Cinema Sunday: Torture Garden (1967)


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

MPAA: Approved


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.




Click here for the trailer!


Cinema Sunday: Clash of The Titans (1981)


Title: Clash of The Titans

Distributor: MGM

Writer: Beverley Cross

Director: Desmond Davis

Producer: Ray Harryhausen & Charles H. Schneer

Starring: Harry Hamlin, Lawrence Olivier, Judie Bowker, Maggie Smith, Burgess Meredith

Released: June 12th, 1981


In this edition of Cinema Sunday, I’ll be spotlighting a movie that means more to me than any other. Why, you ask? Well, simply put, this is the first movie that I saw in the theater, that left me feeling anything was possible. It was the first movie that made me seek out the creators (later in life), and discover a man named Ray Harryhausen. This one man, has revolutionized film making, and especially, special effects. At this point in my life, I’d seen Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and a number of other films that were considered to be a big deal. But, this film, Clash of The Titans, is the one the resounds in my mind, and always will. A strong hero, a damsel in distress, the evil Calibos, the vengeful goddess Thetis, and who can forget, The Kraken! In this swan song for Ray Harryhausen, there was magic, might, and creatures that we will never forget!

The film opens with a young woman, as she and her newborn son, Perseus are being punished, by her own father, King Acrisius of Argos. He orders his soldiers to place them in a casket, and toss them into the sea. He does this, to appease the gods, but doesn’t realize that he’s actually doomed his city, because the child of his daughter, is the son of Zeus (Lawrence Olivier). The next scene shows the gods, Zeus, Thetis (Maggie Smith), Poseidon, Aphrodite, Athena, and Hera, as they converse about these happenings. Zeus then commands Poseidon to raise the winds and rains, and to release the most terrifying of all the Titans, the Kraken, to destroy Argos. The city is decimated by the beast, and weather, but Perseus (image below) and his mother Danaë, are brought safely to the shores of Seriphos.


We watch, as Perseus (Harry Hamlin) grows to be a young man, and the gods watch him, especially Zeus and Thetis. Thetis also has a son, Calibos, and he was spoiled by her, and was prince of the city of Joppa. Zeus was angry about this, as Calibos used his advantages to seek out and kill Zeus’s winged horses, and only one, Pegasus, remains. Zeus then uses his godly powers to deform Calibos, and banish him to the swamps. Thetis grows jealous of Zeus’ treatment of Perseus, so she punishes all of Joppa, with a plague of flies, and a curse on the Princess Andromeda (Judi Bowker). The princess must not marry until a suitor can solve a riddle, and if he doesn’t, he’s burned alive at the stake.

As Perseus slumbers on the shores one evening, Thetis, places him in the amphitheater of Joppa, and defies Zeus. Perseus awakens, and is greeted by Ammon (Burgess Meredith). They surmise that the gods have done this, and the next day, Zeus commands that his fellow gods endow his son with weapons to protect himself. He’s given a sword (that can slice through anything), a shield, and a helmet (which renders the wearer invisible). He journeys to Joppa, and learns of the beautiful princess, and the curse on her and the city. He visits her one night, and she’s having a nightmare. He witnesses a giant vulture, as it brings a cage, and her spirit rises, and enters the cage. The vulture picks it up, and takes Andromeda to the swamps of Calibos. There, he gives her another riddle to torment her, and Joppa. The next scene brings another trip to the swamps, but this time, Perseus follows riding a recently acquired Pegasus! In the swamps, Calibos gives Andromeda another riddle, but notices footprints being pressed into the sand. He follows the steps back into the depths of the swamp, and attacks Perseus. The two struggle, but Perseus escapes.


The following day, the Queen is holding court, and asking if any man has the courage to ask for her daughter’s hand in marriage. The doors burst open, and Perseus steps through. He accepts the challenge, and Andromeda asks her riddle. Perseus solves it easily, and shows the people of Joppa that he has defeated Calibos, and cut off his hand. As the two prepare to wed, Calibos (image below) appears to the statue of his mother, Thetis, and begs for her to help him get revenge. She appears to the people during the wedding ceremony, and tells them that in thirty days, Andromeda must be sacrificed to the Kraken, or the beast will kill everyone in the city. So, it’s up to Perseus, and the elite guard of Joppa, to find a way to stop the Kraken, and save the life of Andromeda!


My thoughts on the movie:

As I said earlier, this movie has left more of an impression on me than any other in my lifetime. It made me seek out the special effects creator, Ray Harryhausen, and become a life long fan of his tremendous work. Most don’t consider this film to be his finest, but I disagree. This was Ray’s swan song, and I believe it’s one of his best works. The Kraken was incredible even if it did borrow some features from one of his earlier works (20 Million Miles to Earth). Medusa, the Gorgon, was absolutely terrifying, especially to a young child as I was when I saw this film (6 years old). The mythical two-headed dog, Dioskilos, giant scorpions, and the winged horse, Pegasus, were also quite magnificent. You’ll not find a finer film of this time in history that had as many cool creatures.



An ages old story of love, adventure, and everything else you can imagine from a fantasy aspect, are in this movie. Burgess Meredith does a good job at being a mentor to Perseus, and Sir Lawrence Olivier is without a doubt, the best Zeus I’ve ever seen! Click on this link (Clash of the Titans), which is the official website for the movie. It’s now out on Blu-ray, so get out there and grab this movie, you wont be disappointed. Thank you, Mr. Ray Harryhausen (promo pic below with Ray and the head of Medusa)!