Torture Garden (1967) Blu-ray Review

On sale 30th October from Indicator. Directed by Freddie Francis.

Genre legend Peter Cushing stars alongside Jack Palance and Burgess Meredith in an omnibus of chilling and gruesome stories, inspired by E.C. Comics’ Tales from the Crypt comic-book series of the 1950s.

Another anthology by Amicus, this title has a couple of US imports to prop up the cast, Peter Cushing, a famous author as scriptwriter and a strange tribute to Edgar Allan Poe in its final story as the key highlights.

Torture Garden is the name of a show by Dr Diabolo, played by the legendary Burgess Meredith, who hams it up. He acts as a guide of sorts as he talks punters into parting with £5 (reluctantly, as that was a lot of cash back then) to see something truly terrifying. Each customer then stares at the dreaded ‘shears of fate’ and Freddie Francis then takes the viewer into a 10-15 minute eerie tale about that character.

The stories don’t really work, they feel like too much of a stress and others rely too much on others to carry the plot. The first has more than a hint of Poe’s The Black Cat with a banal ending. The final entry even has Poe himself appear. It sees Peter Cushing as a man obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe and collects everything to do with him. He even has obtained the ‘dust’ of the late authors skeleton and somehow, rather frivolously, brings Poe back to life. But thanks to the performances of Cushing and co-star Jack Palance it’s the most entertaining.

Intriguingly this was written by Robert Bloch, the man responsible for the novel Psycho. The shorts within Torture Garden are based on his short stories. During the mid sixties to early seventies the writer wrote several features for Amicus, perhaps the most well known being The House That Dripped Blood (1970). In this movie some of the stories he has adapted struggle and the ‘wrap around’ plot of Dr. Diabolo feels forced and cobbled together.

This could have been much better, considering the talent involved. Francis had previously directed the likes of The Evil of Frankenstein (1963) and The Skull (1965) as well as go on to do Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968) and Tales from the Crypt (1972). Peter Cushing and Jack Palance acting alongside each other in the final chapter of the film is excellent although it’s a shame this sort of dynamic wasn’t used more in the feature.

Pick of the Extras.

Freddie Francis Interview (77 mins) – Alan Jones interviews the director, recorded in July 1995. Francis talks about how he started his career, how he learned his craft, film-making in the sixties and various other subjects.

Ramsey Campbell on Robert Bloch (17 mins) – The author talks about his love of Bloch, the man’s writing and the stories that Torture Garden were based on. Campbell is thorough in his discussion.

Kim Newman (25 mins) – Critic and author Newman gives a as-usual insightful talk about Amicus, the anthology horrors that they did, Bloch and, of course, Torture Garden.

Order here.