Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Ten Statements About.... TORTURE GARDEN (1967)

"What you have seen are imaginary horrors. But now I can let you experience real ones. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I do have a private exhibit."

1) The thing that's distinctive about this film is it's arguably the most American of the Amicus Anthologies. It's got several American actors in it, it's the first of three anthology films written by grandmaster Robert Bloch, and the framing sequence is based wholely on a classic American carney trick....and yet it still is very, very English...

2) And the lion's share of why the portions of the film that works works is due to Bloch's script. I was particularly struck by how he took his story 'Enoch,' a Southern Gothic psychological horror story about a man who is convinced a demon lives inside his head that compels him to kill, and seamlessly reset it in a typical English setting....

3) ...which would have worked even more if it wasn't for the fact that Michael Bryant's Colin, who is obviously written as a young man who's been drifting around after leaving University, is middle aged and, ummmm, noticeably balding. Bryant does play the character very effectively, but it's hard to get away from how out of place he seems in the scenario as presented.

4) Perhaps the biggest flaw in the film is in its placing the two weakest stories, 'Terror Over Hollywood' and 'Mr. Steinway' back to back right in the middle. Since the former is kinda out of place in a horror film and the later is just too. damn. ludicrous. to be scary (we'll get to that later), it throws off the film's pacing to the point where the viewer can become distracted...or worse, thoroughly disengaged from the film proper.

"So everytime Samuel L. Jackson curses, we take a shot,
5) Thankfully, Burgess Meredith and the framing sequence's bizarre device for introducing the stories (there's this statue of Atropos, one of Fates, and Meredith hypnotizes each victim into hallucinating their futures) manages to snatch us out of the bad stories. Meredith seems to be having a lot of fun teasing and jeering at his guests while ruminating on what they're actually seeing in the reflection of the shears. Sure, the ultimate payoff of who Dr. Diablo is is botched, but the journey getting there is wicked cool.

6) Not surprisingly, Beverly Adams--the risible 'Lovey Kravitz' of the even more risible Dean Martin Matt Helm movies--is incapable of carrying off the rather tired premise of 'Terror Over Hollywood.' She's a pretty enough girl but very wooden (which is ironic, considering her fate in the story)....

7) ...but then, at least she's not Barbara Ewing, who may be not a very good actress, but at least has her lack of talent obscured by being tormented and murdered by a piano in 'Mr. Steinway.' This story is easily the stupidest of all the Amicus anthology stories--and may even be in the running for worst horror anthology segment ever.

"I's da demon cat--not Get Me My Tenda Vittles!"
8) If you've ever wondered why Jack Palance always got cast as the heavy, wonder no more. The co-star of the last segment, 'The Man Who Collected Poe,' Palance tries to pass himself off as English and fails miserably. Hell, I didn't realize his fey, affected voice was supposed to be a British accent until Peter Cushing's Lacelot Canning points it out in the dialogue. It's one of those moments of miscasting that's almost divine in its wrong-headedness. A pity, as the story is one of the most unique of all the Amicus features.

9) As successful as Bloch is at adapting 'Enoch,' he fails with 'Terror Over Hollywood.' As it is, it's not one of his better horror stories about the entertainment industry....and the story isn't even altered enough to make it plausible in the English setting. It doesn't even scan with Adams' backstory as presented in the framing sequence itself....

10) and the rather sad make-up effects in both 'Terror Over Hollywood' and the framing sequence doesn't work to sell us on the horror of the film. The robotic effects in 'Terror' are particularly clumsy, and--given how 'Enoch' was effective solely through the acting of Bryant--I wonder if they really needed the 'I's da Debbil' make-up on Meredith for the film's last shot.

Overall...this might be the weakest of the six (seven if you count producer Milton Subotsky's anthology film he made after Amicus went under, The Monster Club) Amicus anthologies. The good-to-bad ratio is higher, with one of the stories being the absolute worst the studio ever produced. One for the completists.

Which, sadly, I am.

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