Torture Garden (1967)

Directed by Freddie Francis. Written by Robert Bloch (based on his own short stories). Starring Burgess Meredith, Jack Palance, Barbara Ewing, Beverly Adams, John Standing, Maurice Denham, Michael Bryant, Michael Ripper, Ursula Howells and Peter Cushing.

Plot: Dr. Diablo (Meredith) takes five customers into a special exhibit to warn them of their “evil” futures.

Five people at a fair visit Dr. Diablo, a psychic, who shows them typical theatrics, but then offers them a real scare for a little extra money. Curious, they agree and follow him behind a curtain where they each get to view their fates by staring through the the sheers of Atropos, the Greek goddess of fate.

In the first story, ENOCH, a greedy man named Colin (Bryant) tries to get money from his rich Uncle Roger (Denham). When he refuses to give him anything, Colin murders him by withholding his medicine. After his uncle’s body is removed from the house, Colin is determined to find the money. He searches the whole house and finally finds a coffin buried in the basement with bones and a living cat inside. The cat begins to talk to him psychically, introducing himself as Balthazar and explaining that he is hungry. What for? Human being, of course. And if Colin will kill for him, he will reward him with gold coins. Being that his fate is an evil one, he does decide to take a life, but what happens after is the real kicker. It’s memorable, quite gory and completely justified. When Colin wakes up from his trance, he doesn’t believe the vision, but he does wonder how Dr. Diablo knows his uncle has money.

In TERROR OVER HOLLYWOOD, Carla Hayes (Adams) wants to be a Hollywood starlet so much so that she sabotages her roommates date with a director. Then, she puts on a dress and goes on the date herself. She makes some contacts and ends up getting a role. Later, after one of her work days are over, she sees the director get shot in the head. A Hollywood friend of his takes him to an underground surgeon who manages to “fix him”. Carla just can’t believe it, so she does some digging and finds out an unbelievable truth. While it wasn’t really scary, it was original, but we didn’t really like this particular story all that much.

The third story, MR. STEINWAY, follows a man, Leo (Standing), who is a renowned pianist. He and his piano, whose name is Euterpa, have a very strange relationship. When he starts dating Dorothy (Ewing), he falls in love with her. She though, like his manager (Howells), tries to control his life by controlling how often he plays his piano and when he’s able to go on tour. Dorothy and the manager even fight over Leo with Dorothy proclaiming, “He belongs to me now.” Then, Dorothy yells at Leo because she’s worried about him and thinks he’s going crazy because of how he talks to Euterpa like she’s human. The surprise here is that Euterpa is human, sort of, and she’s very unhappy with Dorothy. In the end, we felt really bad for Leo and all the women around him trying to control him. When the finale happened, DJ was very pleased and after talking to him about it, I agreed.

THE MAN WHO COLLECTED POE, was the last story. Ronald Wyatt (Palance), a rabid Poe collector, goes to see another’s collector’s pieces. Lancelot Canning (Cushing) shows Wyatt exceptional things, including some works by Poe that were never published. Wyatt is intrigued and wants to see more, so he gets Canning drunk. Then, Canning takes him to the basement where he shows him ashes he says are Poe’s, but still refuses to show him something even more valuable. Something he keeps behind a locked door. Well, Wyatt’s evil fate is that he kills Canning just to see what’s behind the door and what’s there is shocking. Also, very weird. I, for one, wish Bloch had stuck more true to his short story.

The last guy (Ripper) never gets his story told because he decides to do his evil deed right then and there. He kills Dr. Diablo. Although, in reality, he doesn’t. He actually works for Diablo and it’s just been part of the show. Also part of it all, is that Diablo is the genuine devil and he takes people behind the curtain as a way to give their souls a second chance before he owns them. I think that’s pretty admirable really. It’s not everyday the devil gives you an out.

While it wasn’t the best anthology or the scariest, we enjoyed it and would recommend it. Meredith is worth it all by himself.

My score: 57. DJ’s score: 60.

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