The Black Torment
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|The Black Torment|
British original poster
|Directed by||Robert Hartford-Davis|
|Produced by||Tony Tenser|
|Written by||Derek Ford|
|Music by||Robert Richards|
|Edited by||Alastair McIntyre|
The Black Torment is a 1964 British gothic horror film, directed by Robert Hartford-Davis and starring John Turner, Heather Sears and Ann Lynn. The film is set in 18th-century Devon and was scripted by brothers Donald and Derek Ford. In terms of plot and setting it shares many similarities with the Hammer Horror productions of the 1960s, but was made by a smaller studio, Compton Films.
The film opens with an obviously terrified young woman Lucy Judd (Edina Ronay) running in panic through a nocturnal wood as the opening credits roll. She is finally tracked down and cornered by a figure in black who puts his hands around her throat.
The scene then switches to daytime and a horse-drawn carriage containing Sir Richard Fordyke (Turner) and his new bride Elizabeth (Sears), who is being brought from London to 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 is bewildered by his reception from his tenants. Having expected a warm welcome after his absence and marriage, instead he finds himself treated with rudeness and barely disguised suspicion. 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 rape and murder of Lucy who, before she died, screamed out Sir Richard's name. Sir Richard and Elizabeth come to Fordyke Hall and receive 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 provably in London when the attack happened, but Seymour states that logic cannot assuage the primitive suspicions of the villagers, particularly as enquiries have established that 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, a maid in the house, after enjoying an illicit nocturnal frolic in a barn, is murdered in the same way as Lucy. A stablehand 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 too struggles to make sense of events. When he sees the ghost in the garden again at night, he mounts his horse and gives chase, only to find himself being pursued instead by Anne in exactly the manner previously alleged by his tenants. He is apprehended by the local militia and returned to Fordyke Hall, where Elizabeth is insistent that he left her only moments before. Believing that 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 plot culprits and their motives, but cannot prevent another murder being committed, and has to take part in a vicious sword fight before he can reveal the truth.
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