Search the Cinema Head Cheese Archives!

April 11, 2014

Movie Review: The Black Torment (1964)

By Greg Goodsell

Directed by Robert Hartford-Davis

Buy Black Torment on DVD

Eighteenth-century aristocrat Sir Richard Fordyke (John Turner) returns to his country estate in Devon with blushing bride Elizabeth (Heather Sears). They are met with an extremely chilly reception, as the nearby villagers are dealing with the rape and murder of farm girl, which with her dying breath declared Fordyke as her killer. This simply can’t be true, as Fordyke has just spent the last three months in London with his new wife – but skeletons, literally and figuratively begin to emerge from the family’s closet. Elizabeth learns that her husband’s previous wife, Anne, leapt to her death from a high window as a mysterious ghostly woman in white is seen haunting the grounds, chanting “murderer!” Even more illogical things begin to occur around the newlyweds. A leather craftsman comes forward to insist that Fordyke ordered a new saddle in person while he was ostensibly in London, with his dead wife’s name stitched upon it. Is our hero mad, or being haunted from malevolent spirits from beyond the grave? Bodies pile up, and the truth is shockingly revealed.

While seasoned viewers will figure out early on what’s occurring – the sister of the wife who committed suicide remains ensconced at the estate, for reasons that later become abundantly clear -- The Black Torment is a fine attempt at capturing the Gothic Hammer horror style from a small, independent company. The film’s modest budget is well concealed by lavish costumes and sets, coupled with some impressive cinematography.

There are some notable debits. Lead actor John Turner, who would later have a long run on British television, shouts most of his lines with monotonous certainty, simultaneously denying accusations of madness while bellowing like a lunatic. There’s also the scene where a serving wench is throttled by the mad killer a mere two seconds after her boyfriend leaves the stable after some chaste canoodling. Major story inconsistencies abound as well, such as when the guilty party is later revealed to be a drooling moron – who otherwise had to be highly skilled in order to pull off some of the stunts to indict the hero prior to his return!

What might initially put viewers off is the reputation of director Robert Hartford-Davis, whose output afterwards was highly inconsistent. Hartford-Davis would later helm the boring-beyond-endurance Incense of the Damned (aka Bloodsuckers, 1972) and the crass, ultra-violent retread of Les yeux sans visage (1960) Corruption (aka Carnage, 1968), the most notable grease stain on actor Peter Cushing’s otherwise distinguished career. His direction in The Black Torment is highly serviceable, that in spite of long stretches of dialogue maintains audience interest throughout. Hartford-Davis would try his hand at blaxploitation with Black Gunn (1972) before passing away suddenly in 1977 at the age of 53.

As to the presentation from Redemption – well, they’re getting close to being my least favorite producer of cult DVDs. The transfer of The Black Torment is extremely faded, and a nighttime exterior horse chase through the woods resembles nothing less than two white handkerchiefs fluttering across a black screen. Extras include a lengthy on-camera interview with director Hartford-Davis, which spools lazily by unedited, photo claps and all. Those who want to share this film with younger members of the family as an example of a stately, restrained thriller are advised to stay clear of the coming attractions section. When Redemption isn’t sharing forgotten rarities with unserviceable transfers, they insist on flooding the marketplace with shot-on-video dreck involving mutilated nuns and schoolgirls, two trumpeted by the trailers included on this disc. Caveat emptor –

-- Greg Goodsell

No comments:

Post a Comment