Black Torment Review

The Film

The misfortune of Robert Hartford-Davis' period chiller is that you can pretty much guess the plot, twists and all, after about 15 minutes. This is a great pity as this is a very interesting attempt to deliver a gothic thriller, and it is a movie which straddles the line between horror and period drama with some success. The accommodation of these two very British genres has never been easy. Hammer's solution was to splash on the blood, and then later to camp it up, and Amicus often simply failed such as with the painfully dull And Now the Screaming Starts.

Here the approach is one of focusing on the drama whilst implying the supernatural. Eventually the story will work through this tension, much like a whodunnit, but for the most part the possibility of spooky goings-on gives the film some much needed air to breathe. The setup is that the young lord, Sir Richard, has returned to his home with a new bride, and he encounters a lot of suspicious villagers who say that he has been up to no good with the young virgins of his estates whilst he claims that he was miles away.
With accusations of rape and beastly murder, his tenants are revolting(sorry!) and he has to rely on the local militia to keep him and his new belle safe. Echoes of Rebecca enter the backstory with a dead first wife, and his father, rendered mute by a stroke, seems to know more than he is able to tell through his curious sign language and his comely interpreter, the first wife's sister. Sir Richard pleads his innocence but his efforts to prove it only confirm the suspicions of his accusers. Taunted by visitations from his dead wife, will madness or guilt bring the newly-wed noble down?

The mystery of the drama is counter balanced by some action in the guise of a couple of horse chases and a concluding swordfight, and the leading cast are supported by the likes of Patrick Troughton and Raymond Huntley. There is good use of locations, and this is very competent if unoriginal stuff. There are some moments where imagination is allowed to run more freely, and these show the kind of inspiration that the director was to bring to his later horror The Fiend - the opening stalking sequence is very effective and particularly reminiscent of the similar scenes in his 1972 film. I also found myself enjoying one early scene which is shot from the perspective of Sir Richard's mute and incapacitated father as it serves the purpose of setting up this unlikely man up as a suspect for later events.
In the film's conclusion, there is a fair bit of flair with the scarier moments and the desire to serve up ghosts, swordfights, and some just desserts attests well to a film that is working hard to please its audience. A modern viewer will feel that they have seen the conclusion coming but I did find myself entertained despite this, and the solidity, coupled with a brief running time and good tempo, mean that I can claim to have enjoyed this earnest attempt at a costume chiller.

Black Torment is an orthodox attempt at making a period mystery which does its job well enough.

Technical Specs

Salvation offer Black Torment on a region free dual layer disc with a transfer that shows some degradation in terms of washed out colours and bleached whites. These issues are most apparent in exterior shots during the daytime but most of the film is not shot that way and the image quality is sharp and not bad for such a minor and aged film. In particular, the edges have been left to appear relatively natural and contrast and colour boosting do not seem to have been applied. The result is an interlaced and slightly windowboxed transfer of reasonable quality, but owners of the existing UK disc may want to compare their image with the screenshots offered here.
The single audio track is recorded at the rate of 224kbits and there are no subtitles. There is very mild background noise and minor distortion on the dialogue in some scenes, yet this is a very clear track with good detail given the limitations of the source.

Special Features

The disc offers sober menus which suit the main film, if not the other salvation trailers included here. Chief among the extras is a rough cut of an interview with the director carried out by a seemingly disinterested Bernard Braden. Braden clearly wants to ask probing questions about the British film industry and Hartford-Davis comes across as trying hard to respond positively. Braden asks questions which strain for a point and grope for profundity, and the effect is rather like convoluted questioner Garth Crooks asking journeyman footballer Gary Neville his views on Wittgenstein.

Stretches of the score, accompanied by horses hooves, are the soundtrack for two picture gallery slideshows which last just over a minute each. One shows black and white stills from the film, and the other shows pressbooks and poster art.

Summary

The inclusion of the interview with the director probably gives this all region release the edge over the Odeon disc available in the UK. For fans of Brithorror this will be an interesting acquisition.

Film
7 out of 10
Video
6 out of 10
Audio
7 out of 10
Extras
5 out of 10
Overall

6

out of 10

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