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  Black Torment, The The Man Who Haunted Himself
Year: 1964
Director: Robert Hartford-Davis
Stars: Heather Sears, John Turner, Ann Lynn, Peter Arne, Norman Bird, Raymond Huntley, Annette Whiteley, Francis De Wolff, Joseph Tomelty, Patrick Troughton, Roger Croucher, Charles Houston, Derek Newark, Kathy McDonald, Edina Ronay
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Sir Richard Fordyke (John Turner) is an English nobleman who is returning home after a few years away to his country house with a new bride to show off, Lady Elizabeth (Heather Sears). He is keenly looking forward to getting back and meeting everyone he grew up with, and she finds his enthusiasm infectious, only there appears to be a problem, as when they go into the village along the way Sir Richard's old friend the blacksmith (Francis De Wolff) is inexplicably cold towards him. He is baffled, but continues on to the house only to find the staff there are treating him with an equal chill, and it's only when the housemaster Seymour (Peter Arne) takes him to one side and explains there has been a rape and murder recently that he understands...

Except there's one aspect which makes no sense to him: as the victim lay dying, she managed to blurt out a name, Sir Richard's name, which has made him culpable in the eyes of the locals in spite of him having a cast iron alibi, hundreds of miles away at the time of the incident. It was really the mystery angle that was strongest in The Black Torment, which appeared to be an attempt at muscling in on Hammer's act with a British Gothic from the combination of local exploitation filmmakers Robert Hartford-Davis and brothers Donald and Derek Ford, that latter pair soon to make their mark in the growing sphere of sex comedies that burgeoned in the seventies. Here they settled for a tried and tested formula.

From the beginning, The Black Torment seems a little too staid and unremarkable for a supposed horror movie, with a plethora of scenes of characters standing about relating the details of the mystery to one another, growing something of a slog. Yet stick with it, because the plot was turning the screws on the tension, and by the end the mood had become positively berserk as Sir Richard starts feeling the pressure - is someone trying to drive him insane, or is he genuinely living a double life? The answer to that was obvious should you care to accept the explanation that fits early on, and assuming you can believe the plot would go to that conclusion with a straight face. But it isn't a straight face it winds up with, it's a face contorted in a scream.

Or two, or three. The cast of characters included Joseph Tomelty as Sir Richard's now-disabled father who since a stroke has been forced to communicate in sign language that only the sister, Diane (Ann Lynn), of Sir Richard's deceased first wife can understand. Also showing up were Raymond Huntley as the local Colonel who suspects him of not one, but two murders as the story draws on, and guaranteeing interest from Doctor Who fans, Patrick Troughton looking after the horses, though he doesn't do much else of interest, alas. But while Sears was top-billed as the understanding to a fault wife, this was really a showcase for Turner's brand of thespianism, not one he often got in movies, which explains his manner of taking the role by the scruff of the neck.

Or indeed the throat, in light of his apparent alter ego's habit of strangling his victims with his bare hands. As if confirming the audience's suspicions that the aristocrats of the land were raving mad, this plays out with Sir Richard's sanity chipped away and everyone else joining him on a downward spiral into mania as the facts just won't add up, especially when he actually does appear to be in two places at once. Is there a supernatural explanation, could there be a curse on the family? That would be about as reasonable as the explanation we do get, but that was part of the fun; you couldn't call this a classic by any means, yet if you found the Gothic cinema of the twentieth century an attractive proposition, and very moreish with it, then you couldn't afford to dismiss The Black Torment, even if it was derivative with both eyes on the box office rather than the art of the thing. Turner's reaction when confronted with the terror of his situation was one to treasure, and he proved himself no mean swashbuckler in the grand finale to a movie worth persevering with. Music by Robert Richards.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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