Friday, 13 March 2015

The Black Torment (1964)

"British Gothic does Italian Gothic trying to be Hammer Gothic and ends up Potty Gothic. From the director of CORRUPTION" 

Robert Hartford-Davis. Now there’s a name to conjure with from the annals of British exploitation cinema. A director who created an unrivalled body of work, working in many genres but always managing to be different and somehow...peculiar. When he tried comedy we got the strange THE SANDWICH MAN (1966), and his musical GONKS GO BEAT (1965) is bizarre in the extreme. Perhaps it’s not surprising that such a quirky director made more horror films than anything else, but even there the results were nothing like straightforward. A ‘sexy thriller’ based on LES YEUX SANS VISAGE became Peter Cushing sawing off a prostitute’s head in CORRUPTION, and his satire on the more extreme aspects of certain religions turned into Tony Beckley hanging women on meathooks, while Patrick Magee did even more eye rolling than usual, in THE FIEND. In a supreme act of oddness, he even took his name off what is arguably his best picture, a psychedelic sexed up version of Simon Raven’s novel Doctors Wear Scarlet that went out under the superb title INCENSE FOR THE DAMNED (1970).

Edina Ronay reconsiders a possible career in the world of fashion

And so we come to THE BLACK TORMENT, recently released by Odeon Entertainment on Blu-ray (the DVD came out a while ago). It’s an early Hartford-Davis, but the personal stamp is definitely there. Many of his frequent collaborators are also along for the ride, including screenwriters Donald and Derek Ford (CORRUPTION, LEGEND OF SPIDER FOREST), director of photography Peter THE ASPHYX Newbrook, and composer Robert - later Bobby - Richards. 

He's at it again! Somebody stop him!

In rural HammerLand, Sir Richard Fordyke (John Turner) returns to Fordyke Manor with his new bride Elizabeth (Heather Sears from Hammer’s PHANTOM OF THE OPERA). But all is not well. In a pre-credits sequence, someone with no respect for female pulchritude has chased busty Edina Ronay through a forest and strangled her. It turns out she is not the only young lady to have suffered at the hands of a rapist and murderer at loose in the area. It is claimed that Richard himself has been seen lurking in the bushes, even though he claims to have been in London. Is he going mad? Is someone else trying to drive him mad? Will there be a climax featuring every cliched gothic trope going, including a ghostly woman in white, a headless corpse in a wheelchair, and an action-packed sword fight climaxing in a fall from a window and a spectacular impaling? Oh yes indeedy!

Gothic potty

Tony Tenser and Michael GET CARTER Klinger were the producers of THE BLACK TORMENT, and they obviously desperately wanted to be a Hammer film, but because of Robert Hartford-Davis it just isn’t. Instead, it comes across as a more sedate, colourful Gainsborough-type picture punctuated with sleazy murders and culminating in plenty of delirious daftness. Imagine THE WICKED LADY crossed with FRIDAY THE 13TH and you’re getting there. In fact, rather than a Hammer film, THE BLACK TORMENT feels like a British version of an Italian version of a Hammer film, but that just makes it all the more entertaining and really rather unique.

Too much Gothic is never enough in this film

Odeon’s transfer of THE BLACK TORMENT onto Blu-ray is jaw-dropping. I have never seen this film looking so good, and what was intended to be a rudimentary skim through a film I’m familiar with turned into a full viewing simply because I was so impressed with the quality of the image, full of richness of colour in what has always looked a very washed out film indeed. 
Extras are minimal. The Hartford-Davis interview on the Region 1 Redemption disc hasn’t been carried over, but we do get over 30 minutes of new interview material with cast members Annette Whiteley and Roger Graham which is actually better as they have behind the scenes stories to tell us.
THE BLACK TORMENT is a very minor British horror film, and a fairly minor entry on the CV of an often barking mad British horror director. I never thought I would end up recommending it so strongly, but this print is gorgeous, and the climax of the film so completely ‘Gothic Potty’ that everyone should go and watch it now. 

Odeon Entertainment released the Gothic Pottiness that is Robert Hartford-Davis' THE BLACK TORMENT on Region B Blu-ray on 2nd February 2015. It's also available on DVD.

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