I know I’ve covered Amicus productions of anthology film The House that dripped Blood, but this little known gem popped up on my Youtube suggestions and I couldn’t help myself. Torture Garden (1967) boasts some pretty famous names in the cast and a famous writer and director. We’ll get to that.
The film starts off with a P.O.V. of a person buying a ticket to Dr. Diablo’s torture garden sideshow (at a fairground) somewhere in good old Brittland. Dr. Diablo (Burgess Meredith – Of Mice and Men, Rocky, and penguin from the Batman TV series.) concludes his regular show of a beheading and an Electric chair, then offers his group a special viewing behind a curtain. “Not for the faint heart”, for an extra five pounds. “The real torture garden,” he exuberantly exclaims.
Diablo proceeds to tell the tales that of the patrons that paid to see his sideshow, beginning with Enoch. Telling his customer to look upon the effigy of Atropos, a deity who holds the fate of everyone. Diablo tells the customer to fix their eyes upon the shears that can cut the strings of person’s lifeline. They stare, feeling woozy. The first story begins.
Colin Williams (Michael Bryant — Ruling Class, Goodbye, Mr. Chips) is needing money badly. He drives to an out of the way cottage that was once rumored to be owned by a witch. He had not seen his dying Uncle (Maurice Denham — Countess Dracula, Julia). Before entering the cottage, he meets his Uncle’s nurse. He asks his Uncle for the money and during the argument, Uncle has a fit. Naughty Colin refuses the Uncle his medicine unless he tells him where the money. Colin had already had some Intel that Uncle pays for everything in gold coins. Uncle agrees but only after he is given his medicine, which Colin knocks the tumbler out of Uncle’s reach. Which forth, Uncle proceeds to meet his maker.
Colin, of course, tells the Doctor a different story. Uncle had an attack of some kind, then died as Colin was handing him the medicine. The Doctor has no reason to doubt Colin, but asks him a very cryptic question. “You are staying here? In the cottage---by yourself?” “Yes,” Colin replied. “Why do you ask?” The Doctor shrugged nonchalantly and says: “Oh, no reason.”
Colin tears the cottage apart looking for the gold coins. Ultimately, he sees a trap door underneath the bed. This leads him to a cellar. Down in the cellar, Colin discovers dirt freshly dug. He digs all night, where he finds a coffin. At first, having difficulty opening the moldy box, he uses a shovel to pry it open. When the lid pops, we see skeletal remains and a large black cat scurries. No gold coins are found in the coffin, so Colin hurriedly covers it back up.
Colin tries to sleep, but the cat has other plans. Waking Colin, the creature hypnotizes him, and Colin mumbles that he can hear the creature’s voice. Colin goes on to decipher the cat’s thoughts. The cat’s name is Val fifer (Actually I couldn’t make out what he said.), and the cat has come to stay with Colin, to serve him and reward him, just as it had done with Colin’s Uncle, in return for things he must do for the cat.
The door opens and the cat exits. Colin follows, lost in a something of a dream state. The cat leads Colin to a barn, where a vagrant is sleeping on hay. The cat instructs Colin to kill the man with a pitchfork. Colin tries to leave, and the cat shrieks, sending Colin into spasms, his hands clutching his head. Colin performs the vile act immediately.
Colin awakes, stating that it was all just a dream. He wanders back down in the cellar and sees the cat standing on the soft earth where Colin had dug before, informing him he would be rewarded. Colin digs again, this time he finds a strong box. Gold coins fill the box almost to the top. He rushes out of the cellar and back to the barn. The dead body of the vagrant is still lying there. The cat offers up a few pieces of gold coins, demanding Colin kill his Uncle’s former nurse. She rides up to the cottage and begins to scream. She dashes inside the cottage, telling Colin, “There’s man outside, with no head!” At that moment Colin swings his shovel and kills the nurse.
This is a Perfect adaption of a great Bloch story. This definitely could have been an episode of Alfred Hitchcock presents, although the murders might’ve been too much for TV, and witchcraft a problem for censors and sponsors at the time. Diablo tells the next customer to see what Atropos has in store for them, and the next story begins.
TERROR OVER HOLLYWOOD:
I wouldn’t say this was the strongest segment of the film. I wouldn’t even say this was Bloch’s best story. Somewhere down the line I think the adaption was tainted and the satire was lost. Maybe, maybe not, overall, not the best segment in the movie.
Carla Hayes (Beverly Adams---The Silencers, Birds do It.) wants to make it in Hollywood so bad, she’ll do anything. Her roommate has a date with producer Mike Charles (David Bauer — The Spy who came in from the Cold, Patton) she ruins her dress on purpose and takes her place on the date. From there she meets another producer Eddie Storm (John Phillips — Bleak House, Ripping Yarns) and an old movie star Bruce Benton (Robert Hutton — Tales from the Crypt--1972). Benton takes a liking to Carla and offers her a screen-test on one of his films. Meanwhile Mike and Eddie are at odds with each other over a project Mike wants to produce. Apparently the production company voted not make it. Mike gets drunk at another bar and tells bartender he has all the goods on Eddie and will spill it. The bartender calls Eddie, and Eddie calls his men to take out Mike.
Carla gets the part and finds herself falling for Benton. Two strange men show up on set and take Benton away. Carla and Eddie follow, and become witnesses to Benton’s murder. Eddie takes the body to Dr. Helm, who fixes Benton up. They tell Carla the mob killed Benton’s double, all the big stars have doubles. Carla not being the brightest still has doubts and during an argument, her fingers slip, tearing fake skin from Benton’s face, revealing he is an android.
Dorothy Endecott (Barbra Ewing — Dracula has risen from the Grave) has taken on the job of personal assistant to Concert Pianist Leo Winston (John Standing — King Rat, Walk, Don’t Run). Immediately they are stricken with each other and fall deeply in love. Leo introduces his grand piano, Euterpe, to Dorothy. So named after the goddess of music by Leo’s mother, who had given Leo the piano. Already Leo has a hard time playing the piano. His manager becomes concerned, thinking the new P.A. is a distraction. The manager echoes Dorothy in a comment maybe the piano doesn’t like his new interest. Leo says, “You sound like my mother. She hated that I would bring a girl around.” Just as Leo informs the manager that Dorothy has not ruined his life, Euterpe begins to act up.
Over dinner, Leo tells Dorothy why she found him at the piano in a state of unconsciousness. He reveals to Dorothy that he had been communicating with the piano and that “Euterpe resents you. She thinks you’re hurting me and preventing me from working.” Dorothy is in disbelief and pretty much ridicules Leo for the absurd conversation, pretending a piano is alive. That’s when the piano makes sure a framed picture of Dorothy falls to the floor and breaks.
Dorothy takes her plight to the manager, asking that Leo cancel his tour. Leo is in no shape to travel or work, that he will have a breakdown. The manager blames it all on Dorothy, telling her she is smothering Leo. Dorothy explains to the manager that she will not let Euterpe have Leo. “Leo belongs to me now.” Dorothy hears the piano playing loudly and emotionally. She bangs on music room door and Leo opens the door quickly. Too quickly to have been playing the piano, a realization of Dorothy’s. He concedes that to be true, and goes on to say he wasn’t playing, Euterpe was playing.
It turns out the poor guy has had no luck with women at all. Just like his mother in the past, and just like Euterpe and even his manager to some degree, all four have/are conniving and controlling female presence in Leo’s life.
This is an impressive story from Bloch. Especially when conveying so much emotion and plot tangled with character in such a small span of film time. Again, one can’t help but feel sorry for Leo.
THE MAN WHO COLLECTED POE:
Ronald Wyatt (Jack Palance – City Slickers, Requiem for a heavyweight) fancies himself as the ultimate Poe collector, until he meets Lancelot Clanning (Peter Cushing — Horror of Dracula, Vampire Lovers, The Skull, etc.) . While at a party, Wyatt sees several items at Clanning’s house that he needed for his collection. A rare 1st edition of Poe’s work. Clanning refuses to sell, still, the two men become fast friends and soon get drunk together after the party was over.
Clanning has something to show Wyatt. He leads him to the chambers under his house. Wyatt finds some papers where Poe had written some unpublished stories. But Wyatt also notices a watermark on the papers and deduces that they were written in the 20th century, not the 19th century. He goes on to accuse Clanning of writing them himself. Clanning denies, yet he had one more secret and if not drunk, would not have revealed it Wyatt at all. The fact that Clanning’s father was even more of a Poe completest is what makes this segment the best story in the film.
Masterfully guided by Freddie Francis, the performances are steady if not delightful. Cushing is brilliant as usual and Meredith holds his own. The surprise is how good Jack Palance is. He plays the book-worm with a slight bent, a man who is pushed because of his obsession over Edgar Allan Poe.
Freddie Francis was an academy award winning cinematographer, winning the Oscar for Sons and Lovers and Glory. In between those times he directed several Horror films for Amicus, Hammer and others.
This film was partially financed by Columbia and released through the company. Columbia demanded two American actors be cast in the leads. Originally Chris Lee and Cushing were to be the leads in the film.
Mark Slade, HMS
Read the previous installment.