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A special sideshow torture exhibit has the power, according to showman Dr. Diablo, to warn people of evil in their futures. One by one, skeptical customers stand before the Fate Atropos to be shown the greed and violence they're hiding behind their respectable facades. Written by
Above-decent and entertaining if uneven Amicus anthology film
There is not very much to add here. Torture Garden is entertaining and has a good amount of atmosphere and some good performances but is also a rather uneven film, and there are stronger Amicus anthology films around (understandably as this was a reasonably early effort for them). Also agree with the general consensus that the first and last segments are the best and the second and third come up short.
The story linking the four segments is mostly very well done, it's suspenseful, it's fun, intriguingly written, ties the segments beautifully and succinctly and it has the bonus of having Burgess Meredith playing his tailor-made role with delicious relish. Some might find that the carnival setting's somewhat gaudy, but to me that was effective, it suited the atmosphere and carnivals are so in the first place anyway to an extent. It is a shame though that Diablo's real identity was a little too obvious and the ending can be smelt a mile off.
Of the four segments, The Man Who Collected Poe comes off the most successfully. It is very macabre, very intelligently written and has a good deal of suspense. It is also the best-looking segment of the four, with the Gothic atmosphere evoked wonderfully. Jack Palance is devilishly enjoyable here, he's over-the-top but also very menacing, vintage Palance really. Peter Cushing proves himself to be a great contrast, a more subtle performance but very dignified and urbane. Enoch has a very creepy ambiance and doesn't go through the motions at all with the scares. The cat didn't look too cute personally, and does bring the right amount of chills as the antagonist of the story.
Conversely, Terror over Hollywood and particularly Mr. Steinway don't fare anywhere near as strongly. Terror over Hollywood at least had a very intriguing subject, but it descend into weird silliness often and while striking Beverly Adams is rather too pretty and lightweight for the over-ambitious diva, when she does try to bring some menace or hard edge it feels very forced. Mr. Steinway is very dull from the get go and goes so overkill in the absurdity factor that it is really difficult to take seriously or be scared by it, only the piano's unsettling final attack prevents it from completely falling apart. John Standing is also rather bland here.
Visually, Torture Garden's not one of the better-looking Amicus anthology productions and it's less than beautiful-looking, but it doesn't look too cheap at all either. In fact, it's very competently made and gives off a very nice atmosphere. Some of the sets are a touch tacky, with the exception of The Man Who Collected Poe and the appropriate carnival setting and the editing occasionally may lack slickness, but it's very stylishly shot, that takes maximum Gothic effect to imaginative heights, and the lighting's not too garish, in fact the use of colour is very like watching a Mario Bava film. James Bernard's score is rousing, haunting and thrillingly booming, Robert Bloch's script is skillful and combines many horror elements with wit and creepy atmosphere without feeling too over-stuffed and Freddie Francis directs engagingly at least for the first and last segments and the linking story. And while the acting in Torture Garden is very varied, Palance, Cushing and Meredith are incredibly strong and are more than enough to make one stick with the film.
Overall, entertaining and above-decent but uneven, with one outstanding segment, one great segment and two misfires, along with a compelling story linking them together. Worth seeing also for the strong performances from Palance, Cushing and Meredith. 6.5/10 Bethany Cox
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