Amicus is only slightly less known than Hammer Films and Hammer Films is known the world over by genre fans and collectors. As a child my exposure to both studios here in the U.S. was through Chiller Theater, and it was Amicus’ first anthology, Dr. Terror’s House Of Horrors (1965), that made the most impression on me. Of course when I was that young I naturally assumed any British looking horror film I stumbled across on TV was part of Hammer Films. It wasn’t until I got older that I understand the difference between Hammer, Amicus and general British horror.
I believe Amicus is mostly famous for their horror anthologies which has a total of seven films, the first being the aforementioned Doc Terror movie, followed by Torture Garden (1967), The House That Dripped Blood (1971), Tales From The Crypt (1972), Asylum (1972), The Vault Of Horror (1973) and From Beyond The Grave (1974). I have seen all of them except Asylum and From Beyond The Grave. And until last night have never seen Torture Garden. I never wanted to see it, because I thought it was mostly a murder-mystery type of film, I didn’t know each segment had a supernatural element to it.
All good anthology tales have wraparounds and this one is centered on a carnival sideshow run by Dr. Diabolo (Burgess Meredith). Curiosity pulls in four people: Colin Williams (Michael Bryant), Ronald Wyatt (Jack Palance), Carla Hayes (Beverly Adams), her friend Dorothy Endicott (Barbara Ewing), and Gordon Roberts (Michael Ripper). Diabolo’s initial focus is the many ways people have tortured each other through the centuries, displaying the torture devices for all to see, but for a few dollars more he’s got something extra terrifying to show them in the back. More curious (or could it be that Diabolo is just that much more persuasive?) they all pay the extra money and follow the carnival barker into the back.
Seated as the center piece is a waxwork woman holding a pair of over-sized shears ready to cut the various strings she holds in her other hand. This woman, as Diabolo describes, is a deity called, Atropos. The strings she holds are man’s fate, and he “persuades” just about everyone to stand in front of her and look deep into her shears. Doing so will give them a view of their future, but it’s a future where they can see how they’re going to die, and truth be told just about all these characters are people who deserve the grim fates they see played out in their minds. This is where each story gets their jumping off point:
First brave soul up is Colin Williams who has a very rich uncle living in the countryside, also a very old and sick one. Colin is a playboy who goes through money like we all go through toilet paper and needs a little more to pay off his debts. His uncle has been able to stay rich through supernatural means involving the familiar of a dead witch, this familiar is called Balthazar, and it comes in the form of a cat. Through this “deal with the devil” his uncle tried to get out from under it and he pretty much did, but Colin knows nothing of this until after he lets his uncle die. Deep under the earth in the basement is the witch’s coffin where also rests Balthazar. The familiar is released when Colin digs up the witch’s coffin thinking his uncle buried his riches there.
Balthazar has mind control abilities and tells Colin how things will work from here on out. Sure, he can make the douchebag rich, but there’s a price, and for starters it involves pitchforking to death the homeless guy sleeping in the barn. Balthazar feeds on human flesh and his favorite part of the human body is the head, so dead homeless guy ends up losing his head. The twist is Colin gets arrested for killing the homeless guy and another woman, and since he can’t do the familiar’s bidding in a jail cell, he ends up losing his head one night to the cat. Creepy episode, and mildly gory.
Second tale involves Carla Hayes who’s an actress from America. Diabolo’s sideshow is in the UK, and she’s visiting her friend Dorothy in the UK. Carla is prepared to do anything to become a star and a few months from now her end will come at the hands of something weird going on in Hollywood that explains how all the famous actors are able to stay young and famous. Her gateway to this world is actor, Bruce Benton (Robert Hutton). He doesn’t eat or drink and manages to stay pretty healthy, well, except for that night he takes a bullet to the head from a couple of gangsters. He’s taken to specific hospital and treated by a specific doctor, a Dr. Heim (Bernard Kay), who manages to perform a miracle and get that bullet out of Benton’s skull and put him back on the set like nothing ever happened. Now the explanation for his “survival” is rather “ephemeral,” let’s say, but the gist of it appears to be all the famous actors in Hollywood are robots and what they “feed” on is fame, making them also kind of vampiric. Anyway, Benton spills all this to Carla one night in his dressing room, and she’s taken away and turned into one of these “vampire robots.” I enjoyed this segment too.
With most of Amicus’ anthologies there’s always that one segment that’s either laughable to just plain not scary, unfortunately, Torture Garden is no different and the third segment is more in the laughable region. Carla’s friend, Dorothy is next to gaze into the shears and to make a long story short she’s eventually going to fall in love with a world famous pianist who has a piano that’s possessed by his dead mother’s ghost. Mother was not a nice person and is jealous Dorothy will take her son away from her, so she (aka the piano) attacks Dorothy one night and shoves her out a window where she dies on the pavement below.
The best and creepiest tale is saved for last and it revolves around Ronald Wyatt who’s a serious collector of anything Edgar Allan Poe wrote, touched, owned, or lived in. He sees his future and he’s going to meet another equally fanatical Poe collector, Lanelot Canning (Peter Cushing). Visiting his home, Wyatt is shown everything Canning has collected even the stuff he keeps in the basement he’s never told anyone about. What Wyatt sees are unpublished tales of Poe, and some new ones that were written recently.
How can that be?
Canning brought Poe back from the dead and keeps him in a secret room off the basement where he’s made to write. This revelation basically reveals Canning to be the ultimate Poe collector for he even managed to collect Poe himself. But this was a deal with the devil, and while conversing with Poe Wyatt learns the man just wants to be dead, but can’t do that until someone takes his place. Did I forget to mention Wyatt killed Canning when he wouldn’t show him that secret room with the best Poe artifact of them all? Guess I did. Wyatt sets the house on fire with he and Poe in it.
Michael Ripper’s character of Gordon Roberts is kind of a ruse, or a lure. He works with Diabolo and his job is to go crazy and stab Diabolo with those giant shears, sending everyone fleeing into the night. Once that’s done Roberts and Diabolo set it all up for the next poor saps they can lure in. I love Michael Ripper, he’s kind of the ‘Where’s Waldo’ of Hammer flicks. He’s been in a ton of them and I always rejoiced when I saw his name in the opening credits. He’s done a lot of other British genre movies too, and his last film was the black comedy creature feature Revenge Of Billy The Kid (1992). A movie I wish they’d put on DVD here in the States. There’s also a biography of him in publication titled, Michael Ripper: Unmasked.
The movie ends with Diabolo turning to the camera and revealing he’s really the Devil!
What a coincidence this blu-ray from Australian distributor, Via Vision Entertainment, came along. It’s never been available in the U.S. until this past April when U.S. distributor Mill Creek Entertainment released it on blu as part of a triple feature with The Creeping Flesh (1973) and Brotherhood Of Satan (1971). You can buy that version here, if you like, or you can buy this solo blu from Amazon U.S. or from Via Vision’s site. They also have it on basic DVD too.
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 1.85:1(?) high definition widescreen—English Dolby TrueHD—No subtitles.
The transfer is pretty good. I have Mill Creek’s triple feature and it looks exactly the same. Colors are good, clarity isn’t bad. I’m not exactly sure what the aspect ratio is, there’s no mention of it on the back cover, but it’s either 1.85:1 or 1.78:1.
Extras included . . .
(Note: Despite the Region B coding on the back cover this blue will play just fine in U.S. blu-ray players).