During the 60s and 70s, British film makers Amicus productions made a series of films containing several short horror stories, linked by a framing story.
Starring many big names (for the time), these low/medium budget films
told several stories mainly concerning ghosts and the supernatural in a
typically British way, and usually featured some sort of twist ending.
The second of these films was "Torture Garden", released in 1967.
Five people ( Michael Bryant , Beverley Adams ,Barbera Ewing , Jack Palance and another man) are invited by "Dr. Diabolo" (Burgess Meredith ) to view the "Torture Garden". For the small price of half a crown, they will see the horrors that man gleefully inflicts upon his brother.
When the patrons pay up and enter, they find that the side show exhibit contains nothing but cheap and tacky waxworks, culminating in Dr. Diabolo pretending to kill a man using the electric chair. Angrily, they accuse him of swindling them, but as he removes his black robe and devil mask, revealing a smart suit underneath, he tells them that this show is only for the tourists, and that the real horrors are behind a curtain at the back of the room, which they can see, for a payment of five pounds each (a lot of money in 1967), and, if they aren't terrified by what they see, he will give them their money back. curiosity gets the better of everyone and they pay up. After he has collected the money(which oddly enough resembles a pile of $10 bills, even though the price was stated as £5), Diabolo then burns it while grinning evilly.
In the back room, the patrons find nothing there waiting for them, save for a section concealed behind a curtain, in which sits a waxwork figure of a woman holding a pair of shears and several threads. Once again Diabolo is accused of swindling them, but he explains that the woman is in fact the goddess of fate, Atropus, whose shears can cut short a human life in an instant if it is deemed unworthy. Those who are interested can be told their futures, simply by gazing at the shears, and by doing so can seeing their inner evil, hopefully learning from the experience and thus avoiding it...one by one, the patrons step up...
Story #1 - "Enoch"
Colin Williams (Bryant) is a greedy, spendthrift playboy who is up to his eyeballs in debt. He arrives at his uncles house after receiving a mysterious summons to visit. His uncle reveals that he is dying, and that he needs to give Colin an important message before he dies, which Colin assumes to mean that his uncle intends to leave him his considerable fortune. However the uncle reveals that he is penniless, but now is not the time to be discussing the sordid subject of money, as Colin's life depends on the warning he must give him. Colin angrily demands to know where his uncle keeps his money, but again the uncle pleads poverty, and begs Colin to listen before it is too late, but then begins coughing and asks Colin to pass him his medicine, which Colin does, but holds it back at the last minute, saying that he will give him his medicine only when he reveals to him where he has hidden his fortune. Silently, while struggling to reach his medicine, the uncle dies at Colins feet, to which Colin merely remarks "damn..".
After dealing with the local doctor (who remarks that it was odd that his uncle always paid for things using very old and valuable gold coins) undertakers, Colin begins tearing the house apart looking for hidden riches, eventually finding a hidden trap door in the bedroom floor, which leads to a cellar. In the cellar, he finds a coffin buried under a thin layer of dirt, so, using a shovel he finds down there as well, he digs it up, opens it and is horrified to see that it contains a headless skeleton and a lblack cat, which promptly runs off back upstairs.
That night, after a restless sleep, he finds himself awoken by the cat meowing. He stares at it, and the cat begins speaking to him telepathically, telling him its name is "Balthazar", and that it wishes to serve him, as it served his uncle, and he will be rewarded so long as he does things which the cat needs to be done. It goes on to explain that his uncle was ungrateful and buried it in the cellar, but now it is free and it is hungry.
He follows the cat as it leads him to the outhouse, where a tramp is asleep on top of some hay bales. The cat compels him to kill the tramp with a pitch fork, Colin resists at first, but the cat uses its magical powers to inflict pain and force him to kill.
Colin wakes up on the sofa, believing he had just had a nightmare, but then he notices the trap door still open. When he goes down into the cellar, he finds the cat sitting next to a freshly turned mound of earth, and the cat tells him he will be rewarded. Colin digs the earth up, and finds the buried underneath is a small chest containing a horde of gold coins. The cat then tells him he must kill again, Colin refuses, but once again he is tortured into agreeing to kill the housekeeper, which he does when she comes running into the house when she sees the tramps mangled corpse outside.
As Colin attempts to dispose of the two bodies by packing them in a large trunk, a policeman arrives and asks if he has seen the missing tramp, he says he hasn't and is simply trying to leave and go home. The policeman offers to help him move the trunk, but then spots blood running out from inside it.
Colin is arrested for murder, and pleads innocence, but his rantings to the local doctor about the cat being evil and living inside his head only serve to make him sound like he is insane. The doctor asks why the heads of the two corpses were missing, and Colin explains that that is what Balthazar eats.
That night, Colin screams that Balthazar has come for him, but the desk sergeant ignores him, until he hears a blood curdling cry of terror and then Colin falls silent. The sergeant rushes to the cell, and finds Colin's headless corpse laid on the bunk.
Later that night, as the sergeant is writing up his report, the cat enters and mesmerises him, just like it did with Colin....
Atropos's shears close and snip a thread. Colin wakes up after seemingly being in a trance, the others ask him if he is alright, and he says it felt like he had been gone for days. He claims that Diabolo had hypnotised him, but Diabolo remarks that he has never met him before in his life, so how could he know anything about him, much less make a story up about him in the few minutes he was mesmerised by the shears. Colin admits that he does indeed have an uncle who lives in the country, and that he was on his way to see him about something but Diabolo swiftly moves on, asking who will be next to learn their destiny...
Story #2 - "Terror over Hollywood"
Carla Hayes (Adams) is a struggling young actress. While helping her room mate Millie prepare for a date with the fading film star Mike Chambers. As Millie takes a shower, Carla allows her one and only "good" dress to get burned by the iron, and then says that she cant lend her any of her clothes because she doesnt have anything smart enough. Mike arrives and Millie hides in the bedroom, while Carla lies and tells him that she has the flu, then she proceeds to go with Mike to the restaurant that he was going to take Millie to.
While ther, Mike spots a famous actor called Bruce Benton, and a hot shot producer, Eddie Storm, sat conversing in a corner. He rudely butts in on their conversation and asks Eddie to come with him so he can buy him a drink and have a little chat while Carla gets to know Bruce a little better.
Mike pleads with Eddie to give him a job in his latest picture, but Eddie refuses and says that Mike is a has been and thus has been "black balled" out of the profession, Mike storms out in a huff and goes to drown his sorrows in a cheap dive bar across town.
Meanwhile, Carla has suitably impressed Bruce with her knowledge of his films, so much so that Eddie offers her the part of second lead in his new movie, alongside Bruce as the main star, she gleefully accepts, but also notes that neither of the men are eating any of the food they have ordered, to which both men make rather odd sounding excuses about wanting to keep their weight down.
Mike, now hopelessly drunk, tells the bartender of the dive bar that he knows things about Eddie Storm and his career, and plans to blackmail him, the bartender gives Mike a free drink and then telephones Eddie, who tells him to "take care of the matter". The bartender drives the inebriated Mike home, and then knocks him out and leaves him locked in his garage with the car engine running.
The next morning Millie reads in the newspaper that Mike died in a freak accident after getting drunk and gassing himself with car exhaust fumes, Carla says she doesnt care as she has been offered a role in a movie alongside Bruce Benton. She apologises half heartedly to Millie for screwing her over, but says that in this business you have to take the chances when you see them. Millie says she doesnt want to become a star that way, but Carla coldly remarks that she will become a star, any way possible.
After a week of filming, Carla attempts to seduce Bruce, someone she has idolised since her teenage years, but he will have none of it, and instead seems more preoccupied with two strange men who are hanging around the set. Carla give Bruce a gold watch as a present, he initially refuses it but she forces him to accept, he then says he has to leave for a meeting with the two men. Eddie arrives and gives Carla a friendly warning to stay away from Bruce, but she casually dismisses it. They go outside and see Bruce getting into a car with the two men and speeding away, Eddie identifies the two men as gangsters, and he and Carla give chase.
Bruce is shot in the head by the gangsters who then dump his body in the woods, when Carla and Eddie find him, Eddie assures her that he will be ok, and that they need to take him to Dr. Heim at Sunset Crest Sanatorium. Carla waits at the sanatoium and eventually Eddie and Dr.Heim enter and say that Bruce will be back at work on monday morning, Carla says that is impossible as Bruce was most definitely dead when they brought him in, but Eddie says that Dr. Heim is a brilliant and gifted surgeon and that Bruce will be fine.
Monday morning comes and Bruce is indeed back on set, without even so much as a trace of any scarring on his head from being shot. In her dressing room, Eddie tells Carla that the man she saw dead was Bruces body double, who owed a lot of money to the local gangsters for gambling debts, and that it was common practice for film stars ot have doubles to help them cope with the increasing workload as they get older. Carla says she doesnt believe him and reveals that she has been doing some investigating of her own, for example she found out that in 1944, Eddie was involved in an accident and had his head and chest crushed, but after being operated on at Dr. Heims private clinic, he now looks so good that he doesnt show a trace of any wounds or scarring, event though his injuries should have killed him. Eddie warns her not to pry any more and leaves, but she vows to get some answers from Bruce when she sees him.
When she confronts Bruce, she tells him that she loves him, but he tells her to leave him alone, she then spots the watch she gave him on his wrist, and realises that something strange is going on, she tries to embrace him but he pushes her away, scratching his face as she falls back. the scratches reveal a layer of metal underneath his skin, and Bruce finally admits the truth, that he, as well as the other actors in the "top ten" are in fact cyborgs, a human brain in a synthetic body, created by Dr. Heim who are all truly immortal, Carla is repulsed by the idea of people giving up their humanity simply to gain fame and fortune, and tries to leave, but then Eddie and Dr. Heim come in and say that because she now knows their secret, she, like Mike before her, must be killed so keep it a secret. Bruce says he has a better idea, instead of killing her, she should become one of them, Eddie and Dr. Heim like the idea, and Dr. Heim says he can operate immediately..Carla screams in terror.
Carla attends the premier of her and Bruce's film, and a reporter asks her if this means that she is to now be considered to be one of the "top ten", she stares emotionless at the camera, while in the background, two fans yell that Carla is "a living doll"....
Atropos' shears close, this time not cutting a thread, Carla looks confused, but Dr. Diabolo explains that what she has just seen is a warning, made of the same stuff that dreams are made of, and that hopefully she has learned something from seeing one possible future. Her cousin Dorothy asks if she is alright, she says she is, and Diabolo asks who will be next, Dorothy says she is not afraid and steps forward....
Story #3 - "Mr. Steinway"
Dorothy Endicott (Ewing) is a music journalist who enters into a relationship with a young concert pianist called Leo. Leo spends most of his time playing his grand piano, which he calls Euterpe, after the muse of music. His manager Maxine chides him over putting Dorothy before his career, as all the late nights and very little practice time are causing his music playing abilities to suffer, Leo responds by telling Maxine she sounds exactly like his mother, and that he loves Dorothy and for the first time in years he actually feels happy for once. As he says this, the pianos lid mysteriously slams shut all by itself.
Dorothy comes round and lets herself into Leos flat, finding him slumped asleep on the pianos keyboard.
She wakes him and says they have been invited round to someones house for dinner, he begins to try and make an excuse to not go but instead agrees. Dorothy sits down and begins playing a few notes on the keys but the lid once again slams down on its own, she only just manages to move her hands out of the way.
Over drinks, Leo tells Dorothy that Euterpe talks to him, and is jealous of his relationship with her, Dorothy thinks he is making a joke but he insists he is serious.
Dorothy goes to see Maxine, and says that Leo will end up having a nervous breakdown unless she cancels his latest tour, but Maxine instead accuses Dorothy of being too possessive, and tells he that she doesn't really love him, she just wants the fame of being married to a famous musician. Dorothy responds by telling Maxine that its obvious that all she is intereste din is making money out of Leos music and working him into the ground, and that she probably encourages his belief in "Euterpe" in order to get him to devote more and more of his time to playing.
She goes round to se eLeo and finds that the piano is playing music at deafening levels, but Leo answers the door too quickly for him to have been playing it, Leo says that the piano was playing itself, but she explains that the piano is an inanimate object made out of wood, metal and ivory, and that it has no life of its own. She says that they need to get away from it all for a while and that he should cancel his concert tour, Leo just looks confused.
Later, she offers him an ultimatum, leave with her, or she will leave him, he says that he will go with her. While he is packing, Dorothy hears the piano playing a funeral dirge, she thinks that it is Leo playing it, but when she goes through into his music room, the piano is gone. She walks up to the stool that remains and the Euterpe pushes the door shut, and then rolls across the floor on its own, eventually pushing her out of a window where she falls to her death, Leo comes in and sits down to play the piano as though nothing has happened.
Atropos' shears snap shut, again not cutting the thread. Carla rushes to comfort her cousin who is clearly upset at what she has seen. Colin asks her what she has seen, but she tells him that all she saw was an illusion. Dr. Diabolo reappears, this time wearing a smart white suit, and says they should feel free to call what they see whatever they want, an illusion, a hallucination or a memory of the future. He then asks who will be next, and one of the remaining men steps forward, saying he is eager to sample Diabolo's wares....
Story #4 - "The man who collected Poe"
Ronald Wyatt (Palance) is an avid collector of works by Edgar Allan Poe. While attending a party held to honour fellow Poe enthusiast Lancelot Canning (Peter Cushing ), he stumbles upon a very rare book, one of only six to exist, and offers to buy it from Canning for a huge amount of money. Canning refuses, not wanting to break up his collection, but offers Wyatt the chance to see his full collection if he wants to visit his house in America.
Wyatt jumps at the opportunity, and is extremely jealous to see that not only does Canning own every edition of every book written by Poe, but also many personal items that belonged to or were used by the author.
Over drinks, Canning explains that his father started the collection many years ago, and that he would have been called a fanatic had he been alive today, he then offers a toast to Poe himself, calling him "the only man who has ever fully understood the mysteries from beyond the grave",which Wyatt happily joins in. Hours pass and Canning has drunk rather a lot and is feeling somewhat drunk, Wyatt tries to light his pipe, but finds he has no matches, so Canning offers him his lighter, which Wyatt steals. Canning says that he has a few more things to show him that he keeps locked in the cellar, and that he should feel priviliged as no one has been down there since his father died.
Canning directs Wyatts attention to a pile of handwritten manuscripts, all of which contain original unpublished stories written by Poe himself. Wyatt cant believe it and says he thought he knew about everything Poe had ever written, including the unpublished works, but the names on the manuscripts he had never heard of before. Wyatt immediately offers to buy some of the manuscripts, but again, Canning refuses to sell. Wyatt then enquires what part in Poes life did an ornate gold box on the table play, Canning says it didn't, but stops Wyatt from looking inside it anyway, before trying to escort Wyatt back upstairs. Wyatt says he wants to see more, and grabs a hand full of pages from another table, noting that the paper they're written on looks like new, with a quick inspection of the watermark showing that the paper was made in 1966. He puts two and two together and accuses Canning of creating almost perfect counterfeits of work supposedly done by Poe, but Canning worriedly insists that the work was not written by him, instead, he says that the works were created by the gold box Wyatt had looked at earlier.
Wyatt syas that when he asked Canning earlier about the box, he said it had nothing to do with Poes life, but Canning corrects him, it indeed had nothing to do with his LIFE, but it did have something to do with his DEATH. He explains that his grandfather was a grave robber, and one of the graves he opened was that of Edgar Allan Poe, where he collected the dust that the body had decomposed into and placed it in the gold box. Wyatt opens the box and finds it empty, calling Canning a liar, but Canning goes on to explain that his granfather was not only a grave robber, he was also a student of the occult, and managed to reanimate Poes remains, and thus, the unpublished manuscripts that Wyatt hold in his hand are in fact genuine articles, written by Poe himself, who is still alive.Wyatt dismisses Cannings words as drunken twaddle, but Canning insists that he put the manuscripts back and come back upstairs with him. Wyatt notices that on Cannings keyring is a thrid key which he has not yet used, and demands to know if it is the key to an as yet unopened door, Canning says it isnt but Wyatt seizes the keys and tries to unlock the door. During the struggle as Canning tries to stop him, Wyatt grabs a candlestick and Beats Canning to death with it, saying that Canning will not stop him from seeing "all the treasures".
He enters the room, and finds, hidden within behind a secret panel, the immobile and silent form of Edgar Allan Poe. Wyatt introduces himself, and states that he wishes to help Poe publish all of his new works, but Poe says he only wants to die, as his discovery of all the secrets of the unknown led to him making a pact with the devil for eternal life, and the only way he can escape satans grasp is for another soul to take his place in hell. Wyatt asks if there is any other way he can help, and Poe tells him that if he burns him, then that would do the trick. Wyatt agrees to help his idol to die, but only in return for knowing his secrets. Poe agrees, and Wyatt sets fire to the room with his candle. Poe gives a chilling warning, that the person who releases someone from the devils mastery becomes a slave of satan themselves, and that Wyatt is now trapped.
Wyatt walks through the burning house, clutching Poes unpublished manuscripts, as Poe can be heard laughing.
Atropos's shears snap shut, cutting a thread. Wyatt laughs as he looks at Diabolo and says "its you isnt it?". The other man in the group demands to know what is going on, and who Diabolo really is. Diabolo says he is well known for his excursions into the minds of man, but this answer angers him. Diabolo says that it is his turn to gaze into the shears of fate, but he refuses, instead grabbing the shears and stabbing Diabolo to death. Colin, Carla and Dorothy flee in terror, only Wyatt remains, calmly smoking his pipe whilst standing in the entrance way.
When he thinks everyone has gone, Diabolo starts laughing, and congratulates the other man on a well acted out show, before standing up. Wyatt says he enjoyed the performance, but wanted to hang around to make a deal with Diabolo. Diabolo asks Wyatt for a light, and he produces Cannings lighter from his pocket, Diabolo grunts in agreement, and the smiling Wyatt leaves.
Diabolo grins as he walks over to replace the shears in the hands of the figure of Atropos. He muses to himself that he does occasionally lose one or two doing it this way, but its only sporting to give people a chance to escape his domain, he then turns to the camera, having sported horns, a pointed beard and a moustache and says "but will you?" .......