Torture Garden (1967)
Directed by Freddie Francis
Torture Garden has one of the best set-ups of all the Amicus anthology films, not surprising considering the screenplay was written by Robert Bloch. The film builds on the excitement of carnivals and the strangeness of Carney folk. A midway soapbox pitchman attracts a small audience into the Torture Garden side show. Once Inside, Dr. Diablo (a masked Burgess Meredith) demonstrates torture devices upon wax figures. By the end of the ‘show’ the audience is moderately amused, but before they depart, Dr. Diablo offers a chance to see the bonus exhibit for an additional 5 pounds. He promises to show the patrons something they could not see anywhere else. He gets a few customers to shell out the additional payment and they enter another curtained section. Much to their dismay, they are confronted with a wax figure fortune teller. Dr. Diablo insists that all they have to do is step up, look into her eyes and they will see their future and certain danger that awaits them. Of course, they do and we enter each one’s story.
Colin visits his sick uncle looking for a big monetary hand out after hearing rumors of his uncle paying for items with gold coins. When the Uncle begins having an attack, Colin holds his medication out of reach until he reveals the hidden gold. The uncle dies and soon after Colin is ripping the home apart, looking for the coins. He breaks into a trap door in the basement and is confronted by a cat with hypnotic eyes. In a trance, Colin goes out and kills the neighbor with a pitchfork. The cat rewards Colin with gold coins upon return. It turns out the feline is some nefarious deity. It is not long before Colin has a wealth of gold coins and the suspicions of the police.
A young woman, struggling to be an actress, double crosses her roommate and meets some wealthy Hollywood hot shots. Her career skyrockets until she learns the truth of how stars are able to sustain lasting careers and the sacrifice she will have to make to hold her place in the Hollywood elite.
The next story sounds ridiculous but is filmed with enough conviction that allows you to accept what you’re seeing. A concert pianist meets a young lady reporter and it is clear that she wants more than an interview. When they begin to fall in love his prize piano becomes jealous and is intent on ending the relationship.
The fourth story is my favorite and was worth watching this movie for, alone. Jack Palance plays Ronald Wyatt, an historian and rare collector of the works of Edgar Allan Poe. At an exhibition, he meets Mr. Canning (Peter Cushing) who owns some rare items himself. The two men hit it off and Canning offers an open invitation for Mr. Wyatt to visit him when he’s in the states. Wyatt does pay Canning a visit to view his personal collection. The two men talk about Poe’ s work, exchange stories about their collections and indulge in quite a bit of brandy. Near the end of the night, Canning unveils the holy grail of Poe collectables, a lost, unpublished manuscript, The House of the Worm. The story about how Canning came into possession of this work is as fantastic as…one of Poe’ s fictional stories. As a Poe fan, this tale had me fascinated and intrigued.
All in all, an good Amicus anthology with fleshed-out stories and an interesting wrap-around. Worth a viewing.
Amicus Films – overview