THE BLACK TORMENT (1964) Reviews and overview

  

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‘Terror creeps from the fringe of fear to the pit of panic’

The Black Torment is a 1964 British gothic horror film about a lord who returns to his manor in the 18th century with his new wife. However, he hears rumours that he had already secretly returned and had committed several murders. Has he lost his mind, or is something dark afoot?

Directed and produced by Robert Hartford-Davis from a screenplay co-written by Derek Ford and Donald Ford. Also produced by Michael Klinger and Tony Tenser.

The Compton Films-Tekli British Productions movie stars Heather Sears, John Turner, Ann Lynn, Peter Arne, Norman Bird, Raymond Huntley, Annette Whiteley, Francis De Wolff, Joseph Tomelty and Patrick Troughton.

Reviews:

” …it mostly works even though it completely blows the “mystery” during the first act. I think the secret to that success is the filmmakers’ apparent determination to play every riff in the gothic repertoire that was remotely compatible with the basic premise, to the extent that I quickly found myself relating to The Black Torment less as an individual horror movie than as a how-to guide to its genre.” 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting

“All is revealed in the contrived climax — which plays out like a Gothic version of a “Scooby-Doo” episode. The filmmakers tried to punch things up with a plethora of cheap spook-house gimmicks but fail to disguise the threadbare plot.” All Movie

“The cutting is predictable, the sound grossly-emphatic, the colour ugly and the tension non-existent. Sears, so effective in Fisher’s The Phantom of the Opera (1962), is miscast as Turner’s new bride.” Phil Hardy (editor), The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror

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…” Cinema Head Cheese

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“Poorly acted and directed, there’s little to watch except some attractive location work.” Alan Frank, The Horror Film Handbook

“Overall, not a bad effort and a reasonably decent way to kill an hour and a half, but far from the unsung classic that some have made it out to be. The story does manage to mingle the natural and supernatural in interesting ways and the more horrific aspects of the film are handled very nicely. It borrows a bit too much from Hitchcock’s Rebecca…” Rock! Shock! Pop!

The Black Torment is a wonderfully engaging little play that has exquisite shocks and an intelligent script working in its favor. The film is particularly successful at never showing its hand; right up until the tense climax, the viewer can never be certain of just what is plaguing our heroes before it shows its true face. Turner is great as the anguished lead.” The Terror Trap

“A ludicrous horror film with no style or flair … Robert Hartford-Davis … makes Terence Fisher look like Eisenstein and Feuillade rolled into one.” The Times

“This is a somewhat tedious gothic […] Average script and direction fail to spark the material.” TV Guide

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Plot:

At night, a terrified young woman Lucy Judd (Edina Ronay) runs in panic through the woods. She becomes cornered by a figure in black who puts his hands around her throat.

In the daytime, a horse-drawn carriage containing Sir Richard Fordyke (Turner) and his new bride Elizabeth (Sears), is en route from London. The occupants meet her new father-in-law (Joseph Tomelty) for the first time. Elizabeth is nervous and anxious, hoping to make a good impression but worried that she will not pass muster.

Sir Richard assures her that his father will love her just as he does, but warns her that his father is “a shadow of the man he once was”, having been crippled by a stroke and now able only to communicate by sign language. A complicating factor is that the only person who can interpret his signing is the devoted Diane (Lynn), sister to Sir Richard’s first wife Anne who died by her own hand four years previously after becoming deranged over her inability to bear a child.

On arrival in his home village, Sir Richard, having expected a warm welcome after his absence and marriage, finds himself treated with rudeness and barely disguised suspicion by his tenants such as Black John, the local blacksmith. His coachman Tom (Derek Newark) asks a villager the reason for the sudden hostility towards his previously well-liked master and is told that shocking events have been taking place, culminating in the murder of Lucy who, before she died, screamed out Sir Richard’s name. Sir Richard and Elizabeth arrival at Fordyke Hall is met by an oddly stiff and formal welcome from the staff and Diane.

When challenged, steward Seymour (Peter Arne) tells Sir Richard of wild rumours circulating in the village about Lucy’s last words. Sir Richard points out that he was probably in London when the attack happened, but Seymour states that logic cannot assuage the villagers’ primitive suspicions and talk of witchcraft, particularly since enquiries have established there were no strangers in the vicinity at the time.

Events quickly take a sinister turn as a copy of Anne’s suicide note is anonymously delivered to Elizabeth, the window from which Anne jumped becomes mysteriously unbolted at night and Sir Richard sees what he believes to be the ghost of his dead wife in the garden.

Meanwhile, Mary, one of the housemaids, after enjoying an illicit nocturnal frolic in a barn with her fiancé, is strangled to death, like Lucy (but not carnally assaulted). A stable hand tells Sir Richard that one of his horses is being taken out and ridden at night by an unknown woman, and a saddle inscribed with Anne’s name is delivered. The saddler insists that Sir Richard ordered it in person, despite Sir Richard’s insistence that he has been nowhere near the village for three months.

Colonel Wentworth (Raymond Huntley) informs Sir Richard that there are numerous reports of his having been seen riding around the neighbourhood at night during his supposed absence in London, pursued by Anne who keeps shouting the word “murderer”. Those who have seen the spectacle are speaking of witchcraft and devilry.

Unable to explain the strange goings-on, Sir Richard starts to doubt his own sanity and his marriage comes under strain as Elizabeth also struggles to make sense of events. When Sir Richard again sees the ghost in the garden at night, he mounts his horse and gives chase, only to find himself being pursued on horseback by a white-clad Anne. He is apprehended by the local militia but is let go. He returns to Fordyke Hall, where Elizabeth insists he left her only moments before.

Believing she too has turned against him and is now somehow involved in the plot to incriminate him or drive him mad, he attempts to strangle her, managing to stop himself from killing her just in time. Ultimately he manages to uncover the real culprits and their motives, but cannot prevent another murder from being committed, and has to take part in a vicious sword fight before he can reveal the truth.

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Cast and characters:

Heather Sears … Lady Elizabeth Fordyke
John Turner … Sir Richard Fordyke
Ann Lynn … Diane
Peter Arne … Seymour
Norman Bird … Harris
Raymond Huntley … Colonel John Wentworth
Annette Whiteley … Mary
Francis De Wolff … Black John (as Francis de Wolff)
Joseph Tomelty … Sir Giles Fordyke
Patrick Troughton … Ostler – Regis
Roger Croucher … Apprentice – Brian
Charles Houston … Jenkins
Derek Newark … Coachman – Tom
Kathy McDonald … Kate (as Kathy MacDonald)
Jack Taylor … Soldier
Bill Cummings … Soldier
Frank Hayden … Soldier
Edina Ronay … Lucy Judd

Filming locations:

The Vyne, Basingstoke, Hampshire, England (exterior and interior of Fordyke Hall)
Shepperton Studios, Shepperton, Surrey, England (studio)

Filming dates:

From 10th February 1964

Censorship:

The opening forest murder was censored by the British Board of Film Censorship (BBFC) for its 1964 and 1970 UK cinema releases. These cuts seem to have persisted into all home video releases since, albeit with the rating reducing from ‘X’, ‘AA’, ’15’ down to ’12’.

Trailer:

DVD Extras clip:

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