Director: Freddie Francis
Sony Pictures

Like their rivals Hammer Films, Britain’s Amicus Productions was able to establish themselves as prime providers of the macabre for thrill-seeking moviegoers in the 60s and early 70s. With 1964’s DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS, Amicus found their niche in anthology (multi story) features, and the second of an ongoing series of these was 1967’s TORTURE GARDEN, released theatrically in the U.S. by Columbia Pictures. Like DR. TERROR, the film was directed by Freddie Francis and again featured Peter Cushing, and the screenplay by Robert Bloch (who previously scribed Amicus’ THE SKULL, THE DEADLY BEES and THE PSYCHOPATH) was adapted from his own short stories.

TORTURE GARDEN commences at the carnival exhibit of Dr. Diablo (Burgess Meredith), who after his ghastly stage act, invites a handful of patrons to a back room for further excitement, showing them glimpses into what wicked events the future holds for them. Each stares into the "shears of fate" of a motionless fortune teller called Atropos (played Clytie Jessop, whose unusual look was also well-utilized in Hammer’s NIGHTMARE), and in a nice touch, the image of her face is seen somewhere in each of the yarns that ensue.

In “Enoch,” Colin Williams (Michael Bryant ) visits his elderly uncle’s (Maurice Denham) home, trying to get a hold of his gold coin fortune. When he refuses to hand out any dough, Colin takes away Uncle Roger’s medication, and the old man drops dead soon after. Now tearing apart the house searching for gold, he discovers a cat buried with a human skeleton in the cellar’s ground. The sly animal is able to communicate with Colin and lead him to the fortune, but in return it demands that he conducts a series of murders, as his will is now totally under control. The episode also features Niall McGinniss (NIGHT OF THE DEMON).

In “Terror Over Hollywood,” struggling actress Carla Hayes (Beverly Adams) double crosses her roommate and ends up on a date with a tinseltown bigwig, leading to her meeting producer Eddie Storm (John Phillips, THE MUMMY’S SHOUD) and heartthrob actor Bruce Benton (Robert Hutton), who seemingly hasn’t aged despite being in the business a number of years. Soon she discovers the secret of his longevity, and knowledge of this could prove deadly. Hutton was actually a Hollywood lead in the 1940s, but by the 1960s ended up in British exploitation films until his retirement. Let’s just say he’s perfectly cast here when you discover what his character really is. This segment also stars Bernard Kay (TROG).

Arguable the weakest segment in the film, “Mr. Steinway” has blonde journalist Dorothy Endicott (Barbara Ewing, DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE) going to the home of timid concert pianist Leo (John Standing) for an interview. The two quickly fall in love, and despite the advice of Leo’s agent (Ursula Howells, the she-wolf in DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS), they accelerate their romance, subtracting from his time behind his grand piano, which is named Utopie. It seems the piano becomes jealous of the relationship and takes revenge as best as a bulky wooden instrument on wheels can!

The best episode, “The Man Who Collected Poe,” has obsessed Edgar Allan Poe collector Ronald Wyatt (Jack Palance) running into ultimate Poe collector Lancelot Canning (Peter Cushing) at an exhibit. Although he refuses any monetary offer for anything in his collection, Canning invites Wyatt to his home in the States, and needless to say, he salivates over all the priceless items he sees. After an evening of boozing, Wyatt is taken to Canning’s cellar, where he finds unpublished manuscripts by Poe mysteriously written on new 1966 paper. But the ultimate discovery is yet to come!

Bloch’s stories here are far from flawless, and none of them are all that shocking. But as a whole, TORTURE GARDEN is an entertaining film, with Burgess Meredith’s Dr. Diablo holding things together, and his sinister performance (with a number of costume changes) is slightly reminiscent of his rendition of “The Penguin,” from the “Batman” series (which was airing at the same time as this film’s release). Of course the last segment is a treat not only to see stalwarts Palance and Cushing together, but also for the eerie unveiling of Poe himself, as played by Hedger Wallace, whose resemblance to the famous author is almost uncanny. It’s nice to see Hammer bit player Michael Ripper in a rewarding supporting role, and Don Banks and James Bernard (in one of his few non-Hammer scores) provide the moody music.

Sony’s new DVD of TORTURE GARDEN runs about 100 minutes, seven minutes longer than the previous VHS release. This longer restored version includes more opening moments with the Dr. Diablo character, garbed in an executioner’s hood, showing off his various torture devices. There is also more footage of him giving a ranting speech before staging a victim’s death by electric chair. The rest of the restored footage is during the “Terror Over Hollywood” segment, including the onscreen murder of the Mike Charles (David Bauer) character.

TORTURE GARDEN is presented in its original 1.85:1 theatrical ratio with anamorphic enhancement. Overall, the image is very sharp with great clarity that brings out the subtle lighting and neutral colors of the original production. The transfer is very clean, with nice, if somewhat subdued colors, while blacks are very solid. The mono audio track is free of distortion and comes across exceptionally. There are optional English, French and Japanese subtitles, and trailers for several recent Sony DVD releases are also included. (George R. Reis)