Title: Torture Garden
Distributor: Columbia Pictures, Amicus Studios Production
Writer: Robert Bloch
Director: Freddie Francis
Producers: Max Rosenberg, Milton Subotsky
Starring: Burgess Meredith, Peter Cushing, Jack Palance, Michael Ripper, Barbara Ewing, Beverly Adams
Released: November 1967
As my regular readers know, I’m a humongous fan of the legendary British film company, Hammer Studios. They ruled the genre for quite some time, but definitely had rivals. The biggest, was probably Amicus Productions. This upstart company was a little different in one aspect though, as their movies weren’t period pieces, but rather in contemporary settings. This was about the only thing that set them apart though, as they used the same actors, producers, and a lot of the same tropes in their films.
The cast is key in this one, and by the ending of the film, you’ll be surprised, no doubt about it! And let’s be honest, is there a creepier setting than a carnival? The bearded lady alone is enough to scare the pants off me! Alright, now, to the movie…
The film begins with a side-show carnival barker trying to entice people to see his “torture garden.” A sign shows that the host, Dr. Diablo (Burgess Meredith), will have you screaming at these disturbing images. A small crowd shuffles in, and Diablo shows them an electric chair with what appears to be a man strapped in it. He throws the switch, and the “man” is fried. It obviously looks like a dummy though, and some in the crowd aren’t impressed. Diablo then encourages the crowd to join him in his secluded area, where the real thrills are to take place. He tells them it costs £5, and most are skeptical. Diablo then uses basic high school peer pressure to get a few to pay up and go inside.
Five people (Michael Ripper, Jack Palance, Michael Bryant, Barbara Ewing, and Beverly Adams) go inside, and Diablo does something very strange after they leave the first room. Diablo takes the money that the people gave him, and he throws it into the fire pit in the middle of the room! Awfully sure of himself, isn’t he? One man, Colin Williams (Michael Bryant), pulls a curtain away, and sees a wax figure that resembles a fortune-teller. They all seem let down, but then Diablo appears and tells that this is no ordinary fortune-teller, but one that will reveal something ghastly about your future if you peer into her eyes. As Diablo lulls him into a sense of safety, the adventure begins.
We see a scene where Colin drives his motor car to see his uncle, who’s very rich, but also, very ill. The door opens, and a woman walks out, and looks like the fortune-teller. He shakes his head in disbelief, and when he looks again, it’s just a regular woman. She’s apparently been taking care of the old man. Colin goes inside and tries to pry some money from his uncle, but he’s very dodgy about where he gets his money. Colin tells his uncle that he’s been asking around town how his uncle pays for things since he hasn’t worked in thirty years. He wont tell, but then begins to have a heart attack, and needs his medication. Colin wont get it for him, and the old guy keels over right there on the spot.
The coroner comes to pick up the body, and this leaves Colin to loot the house. Eventually, he finds a door in the floor of his uncle’s bedroom. He heads down into the secret compartment (basement?), and gets more than he bargained for. He uses a shovel to dig around but initially finds nothing. After some time, he finds a casket of sorts, and opens it using the shovel. Inside, he finds a skeleton, and a cat! The cat scurries away, and he continues to dig around.
We then see him awaking on the couch upstairs, and the cat growls at him. He then seems to go into a bit of a trance, and we get the impression that the cat is somehow communicating with him (possessed?). It tells him that he needs to do some favors for it, and he’ll be rewarded. The door then opens and the cat runs away, with Colin following. It leads him to a hobo sleeping in the barn. The cat begins to assert control over Colin, and forces him to pick up a pitchfork and murder the man. Again, Colin wakes up on the couch and believes it all to have been a dream. He sees the basement opened up and heads down to see what was real and what might be fantasy. As he gets down in the room, the cat is waiting for him, and once again claims to be ready to reward him for helping with whatever it needs. He picks up a shovel and digs up a chest full of gold coins.
Next, he quickly runs out to the barn, and sees that indeed he did murder the hobo, as the cat willed him to do. He dashes back into the house and down the steps into the basement, horrified at what he’s done. He begins to bury the gold, but the cat once again forces him to stop, and then tells him to murder the hospice worker that’s about to enter the house. As she enters through the back entrance, Colin picks up a shovel, and murders the old woman. Later that night, Colin is putting his trunk of gold into his car, when a policeman happens by, to warn him about a man who the police are looking for in the area (the hobo?). He tells him he’s seen no one, and the officer offers to help with the trunk, only to realize there’s blood on the handle.
In the next scene, Colin is being locked up in jail, and tries to explain what’s been going on to a lawyer. He tells of the demonic cat, and how it forced him to do these terrible things. The lawyer looks at him as if he’s loony, and then asks him what happened to the heads of the victims. Colin tells him that the cat feeds on them, and if he doesn’t get to feed, he’ll come for his head. The lawyer leaves, and of course, everyone thinks he’s insane. A few minutes later, the cat appears on the ledge by the window. Colin begins screaming and the guard comes in to see what’s going on. By then, the cat has disappeared, but Colin is still hysterical. The guard tells him to calm down, and leaves the room. As he does, the cat returns, and takes Colin’s head as recompense!
One by one, the others are led to the fortune-teller, and see atrocities that they may be a part of in the future or maybe have already! Watch to find out the gruesome fate of these seemingly ordinary people, and the secrets they bear!
OK, here are my thoughts:
The film is one that houses an idea that’s been put on the screen and in books before, there’s no denying that, but when these actors and actresses put their personal spin on the characters, that’s when the magic happens. I honestly think this is the best performance I’ve ever seen by Burgess Meredith. Now, before anybody goes ballistic on me, I haven’t seen many of his films outside of Clash of the Titans, and the Rocky franchise. All good performances, no doubt, but by the end of this film, you’ll believe he’s the devil himself! Now, to the others. Jack Palance and Peter Cushing share the final “future sequence” together, and it’s one for the ages. Not only do they do the film justice, but the scene also is about Edgar Allen Poe and his fantastic works!
Each of the dream sequences are different but the same. Not in a monotonous way really, but nothing really sets them apart so that you can single one out over the others in terms of better or worse. All of them have a charm to them in one way or another, but obviously I’m partial to the Cushing scene! The ladies in this film are absolutely gorgeous (Beverly Adams- image below, Barbara Ewing- even though she has a terrible hairdo or wig, and Nicole Shelby in her skivvies), and this era of woman is not only beautiful, but very commanding as well.
The music score was by two veterans of the industry, in James Bernard and Don Banks. These two gentlemen were stalwarts in the biz back then and really know how to get the music to match the scene. The writer, Robert Bloch, is another man who really shouldn’t need any introduction, but if you’re not familiar with his work, definitely Google him (you should at least know him as the man who wrote the story Hitchcock used for Psycho in 1960).
Definitely give this one a viewing, you’ll not be disappointed, I guarantee it! It’s one of those hidden gems of the era that you never hear about outside of circles that are hardcore fans of the genre.