Starring-Burgess Meredith, Jack Palance, Peter Cushing
Scott’s Review #1,027
Reviewed May 28, 2020
A horror offering made up of multiple vignettes is a treat as we get numerous stories, especially with some late 1960’s British sophistication peppered in. Torture Garden (1968) contains four stories- Enoch, Terror over Hollywood, Mr. Steinway, and The Man Who Collected Poe, each with some intrigue. The structure may be most comparable to The Twilight Zone television series but in a British way. The Terror over Hollywood is my personal favorite.
Burgess Meredith (yes, that Burgess Meredith of the Batman television series) stars as Doctor Diabolo, a sinister con-artist who runs an attraction at a fairground sideshow. Having shown them a handful of tepid haunted house-style gimmicks to whet their appetites, he promises them a frightening experience if they pay extra. Of course, they are immediately taken, and when they follow him behind a curtain, one by one they view their fates through a transfixed female deity Atropos (Clytie Jessop). The stories commence through a hallucinogenic method.
Below are a summary and review of each vignette.
In Enoch, Colin Williams (Michael Bryant) a greedy playboy with money troubles, takes advantage of his elderly uncle (Maurice Denham), by causing his death and falling under the spell of a man-eating cat. Colin is determined to find his uncle’s riches, leading him to desperation. The plot is far-fetched but the black cat with glowing green-eyes is memorable as are the be-headings of a homeless man, a nurse, and finally, the playboy himself. When the cat finally puts another person under the spell the conclusion is satisfying.
Terror over Hollywood travels across the pond to the United States and introduces a tale of jealousy, schemes, and intrigue in La La Land. The vignette most resembles Invasion of the Body Snatchers in theme and is quite compelling. Carla Hayes (Beverley Adams) is a beautiful, aspiring actress intent on clawing her way to the top by any necessary means. After she ruins her roommate’s dress and steals her date, she embarks on a strange journey that leads her to a role in a film, but there is a price to pay. Adams is a stellar star who brings life and energy to the story.
Providing the most bizarre of all the vignette’s Mr. Steinway involves a possessed grand piano by the name of Euterpe who becomes jealous of its owner Leo’s (John Standing) new lover Dorothy (Barbara Ewing) and goes on the attack seeking revenge. The story is Dorothy’s, who is one of the sideshow patrons, so the events are shown from her perspective. The story contains plenty of loopholes, but it’s fascinating to see the enormous and gorgeous piano come to life as a character and push Dorothy out the window plummeting to her death.
Finally, in The Man Who Collected Poe, a Poe collector (Jack Palance) murders another collector (Peter Cushing) over collectibles he refuses to show him, only to find that the keepsake is the real Edgar Allan Poe (Hedger Wallace). Seeing both the esteemed real-life figure and horror legend Cushing makes this chapter enjoyable even though it is the least compelling of the bunch. Having the knowledge that Torture Garden was originally meant to star Cushing and Christopher Lee detracts from the film just a bit. One can only imagine the possibilities.
In the epilogue, which proves to be a clever twist, the mysterious fifth patron (Michael Ripper) scares the others into fleeing for their lives before revealing that he is a conspirator of Doctor Diabolos. The group is proven to be merely gullible rubes, left with the belief that a murder has occurred and their fates will come true. The film espouses black magic and the occult in a fun way but not a frightening way. This is both a positive and a negative since witchcraft never felt so family-friendly.
Torture Garden (1968) is not the best horror anthology ever created, nor is it the worst. The plots are uneven but entertaining and never dull. The creative additions of a killer piano, a killer cat, and famed storyteller Edgar Allen Poe are worth the price of admission as is the centerpiece villain played by the great actor Burgess Meredith, who helps keep the plot moving along.