Tuesday, September 20, 2005

TORTURE GARDEN

In the Sixties, England's Amicus Films produced a string of superior horror anthology films, using some of the top genre stars of the time and with screenplays by such legendary writers as Robert Bloch (PSYCHO). One of the earliest of these was the dark carnival four-shot, TORTURE GARDEN (1967), directed by ace cameraman Freddie Francis.

The framing sequence of this old-fashioned horror flick features Burgess Meredith (ROCKY, TV's TWILIGHT ZONE) as sinister sideshow proprietor Dr. Diablo, who offers several of his patrons a glimpse into their futures. This makes a solid set-up for four Bloch tales.

In the first, a greedy young man visits his dying uncle in order to discover the source of the old man's wealth. When the uncle dies, the nephew discovers a scary black cat and a headless corpse in the basement. Before long, there are more headless bodies and whole mess of trouble. In the second, an ambitious young actress discovers the price for eternal fame in Hollywood. In the third, a woman finds herself between the concert pianist and a jealous rival. In the last, and best story, Jack Palance (CYBORG 2, HAWK THE SLAYER) is an obsessed collector of Edgar Allan Poe memorabilia who encounters another collector (Peter Cushing, CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, STAR WARS) with the ultimate Poe collectible.

All four stories are nicely shot and well acted, but only the first really generates much suspense. The last story, "The Man Who Collected Poe," is a joy to watch primarily because of the actors involved: Palance and Cushing are clearly having a lot of fun with this one, and it's contagious. What really makes the movie though, is the wrap-around sequences and Burgess Meredith's witty performance, which is reminiscent of his characterization of the Penguin from the then current BATMAN TV series.

Sony's DVD is a basically bare-bones release, but the 1.85:1 widescreen transfer is excellent, with a sharp picture and rock-solid colors. The mono sound is clear and well balanced. The only extras are trailers for other Sony horror discs (the same as on THE MAN WITH NINE LIVES).

Fans of Amicus Films (and there are a few of us) or old school "scary" movies, TORTURE GARDEN will find this a welcome addition to their DVD collections.

BUY: Torture Garden