Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, and enter the carnival sideshow of Doctor Diablo (Burgess Meredith), a fellow who knows about the depths of man's inhumanity to man and has just the attraction to chill the unwary visitor. When five punters are shown around his tent, they are impressed with his electric chair, but he says he has more than that to show them if they're brave enough to try it - and if they have five pounds to pay. They all agree, and are soon assembled in front of a dummy of a fortune teller who will give them all a glimpse into a terrible future...
The second of Amicus's horror anthologies had a decent enough pedigree, with a solid cast and tales based on the short stories of a master of the art, Robert Bloch. Yet it's not as fondly recalled as some of those in the series, perhaps because what is carried off on the page looks somewhat absurd on the screen, especially with the limited budget that this studio was working with. There were four of these tales, not including the wraparound one, and they were all equally silly, but at least in the final one it was played to the hilt by two old pros and saw the film end on a high.
First up to see into his future is Colin (Michael Bryant), and a strange thing it is, with him turning up at the cottage of his ailing uncle (Maurice Denham, making his short scene count) who he scares into a fatal heart attack when he's forcing him to tell of the whereabouts of a fortune supposedly left by a witch. This resolves itself into a narrative concerned with a black cat psychically goading Colin to kill people so it can eat their heads, and with no explanation why, the result is baffling.
Next up is little better, with aspiring actress Carla (Beverly Adams) wangling her way into a dinner date with movie world movers and shakers, only to find out that once she's a success, she will have to undergo a sinister treatment to ensure she stays looking young. Again, difficult to swallow, but that's nothing compared to the following one, where Dorothy (Barbara Ewing) romances concert pianist John Standing but makes his possessed piano jealous in the process; the finale of this one has to be seen to be believed, and is often the best remembered part due to how ridiculous it is.
But they save the best for last, with Jack Palance portraying an obsessive fan of Edgar Allan Poe with self-confessed mania who invites his way into the life of another Poe collector, Peter Cushing. It's a pleasure to see these stars in what is essentially a two-hander, verbally sparring with each other as Palance attempts to work out what Cushing is hiding behind the doors of his vaults. This one is no less daft, but in its favour the two leads have a lot of fun with it and you'll be wishing director Freddie Francis had used this tone with the other instalments. Also worth noting in the gleefully amusing stakes is Meredith, hamming it up and easing you through the potentially flat linking bits. Not a classic by any means, but that last half hour is worth waiting for. Music by Don Banks and James Bernard.
A much respected cinematographer for decades, British Francis made his way up from camera operator on films like The Small Back Room, Outcast of the Islands and Beat the Devil to fully fledged cinematographer on such films as Room at the Top, Sons and Lovers (for which he won his first Oscar), Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and The Innocents (a masterpiece of his art).
Late in his career, he returned to cinematography with David Lynch's The Elephant Man, The French Lieutenant's Woman, Dune, Glory (winning his second Oscar), the Cape Fear remake and The Straight Story, his final work and one of his greatest.