Thursday, 30 October 2014

31 Days of Horror: Torture Garden (1967)

Torture Garden (1967)
Director: Freddie Francis
Starring: Burgess Meredith, Jack Palance, and Peter Cushing
Running Time: 93 min

  What I find interesting about this anthology of terrifying tales is that the whole film was written by Robert Bloch, the author of Psycho.  Also, this film has a great cast with two of my favourtie actors, Burgess Meredith (Batman: The Movie, Burnt Offerings) and Hammer films super-star, Peter Cushing (The Curse of Frankenstein, The Horror of Dracula).  As well as Jack Palance (Alone In The Dark, Cyborg 2) who is a great actor and should really be frightening in this movie.

  At a carnival, group of people enter the side show tent to see Dr. Diablo's Torture Garden.  After a few unimpressive scares, with the exception of Dr. Diablo lighting up a dummy in an electric chair, Dr. Diablo offers them all a chance to see something really scary for 5 pounds a piece.  Only 5 people from the tour take him up on the offer and he leads them to a secluded side of his tent.  There he introduces them to what looks like a fortune telling machine and calls it, Atropos the supervisor of fate, who he promises will give them a terrifying look into their futures and allow them to change their course in life, if they desire.
  A young skeptic goes first and he finds himself at his dying uncles house.  He has gone there to borrow money and when the uncle refuses, the young man demands to know where his inheritance is hidden and the secret to his uncle's wealth, seeing that his uncle has no job and never leaves the house.  The uncle refuses to tell and his health problems get the better of him.  Begging for his medicine, the young man refuses to give it to him until he tells him the secrets of his success.  Sadly, his uncles dies before he can find out and the next day, once the body is gone, the young man searches the house for the hidden treasure.  In the cellar, he finds a grave with a cat hiding in the coffin.  The cat escapes from the coffin and the cat using his psychic ability forces the young man to do horrible things to feed him.  Can this young man escape from this ferocious feline or has he been sentenced to the litter box of doom?
  Next, a young actress, Carla steps up to Atropos and she sees herself back in Hollywood with her roommate.  Her roommate is running late getting ready for a date with a producer, Mike Charles and the jealous young actress offers to help iron her dress, so that her roommate can jump in the shower.  However, while her roommate is in the shower, Carla ruins her dress and then goes on the date herself, instead of the roommate.  When they arrive at the restaurant, Carla and her date, producer Mike Charles see famous actor Bruce Benton and big time producer, Eddie Storm.  Charles insists on joining them, much to their chagrin of Storm and Benton, and he pulls Storm away for a chat, leaving Carla with her favourite Hollywood idol, Bruce Benton.  Storm and Charles have a disagreement and Charles storms out of the restaurant leaving Carla behind but since she is now with two A listers she stays for dinner and is offered a prominent role in Benton's next movie, after a few screen tests of course. ;)  The next day, Mike Charles is found dead and Carla gets the job on the film.  However, she starts noticing some weird things about Benton and Storm, like they don't seem to eat food, they're very secretive and when Bruce Benton is accosted by gangsters and shot in the dead, he comes back to work on Monday! Weird.  Will Carla find out the secrets of these Hollywood A listers and how far will show go to be a star?
  Then, another young lady steps up to the machine and finds herself interviewing a world famous pianist.  The two of them really hit it off and fall in love but there is only one problem, he likes to call his piano, Euterpe, after the goddess of music and song, and seems to really cares what it thinks of her.  Crazy....   Unfortunately the piano doesn't like her.  The piano then tries break up their relationship and to harm her woman any chance that it gets.  However, the young lady thinks that these are just coincidences and her fiance has just worked to hard and needs a vacation.  Will this young woman get the love of her life or she she been playing the wrong tune the whole time?
  Finally, an older man, Ronald takes his chance at the fates and finds himself at an exhibition of the works of Edgar Allan Poe.  There he meets another collector, Lancelot and is invited over to see his collection of Poe memorabilia.  That night the two have a few drinks and Lancelot, who gets a bit tipsy, offers to show Ronald some of his real Poe treasures that he has down in his basement.  The two go downstairs and to Ronald's cannot believe how complete and extensive Lancelot's collection really is.  First editions and manuscripts that even include a few newer stories of Poe?  Will Ronald find out how far this collector has gone to make his collection the best or is it to scary for the imagination?
   After everyone has taken there turns with the machine, Dr. Diablo still has a few tricks up his sleeve and shows them why he's called Dr. Diablo!

  This was a pretty decent set for stories, not as impressive as Asylum, which author Bloch penned a few years later but it's still very good.  Director Freddie Francis (Trog, Son of Dracula), who also has an impressive list of credits as a cinematographer, does a excellent job as well.  He has a great eye for shots and can turn even the most absurd ideas, like a magic cat or a evil piano, into something really scary.
  Also, Burgess Meredith (Rocky, Magic) is really great in this and really hams it up as Dr. Diablo.  You can almost hear his Penguin chortling at times and you can tell that he is having a blast being this evil character.  As well as Cushing, who plays Lancelot and Palance, who plays Ronald in the Poe segment are also fantastic to watch.  The play well off each other and bring a lot to the piece.

   Although the stories were decent, I think some of them dragged on a little bit.  I was surprised to see how long the first two stories took and was afraid that the other tales would just be crammed in.  They were still decent but it would have been nice to give the Piano story a little more time.  I liked it because it was kind of abstract but I wish that the story was a bit more developed.  Outside of just jealousy, I don't know why the piano hated that girl so much, she was the least evil out of the bunch.
  Also, I was expecting this film to be a little more gory or bloody than it was.  After seeing the "Tales From the Crypt" that Francis directed, with pieces like the maniac in the Santa suit and Blind Alleys, I was expecting more violence.  It's still good but there are more scary surprises in this film then there are hack and slash moments.

  Overall, this is a decent film and worth having a look at.  The stories are fun and have some interesting twists and unlike some newer film anthologies have a well done top story linking everything together.  This is a great film to see on a chilly afternoon or evening at home for some horror fun.


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