Torture Garden

Year: 1967
Director: Freddie Francis
Writer: Robert Bloch
Starring: Burgess Meredith, Jack Palance, Peter Cushing, Beverly Adams, Barbara Ewing, Michael Bryant, Robert Hutton, Maurice Denham, Clytie Jessop

Favorite Quote: “The secret in fact…of your own evil. A very old-fashioned word nowadays, ‘evil’. You’d prefer I say ‘the primordial monstrosities that lurk beneath the surface of the mind.’ But I prefer ‘evil’.”

We have yet another Amicus produced portmanteau film, another movie directed by Freddie Francis a full five years before he would direct the Tales From the Crypt feature, and for writer Robert Bloch it would be another five years before the classic Asylum with his adaptations of five of his own stories hit the silver screen again. It is always a joy to find a movie on Netflix that you have heard of but haven’t had the pleasure of seeing yet…well, maybe not in this case.

We start the film with a group of people at a busy amusement park, more of a carnival as a sideshow barker promises the viewer that they must step inside and see Dr. Diablo’s (Meredith) famous Torture Garden. Once inside we see the Garden is indeed a sideshow attraction, with a beheading, a ‘demonstration’ of the rack, and the pulling of the switch with a condemned mannequin standing in for a prisoner strapped to an electric chair. Dr. Diablo informs the crowd that while the regular performance has been concluded there is more to come if they merely pay five pounds so that they might be granted access to a private exhibit where the true horror lies. Five of the crowd decide to take him up on his offer and as they pass through the curtain to the backroom, away from prying eyes, Dr. Diablo does a strange thing. He takes the five pound notes and lets them drop into a lit brazier and smiles as they go up in smoke. Behind the curtain, Dr. Diablo does an unnaturally quick costume change as he introduces the customers to who he claims is Atropos (Jessop), one of the Goddesses of Greek Mythology, she decides when to sever the string that measures a person’s life. Dr. Diablo explains that she possesses a special type of magic that will enable the person to see within themselves to see the own evil they are capable of and thereby perhaps avoiding that fate. Calling the first customer up, he commands Collin Williams (Bryant) to stand closer to Atropos, to stare into the large pair of shears she holds her in hand…

We then see Collin as he is driving to his ailing Uncle Roger’s (Denham) home. Parking his car he sees a woman that looks just like Atropos (She makes an appearance in each of the stories), but her image fades to that of his Uncle’s caretaker, Nurse Parker. She informs Collin that his Uncle’s heart is weak and that the end is near, he promises not to tire him, and is told that if there is any change he should get in touch with Dr. Silversmith in the village. As he enters the large home we see that Uncle Roger is indeed in poor condition, pale and wheelchair bound, as the two men talk he confesses the reason he called his Nephew to him was so he could convince him to change his ways in life. We learn that Collin has heard rumors of his Uncle’s home once belonging to a witch, he has found himself in a need of money, and knows from the people in the village that his Uncle only pays for services and items in gold coin. Uncle Roger becomes agitated at the request for money, citing he has none, not even an inheritance for his only living relative to claim. Collin becomes violent and his Uncle begins to suffer a heart attack, his medicine is on the fireplace mantle, but his Nephew refuses until the helpless man gives him the information to the location of the money. Uncle Roger dies as a result of Collin knocking the glass containing the medicine from the old man’s hand, but since the Doctor said a heart attack was very likely to take the Uncle’s life it is ruled as a natural death. Collin stays the night at the home and wastes no time in ransacking the entire place, his efforts bore fruit though as he notices a trap door beneath his Uncle’s bed. Pulling it up he descends the steps to find a basement with loose dirt and a shovel, assuming he has found the site of hidden money he digs until he uncovers an old wooden coffin. Breaking the seal on it he flips the lid up to reveal a skeleton, missing its skull, and a black cat. The feline quickly runs out of the room and an exhausted Collin returns upstairs to fall asleep on a sofa…but he is awakened by a strange noise (It sounds like a cross between a cat yowling and the Martians from George Pal’s War of the Worlds) in his head which we quickly learns is from the cat he freed from its earthen prison. Commanding Collin to follow, the cat shows him where a tramp is sleeping in a shack next to the house, he then directs the young man to pick up a nearby pitchfork and violently impale the tramp to death. Collin suddenly awakes thinking it all merely a dream but notices the trap door is open in his Uncle’s bedroom, going down the stairs once again he finds the cat sitting next to a mound, digging under the mound reveals a heavy chest filled with gold coins! So we must end the spoilers for this story.

The second customer, Carla Hayes is there with her cousin and roommate Dorothy Endicot (Ewing), but she bravely goes first. Staring at the shears we see her in the apartment she shares with Dorothy, her cousin is running to get prepared for her date with a movie producer, Mike Charles, in time. We learn that Carla is from America and is an actress herself and sabotages Dorothy’s chances of going on the date by intentionally burning her dress after promising to iron it. Going on the date herself, Carla, is introduced to famous actor Bruce Benton (Hutton), who for years has had successful movie after successful movie. Benton entertains Carla, who she admits she has had a crush on from when she was a little girl, while his producer friend, Eddie Storm, has a drink with Charles at the bar. We learn that Benton and Storm are part of something called the Top Ten, which Charles wants access to but is told it was voted on already and he cannot be admitted. Charles becomes angry and storms off leaving Carla with Benton and Eddie. Benton asks Storm to allow Carla to shoot some some test shots for a new feature he will begin on Monday. Charles meanwhile is at a dive of a bar drinking his anger away, complaining to the bartender about the Top Ten and that Eddie Storm will be sorry when the drunken producer spills the beans on the ten who are in the select organization. The bartender calls Storm and says he will take care of the problem which he does by driving Charles home, suffocating him, and making it look like he drunkenly expired by running his car with the garage door down. What is the Top Ten of the entertainment industry? We end the spoilers here for this segment of course.

The third customer to step up and stare at Atropos is Dorothy and we find her interviewing world famous pianist, Leo Winston. They are taking a break from the rigors of the long interview when Winston introduces Dorothy to a piano he has called Euterpe, for the Greek Goddess of music. Ignoring the warnings from his manager to stay away from the young woman, as it appears his late nights with her affecting his music, it quickly becomes apparent that the piano, Euterpe, has become jealous (Yes, I just typed that correctly.). We end the spoilers for this short tale here.

The fourth customer, Ronald Wyatt (Palance), is more than willing to stare at the shears, relishing it in fact. We next see Wyatt attending an exhibit of a complete collection of Edgar Allan Poe’s writings from Lancelot Canning (Cushing). Wyatt is particularly attracted to a rare tome, of which we are told that only six remain, and no matter how much he offers to pay Canning he must leave the exhibit empty handed. Partially empty handed actually as Canning appreciates Wyatt’s knowledge of Poe and his works and invites him that when he finds himself in America to look him up so that he might reveals the real jewels of his collection. Wyatt takes him up on that offer a few days later and the two men delight themselves looking over everything from Poe’s necktie from his last lecture, to the flute he played in life. Getting Canning a little drunk, Wyatt is taken downstairs by the greater collector, where he is shocked to find works from the very pen of Poe that have never been seen. Of course here we must end the spoilers for this segment.

But what of the fifth customer and the enigmatic Dr. Diablo? Of course like always you shall need to find the answer to this question yourselves, friends. I was not happy with this film to be quite honest, so many of the stories make no sense, almost as if key scenes are left out, particularly in the first segment. I’m sad to say that even with the greatness of Meredith and Palance I have to bestow two and a half pumpkins out of five to the Torture Garden.

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Editor at Retroist
Searching through the alleys for useful knowledge in the city of Nostalgia. Huge cinema fanatic and sometimes carrier of the flame for the weirding ways of 80s gaming, toys, and television. When his wife lets him he is quite happy sitting in the corner eating buckets of beef jerky.

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