Color, 1967, 100 mins. 18 secs. / 93 mins. 12 secs.
Directed by Freddie Francis
Starring Burgess Meredith, Jack Palance, Peter Cushing, Beverly Adams, Michael Bryant, John Standing, Robert Hutton, John Phillips, Michael Ripper, Maurice Denham, Niall MacGinnis, Clytie Jessop
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK R0 HD), Sony (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Mill Creek (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

Following Torture Gardenthe success of Torture Gardenthe horror omnibus film Dr. Terror's House of Horrors, Hammer competitor Amicus Productions realized it had found a niche in the British scary movie sweepstakes. The second of its seven much-loved anthology horror films was quickly put into motion and proved to be its only one released by Columbia Pictures: Torture Garden, a colorful variation on the formula of a group of strangers whose stories are told under sinister, possibly supernatural circumstances.

One night at a colorful carnival, five people enter a mysterious attraction advertising a new experience in fright at the hands of Dr. Diabolo (Meredith) for a little extra cash. Inside they're presented with the animated figure of Atropos (Jessop), one of the Greek fates, who can decide people's fortunes with the snip of a string. Four of the attendees are then presented with their futures, one by one, starting with Colin (Bryant), whose schemes against his ailing uncle (Denham) are jeopardized by the not-so-docile family cat. Aspiring movie star Carla (Adams) wants to work her way up the ladder to fame and glamour but starts to suspect there's something amiss with the whole discovery process, and and Leo (Standing) finds his new romance with Dorothy Torture Garden(Ewing) sabotaged by his sentient grand piano. Finally, Ronald (Palance) aspires to be the greatest collector of Edgar Allan Poe artifacts in the world but finds himself in a deadly Torture Gardencompetition with the more low-key and secretive Lancelot (Cushing), who might have the most prized rarity of them all.

Cinematographer turned director Freddie Francis was already an old hand at Amicus, having already helmed Dr. Terror and two non-anthology films, The Skull and The Deadly Bees. A veteran of Hammer as well, he would go on to helm the studio's most famous horror anthology, Tales from the Crypt, as well as one of the weirdest imitations, Tales That Witness Madness. Though not his strongest film, this one is a solid example of his style with its vivid colors, nicely burnished cinematography, and swift, efficient storytelling that ensures the audience won't get bogged down in one story for too long. The framing device is a great opportunity for Meredith ham it up like nobody's business, and though the ending comes off as more than a little muddled, at least it avoids the usual cliche of revealing that everyone was dead the whole time. Perhaps most significantly, this was one of five Amicus films written by Robert Bloch, a very in-demand writer in the '60s after the mammoth success of Alfred Hitchcock's adaptation of his novel, Torture GardenPsycho. (This one came after The Deadly Bees and The Psychopath, but before Asylum and The House That Dripped Blood.) As with the other anthologies, the quality dips Torture Gardenup and down a bit from story to story, with the last one being the most memorable as it contrasts Palance's ripe acting style with Cushing's more precise, classical demeanor. The first tale is also amusing as a precursor of sorts for the "Cat from Hell" segment from Tales from the Darkside: The Movie, which takes the same idea to much gorier extremes.

Long available on VHS and DVD from RCA/Columbia and then Sony, Torture Garden first appeared on Blu-ray in the U.S. from Mill Creek as part of a triple feature with The Creeping Flesh and The Brotherhood of Satan. It's a strange-looking film with some scenes looking crisp and sharp and others having a more dupey or processed appearance, something that's been prevalent in every presentation around including 35mm prints. The 2017 Indicator Blu-ray release appears to be from the same scan, though it's been given a higher bit rate and looks a notch darker; it's also matted a bit more tightly at 1.85:1, though compositionally it doesn't make much difference compared to the 1.78:1 American disc. The DTS-HD MA English audio sounds immaculate, with optional English SDH subtitles. Interestingly, the film can be played in both its extended version prepared for TV sales (100 mins.), which has been the standard for the past Blu-ray and DVD versions, or the original, tighter theatrical cut, which most notably features a bit less Meredith.

The biggest Torture Gardenextra here is The Guardian Interview (77m) with Francis and interviewer Alan Jones from 1995 at the National Film Theatre, encompassing his entire career in the British film industry from working as a cameraman expected to "make pretty pictures" through his biggest beef with the current state of moviemaking, as well as discussion of his Torture Gardenwork shooting for David Lynch. Production supervisor Ted Wallis (4m15s) briefly notes his enjoyment during the production and admiration for Francis under strict budgetary constraints that entailed some changes to the script, while the great Ramsey Campbell shares his memories of Bloch (16m37s) from his early admiration and glee at seeing his name published in the same short story collection to their friendship among the group of horror writers flourishing in the '70s, with additional notes about the tales in the film and their divergences from the short stories (especially "Enoch"). Amicus co-founder Milton Subotsky is covered in a featurette with Fiona Subotsky (8m19s), with recollections of his affinity for Gothic subjects and additional thoughts on other projects of his like The Birthday Party and The Mind of Mr. Soames. Another horror novelist weighs in as Kim Newman dissects the film (24m53s) at length with observations about the Bloch-Amicus-Francis collaborations, the contributions of Hammer composer James Bernard, and Subotsky's tendency to swipe familiar titles for his own films, though not so successfully in one case involving Harlan Ellison. The disc closes out with the theatrical trailer (featuring some great, very '60s graphics) and separate, mammoth galleries for stills and promotional material from various countries. The limited 3,000-unit edition features an insert booklet featuring a liner notes essay by Laura Mayne and sample critical reviews and press coverage from the film's initial release.

Mill Creek (Blu-ray)

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Reviewed on October 24, 2017.