Torture Garden (1967)

Peter Cushing and Jack Palance star in this decent early Amicus anthology film from director Freddie Francis. Sony UK R2 DVD.

The Film

Britain in the 1960s was a mecca for horror cinema, and although Hammer Studios are undoubtedly the most well known, their arch rivals Amicus Films still boast a following today. While Hammer focused on period horror films, Amicus shot a variety of contemporary stories, often in their trademark portmanteau format, Torture Garden was their second.

The film opens in a travelling fairground; the sinister Dr Diablo (Burgess Meredith) offers the audience in his house of horrors, a chance to see a greater horror – the statue of a Goddess who can tell the future of the evil inside each one of them, but a future that is not fixed in stone and can be avoided if heed is taken:
Part 1: Colin Williams goes first and stares into Atropo's shears of fate – he sees himself called to visit his dying Uncle Roger. Expecting to be given a share of the fortune he is sure that Roger has, Colin is shocked to find that Roger just wants to tell him to live his life better. Desperate for the money, Colin starts to pester his Uncle about its whereabouts, but the elderly man has a heart-attack and dies. Angry, and desperate for the money, Colin starts to search through the house and finds a hidden cellar. Digging in the cellar he finds a coffin from which a cat escapes, this cat turns out to have devilish powers and it possesses Colin who finds himself ordered to kill to sustain the creature, something that will soon get him into trouble.

Part 2:
Budding Hollywood actress Carla Hayes goes next. After destroying her best friend's dress, she takers her place for dinner with movie director Mike Charles, there they bump into the big Hollywood star Bruce Benton, and producer Eddie Storm. The two men act very suspiciously, and after Charles storms off he is mysteriously killed by a barman. Meanwhile, Carla is offered a role in Benton's new film; on the set she finds the men still acting suspiciously, and is then horrified to see Benton seemingly shot dead, only to re-appear the next day on set. Digging deeper, she discovers that there is a horrible secret behind the Hollywood Top 10....
Part 3: Carla's friend Dorothy Endicott (Barbara Ewing) goes next, again looking into the shears of fate. A magazine columnist and music fan, she finds herself interviewing famous concert pianist Leo Winston (John Standing). Falling in love with him, she soon begins to distract him from his playing and he talks of his piano being jealous. Although she laughs it off, Dorothy soon discovers that such talk was more than just the man's eccentricity...
Part 4:
Next steps up the, until now silent Ronald Wyatt (Jack Palance). An avid Edgar Allen Poe fan, he is viewing part of the impressive collection of fellow collector Lancelot Canning (Peter Cushing). Later visiting his house, Wyatt is amazed at the collection that Canning has built up. Eventually, he is lead down to the basement, where Canning keeps his most treasured documents – unpublished works by Poe. Baffled, Wyatt is horrified to find the horrific source of these texts...

Torture Garden was the second of Amicus' anthology films, this time with stories by Psycho (1960) writer Robert Bloch. The link story is very similar to that of their first anthology Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965); as link stories go, this ranks as one of their better efforts, and boasts an interesting ending and one that makes sense in the context of the story. The first tale starts off well, with some creepy atmosphere as Colin explores the house, but the possession by the cat looks pretty poor, and the ending is very predictable - with a much longer run-time it could have developed into something more. The second story works better, with some interesting mystery built up as to what the real secret is behind the Hollywood Top 10 who never seem to age (did someone say Jeff Goldblum?!). This is a story that could certainly have done with an extended run-time, it would have worked well as a Hammer House of Horror (1980) episode, even the ending would fit well with that series. The third story seems to be nothing more than filler and has one of the worst endings of anything, ever. If it had been played as a spoof then it might have worked a lot better. The final story is clearly the best, and has a criminally short run-time, a good Poe-like atmosphere throughout, and a fitting conclusion.

Although Dr. Diablo promises at the start that the group would see the results of their evil within, suggesting more of a actions-and-consequences piece, the stories are still supernatural in nature and their actions lead them into clashes with the supernatural, rather than causing the events themselves. Fortunately, the best two stories (Poe and Hollywood) are not burdened with the cheesy effects that marred many of the Amicus anthology stories, and these play out very well, it is only a pity that the film could not have just consisted of these two stories.

Director Freddy Francis gives a relatively restrained performance here, the odd camera angles and coloured filters he used in several of the Hammer films are rarely present. On the plus side, the budget was obviously there for some good looking sets, especially in the Poe segment, and combined with Francis' solid direction, the film looks solid. James Bernard and Don Banks provide the orchestral soundtrack, and it has a familiar Hammer feel to it. 

There are decent performances all round in this picture, but nothing stand-out. The film was originally to be another Lee versus Cushing piece - a popular British crowd puller, but the film's American backers were uncertain of Lee's draw (it would not be until the sucess of Hammer's Dracula sequels that he became a name-actor of accord) and so American stars Jack Palance and Burgess Meredith were supplied. Burgess Meredith (best known as The Penguin to Adam West's Batman) as Dr. Diablo gives a very Bela Lugosi inspired scenery-chewing performance as the creepy showman. The big names come out in the final movement, with Peter Cushing and Jack Palance in a rare British film appearance. Cushing plays his collector coldly calm and seems to be enjoying himself, a decent but rather short performance. Palance gives a performance that is either genius or terrible! He plays his collector as a real eccentric, awkward, talkative character in his chapter, but very calm, collected and unspoken in the link story. Watch out for the irrepressible Michael Ripper in a short but key role. Barbara Ewing, who leads in the third story should be recognisable as the doomed Zena from Freddy Francis' later Hammer film; Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968), John Standing who plays the pianist she becomes besotted with, might be recognisable for his appearances in Elephant Man (1980) and V for Vendetta (2005).

Torture Garden represents Amicus well; neither their best, and by no means their worst film, it represents the mid-point of their achievements. As normal, a couple of good entries clash with a couple of poorer results, and a solid horror-film cast is on hand; Amicus fans will certainly want to check this out. For anyone looking to sample Amicus, this film would make a decent starting point, although there are better entries.

In Brief

Anyone famous in it? Peter Cushing - Hammer Horror mainstay and frequent Amicus film star, also appeared in Asylum (1972).
Jack Palance - One of the big names of American and European cinema in the 1960s and 1970s.
Directed by anyone interesting? Freddy Francis - occasional Hammer and Amicus director who would later win two cinematography Oscars.
Any gore? A little blood.
Any sex? None.
Who is it for?
Recommended to Amicus fans and a decent starting place for anyone interested in sampling the studio.
Good soundtrack? Standard orchestral score from frequent Hammer composers Don Banks and James Bernard.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.85:1 widescreen. Anamorphically enhanced. Colour.
The disc is strong visually, only a few speckles and a little grain, colours are strong.
Audio English language original mono, plus French, German, Italian and Spanish dubs.
No problems with the audio.
Subtitles English, English (HOH), Arabic, Bulgarian, Croatian, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Hindi, Hungarian, Italian, Portuguese, Serbian, Spanish, Turkish
Run-timeFeature: 1hr 36m 25s (PAL)
Extras None.
Region Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
Other regions? Identical Region 1 release (although it does not include all the language options - just English).
Cuts? The film is believed to be completely uncut.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 21st April 2006.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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