is recognised as the classics of today.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Movie Review: Torture Garden (1967)

As well as being the name of a fetish nightclub in London (I don't know why or how I know that), Torture Garden is also the title of a 1967 horror film by British studio, Amicus. I already said in my post on Hammer Horror, that Amicus was one of the studios (along with Tigon) that were keen to cash in on Hammer's success with colourful gothic horror films, and Amicus put a new spin on them by crafting 'anthologies' of several stories based on a theme. Torture Garden was the second of these with 1964's Dr. Terror's House of Horrors being the first.

Written by none other than Robert Bloch (he of Psycho fame) and helmed by veteran Hammer director, Freddie Francis, Torture Garden is one of those films which probably had a name before it had a plot. At least that is the only explanation I can think of for the film includes neither a garden, nor much in the way of torture. Instead we have Dr. Diablo (Burgess Meredith), who runs a circus sideshow. Drawing in customers, he promises to show them unspeakable horrors relating to their futures. All the customer has to do is stare into the shears of a doll-like woman whilst Diablo murmurs hypnotic humbug, causing the person to see future events unfolding...

First up is Colin, who has a sick old uncle with a large stash of loot hidden somewhere in his house. Upon the old man's death, Colin frantically begins searching for the treasure and finds it buried in the basement, along with an old cat that seems to have been buried with it. Pretty soon things take a turn for the worse and Colin begins to suspect that his old uncle buried the cat for a reason.

Next is Carla, an attractive Hollywood socialite who starts dating a big shot movie type. When her new squeeze is shot and thrown from a moving car by a couple of hoods, Carla assumes that he is dead. But she didn't count on the brilliant Dr. Heim who can seemingly bring people back from the dead.


Following that is Dorothy's story. She's a reporter who interviews a pianist. Now this young man has a rather special piano which was a present from his dearly departed mother. As Dorothy develops a more intimate relationship with the young musician, she begins to feel that the piano doesn't like her one bit.

The final segment features Jack Palance as Ronald Wyatt, a fanatical collector of Poe memorabilia. Upon meeting fellow collector (Peter Cushing), Ronald is shown perhaps the most complete collection in existence, including several unpublished manuscripts written in Poe's own hand. But where this mysterious collector got such treasures is a dark and frightening secret.

Of course the whole narrative is wrapped up in the dark doings of Dr. Diablo who reveals himself to be more than a mere circus trickster. Torture Garden isn't a bad piece of 60's British horror. But nothing particularly stands out as brilliant from any of the segments and Amicus would go on to make much better anthologies in the years to come.

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