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Torture Garden (1966)

"It's more than an entertainment, it's a panacea. You'll shake, you'll shiver, but it's all good fun. The greatest thrill you have ever had in your life!"

So speaks Diablo (Burgess Meredith) at the beginning of Torture Garden. Shame he's not talking about the film itself, really. And if he's referring to the "Torture Garden" he works in (a carnival sideshow), then he should be done under the trades description act. It's made up of a bunch of crappy and unconvincing waxworks, draped over what looks like a variety of wooden objects that were knocked up in a year six woodworking class.

"Yes, my friends… there is no end to man's inhumanity to man…" he continues, unwittingly summing up the pain which watching this film puts the viewer through.

Yes, my friends, welcome to Torture Garden - adequately summed up as "the not very good Amicus anthology with The Penguin in it". Unfortunately, given the chance to do a Brit Horror film, Mr Meredith decides to ham it up terribly. This wouldn't be too bad if the stories were okay, but only one has any substance (the Cushing / Palance segment), and the rest are just dreary. When you add a distinct lack of blood, very little in the way of actual horror and a flimsy and illogical linking theme, you've got just an average film.

But anyway, here goes…

At the back of the exhibit, Diablo keeps Atrobus, The Goddess Of Destiny (or a woman sitting very still, clutching a ball of wool and a big pair of scissors), who shows "the primordial monstrosities that lurk in the mind, to forewarn people" and help them "escape the monstrous act". Etc.

Story 1:

Colin knows that his ill old Uncle Roger is rich, and as he can't be arsed to work for a living, he's determined to get hold of the money. It's not long before he's bumped uncle off and started turning the house upside-down looking for it, eventually discovering a hidden cellar with what looks like a freshly-dug grave in it.

On opening the grave he finds a coffin (surprise, surprise) containing a headless corpse (dead) and a cat (very alive). "Yes… I can hear you…" he tells the cat, through the power of echoey voiceovers. "Your name is Balthazar… you have come to stay with me… to serve me… as you served my uncle. You will reward me as you rewarded him. In return for this there are things I must do for you. My uncle was ungrateful… he buried you away in darkness… but now you are free… and hungry… hungry…"

After a cat/tramp/pitchfork combo, it's dubloons for everyone, but not for long. You get the picture.

The best bit of the segment comes at the end, when after a bout of histrionics a policeman shows very little interest in yet another headless corpse.

Story 2:

The second segment is worse than the first (if that's possible), but it is livened up by some attractive young girls in their pants and a great deal of hilariously bad "hip" dialogue. There's also the best film nightclub ever in the form of Danny's, which is basically just a pub with a huge plastic bubble in the middle, containing two semi-naked girls. Class.

The story concerns aspiring actress Carla, who shows just how keen she is to get to the top by burning a hole in her best friend's dress so she can take her place on a dinner date. It's not long before she's discovered a dodgy secret about Hollywood stars. Unfortunately, it's too long for me.

"You must live to feed only on the applause and the fame," she is told. For some of us, it is enough."

The special effects in this one are actually okay - but once again, horror it isn't.

"Look - there's Carla Hayes! Isn't she a doll? A living doll!" Bollocks.

Story 3:

We're on a downward spiral as we next hit a tale about a killer piano. Yes, you heard right. A killer piano. I'll repeat it for you. A piano that moves around by itself. Like on the Les Dawson Show. Only not as scary.

Occasionally, Euterpe (the piano) does manage to shock by letting out an enormous CLANGGGG!! (usually just after someone's said something like "For the first time in years I feel happy!"), but at the end of the day, anyone who tries to sell a story about a piano that pushes people out of windows whilst playing the funeral march should be pushed out of a window themselves.

Story 4:

Luckily, the final story is a stormer. Jack Palance plays totally against type as a real nerd, salivating at the thought of unpublished manuscripts by a certain Edgar Allen Poe. And there's more to be found as fellow collector Peter Cushing shows him the prize exhibit in his little museum…

Once again there's not much substance to the tale, but on this occasion the performances save it. Even the dusty, bored-looking Poe is great, and the final conflagration is a real tour de force. "Is that not a good ending for the last story of Edgar Allen Poe?"

Yes, probably.

So we're left with a (sort of) twist ending, as Diablo gives them "a good show for their money" (hardly…) and everyone leaves, a bit narked. Torture Garden is not great. What makes it okay is because it's an anthology, none of the stories really outstay their welcome. And you can have a bit of fun predicting when Atrobus is going to make her comedy entrance into each tale. Sort of like "Where's Wally", but with an ugly old boiler.

Last updated: February 27, 2010

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