Monday, 26 December 2011

The Black Torment (1964)

The Black Torment is an almost forgotten 1964 British gothic horror flick, which is a great pity because it’s a good deal of fun.

It was produced by Tony Tenser who later went on to found Tigon British Film Productions, a company responsible for some of the most interesting British horror movies of the 60s and early 70s.

The film is set in 18th century England. Sir Richard Fordyke (John Turner) returns to his ancestral home with his new bride, the Lady Elizabeth (Heather Sears). Strange rumours have been circulating that he has been seen in the local area even though he has been away in London for some months. Strange and rather sinister rumours involving assaults on young women. And there are reports that he has been been seen being pursued on horseback by his deceased first wife, the Lady Anne.

The atmosphere at his home is somewhat strained. His father has had a stroke and cannot speak. He communicates in sign language, but the only person who can understand him is the sister of Sir Richard’s first wife. Anne Fordyke committed suicide by throwing herself out of a window and there are those who blame Sir Richard for her death. Sir Richard has the reputation of possessing a passionate and rather volatile temperament, something that is not improved by the rumours surrounding him.

The strange sightings of Sir Richard continue after his return, leading to much confusion and suspicion. Can the fiery nobleman be in two places at the same time? Is the Fordyke manor haunted, and if so, who or what is doing the haunting?

The movie has an appealingly manic quality to it, a quality that is increased by the tendency of virtually all the actors to overact outrageously. There’s an atmosphere of suppressed hysteria. Compared to other British gothic horror movies of its era, especially Hammer’s, it has a much more overheated feel.

The acting is terrific, as long as you like completely over-the-top performances (which I have no problem with). John Turner is the worst offender, or the most enjoyably excessive, depending on your point of view.

Director Robert Hartford-Davis had a fairly brief and uneven career which included Incense for the Damned (AKA Bloodsuckers), a movie that has few defenders but which I thought was quite interesting even if not totally successful.

Production values are quite high showing that Hammer weren’t the only ones able to make handsome period pictures on very low budgets. There’s also a fairly impressive sword fight. And there are some genuine chills.

On the whole it’s entertaining hokum and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Odeon have released this one as an all-regions PAL DVD in their Best of British series. It’s unfortunately fullframe and without extras but the picture quality is fine and it’s inexpensive.

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