More curio than serious purchase for the fair weather fan, Torture Garden is wasted on those not truly interested in the genre, whilst illustrating the limitations of unchecked creative freedom.
Filling you with the kind of trepidation only travelling Carnies are able to muster, Torture Garden unnerves with kitsch, brings fear through Hammer Horror scares and adds morality whilst leaning heavily on cliché. Gaudy production and lingering close ups combine with Burgess Meredith and Jack Palance over the title to make this more than just a curiosity.
Linked together by a vaudevillian ringmaster, this anthology piece is carried by committed acting, subtle silences and liberal amounts of Peter Cushing. Although the stories themselves are the stuff of fireside fable their execution is effective. Having Cushing, Meredith and Palance in tow makes everything much more believable, which in itself raises Torture Garden above the mundane.
Similar in many respects to contemporary Hammer Horror fare which was readily available, there is more of a focus on fear through suspense rather than actual manifestations. Torture Garden may be cringingly kitsch but it remains watchable even if some of the stories are more prone to raise a smile than any sense of terror.
For anyone not familiar with the string of movies which fell into this genre during that period in cinema this will be an education. Unpolished, stagey in parts and having its fair share of ropey acting, this is no Oscar-worthy piece of filmmaking. Palance has been better as has Meredith and Cushing but they do the best possible job with the material given. Each breathing life into a film which skirts close to caricature towards the conclusion. As an example of a bygone age, Torture Garden satisfies a very specific niche in the market, whilst also lending credence to the anthology film in general. As a grounded morality tale it may fail to achieve but beyond that there are still things to enjoy.
Atmospherics carry us through the slower paced segments while Palance does strong and silent as a direct reaction to Meredith’s over egging of the pudding. Bare female flesh is also kept at a minimum as the focus remains on story rather than diversionary titillation, which is commendable given the era. More curio than serious purchase for the fair weather fan, Torture Garden is wasted on those not truly interested in the genre, whilst illustrating the limitations of unchecked creative freedom.
Written by Martin Carr
Directed by: Freddie Francis
Written by: Robert Bloch
Starring: Jack Palance, Burgess Meredith, Beverly Adams, Peter Cushing
Released: 1962 / Genre: Suspense Thriller
Country: UK / IMDB
Top 10 Films reviewed Torture Garden on Blu-ray courtesy of Powerhouse Films. The film was released on Blu-ray on October 30.
For those interested in the background history there is also an informative special feature with Kim Newman, who is a resident expert on every B through Z horror movie ever made. Both insightful, entertaining and laid back in his clear love of the subject, Newman is worth the purchase alone as he expands on everything Torture Garden related.