Movie Reviews Index

Torture Garden (1967)

Rating: 4 Stars

D: Freddie Francis. Burgess Meredith, Peter Cushing, Jack Palance, Beverly Adams, Maurice Denham, Michael Ripper, Catherine Finn. 100 mins. (Sony Pictures) 10/05

Britain's Amicus Productions was always considered Hammer's poor relation. Hammer won awards, was honored by the Queen and remains a cult phenomenon to this day. But little Amicus, like the late Rodney Dangerfield, couldn't get no respect! In truth, both studios made classics-and stinkers. Torture Garden reps one of Amicus' finest hours. A fast-paced, creepy little number, it benefits from flawless direction and a strong cast-one of the very few Brit horror films of the period to feature Hollywood stars, which increased its bankability in the world market. Amicus was best known for producing "omnibus" films, usually three or four short terror tales strung together by the main "host" segment. In some of Amicus' weaker efforts, the various horror vignettes felt like they were from different films. Even in some of the studio's better productions, the host segments were used solely to jump from one story to the next, often adding nothing to the film's tension-a perfect example being Sir Ralph Richardson in Tales From the Crypt (1972), with the great actor wasted in a one-dimensional role as the Crypt Keeper, who did little more than intone, "And then? And then?" In Torture Garden, everything comes together beautifully and magically. Meredith chews the scenery as host segment star Dr. Diablo, a satanic sideshow barker who offers to assist his audience in "remembering" their futures. Diablo is a fully fleshed-out character who does more than just set up the stories. He picks out his audience members one by one, terrifying them with his knowledge of their pasts and dire warnings of their futures. From the eerie episode about a young man who becomes the familiar of a hungry, murderous cat, to the movie star who discovers the secret of eternal youth, to the pianist who's being controlled by his piano (!), the segments are dark, bizarre and genuinely frightening. Saving the best for last, Francis and screenwriter Robert (Psycho) Bloch serve up a delightful concoction starring Palance and Cushing, both giving sublimely neurotic performances as obsessive Edgar Allan Poe fans who have a personal run-in with the resurrected genius! This wonderful story makes one wish these two superb actors had worked together more. Shot on shadowy, darkly colored, magnificently atmospheric sets (looking terrific in Sony's pristine digital print), Torture Garden proved a great comeback for Francis and Bloch, who'd earlier presented Amicus' critically lambasted The Deadly Bees. The only extras are trailers for several direct-to-video Sony B movies.

~ David Alex Nahmod