Torture Garden was only the second of the Amicus compendiums, following Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965).
The framing device of the movie is a strange circus sideshow run by a showman named Dr Diabolo (Burgess Meredith).
Diabolo entices five curious patrons into a back room where he promises to show them the true meaning of fear. All they have to do is look through the “shears of fate” held by an effigy of the female deity Atropos (Clytie Jessop) – The Goddess Of Destiny.
In anthology tradition, we then segue into each segment whenever the characters take him up on this offer, and catch a glimpse of what might await them in the future.
The first story is called ‘Enoch’. Colin Williams (Michael Bryant) is a freeloading playboy with no moral compass who discovers that his sick Uncle Roger (Maurice Denham) – who is obviously wealthy as he pays for everything with gold coins – is close to death.
Colin allows his uncle to die by hiding his medicine and then proceeds to look for the gold coins. His search takes him to the large cellar where he finds a coffin containing a dead body and a cat that is very much alive, named Balthazar.
Balthazar is no ordinary cat, taking control of Colin’s mind and requiring nefarious deeds to be undertaken in exchange for gold coins.
‘Terror Over Hollywood’ features Carla Hayes (Beverly Adams) – a young ambitious actress who sabotages her friend’s assignation with a hotshot producer so she can take her place.
In the hip nightclub “Danny’s” Carla meets producer Eddie Storm (John Phillips) and the perpetually youthful leading man Bruce Benton (Robert Hutton). These Hollywood types seem to be real-life Peter Pans. What can their secret be?
The third story is called ‘Mr Steinway’ and revolves around a killer piano. Journalist Dorothy Endicott (Barbara Ewing) visits the home of shy and reclusive concert pianist Leo Winston (John Standing) to write a piece about him.
The pair soon become close and romance blossoms – except Leo’s piano seems to be haunted and takes an instant dislike to Dorothy.
The final – and best – segment of the film is ‘The Man Who Collected Poe’ with Jack Palance as an Edgar Allan Poe collector named Ronald Wyatt.
Wyatt is more than excited to meet Lancelot Canning (Peter Cushing) as Canning has a very impressive collection of Poe material including the holy grail of a hitherto unpublished manuscript. But Canning’s biggest secret awaits for the curious Wyatt to discover.
The film ultimately returns to Diabolo and his patrons for a somewhat predictable wraparound wrapup.
Amicus really found their niche with these anthology horror film and made the subgenre their own in the late sixties and early seventies.