Director: Bert I. Gordon
Warner Archive Collection

Richard Carlson (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON) is TORMENTED by the ghost of a clingy lover in this alternately poetic and silly ghost pic from Bert I. Gordon, out on manufactured-on-demand DVD-R from Warner Archive.

Jazz pianist/composer Tom Stewart (Carlson) is moving up in the world: he’s got an upcoming concert at Carnegie Hall and he’s engaged to wed young Meg Hubbard (Lugene Sanders, TV’s THE LIFE OF RILEY), daughter of the island’s wealthiest resident. The only obstacle standing in his way is singer Vi Mason (Juli Reding, MISSION IN MOROCCO), an old flame who has no intentions of letting him go. They secretly meet on top of the island’s derelict lighthouse and she threatens him with incriminating love letters. When Vi leans against the rotten railing and ends up hanging from the ledge, Tom hesitates in helping her and she falls to her death. Reasoning to himself that it was an accident, Tom retrieves her body from the surf the next day only for it to decay into seaweed before his eyes. From that point on, Vi makes spectral presence to Tom as she vows to prevent him from marrying Meg.

Had it been directed by anyone other than Bert I. Gordon – aka Mr. B.I.G. – TORMENTED might have been a neat overtly supernatural twist on the film noir genre with Carlson’s bachelor pinning his future happiness on a marriage while being haunted by reminders of a possessive former love from his supposedly less respectable past (i.e. jazz sleaze). Vi’s ghostly presence is apparent first as a series of footsteps in the sand following Tom and Meg down the beach (washed away by the waves after Tom sees them), and then a cold chill and clumps of seaweed – common signs of a haunting on the island according to Tom’s blind landlady (Lillian Adams, THE WILD AND THE INNOCENT) – the scent of her perfume, and her singing voice on a jazz record (actually that of The Sunnysiders’ Margie Rayburn singing Gordon regular Albert Glasser’s theme song) that keeps finding itself in Tom’s player. Soon, however, she turns up as a disembodied voice and then in traditional transparent superimpositions. Gordon himself supervised the visual effects with his wife Flora, and the camera quickly veer towards the laughable with a black velvet-wrapped disembodied hand and later Vi’s nagging head (substituted by an obvious mannequin head when Carlson makes a grab at it, in a shot that must have provoked howls of laughter back in 1960).

A bigger problem than the special effects is the storytelling which lacks any real subtlety that might have actually had the audience questioning if it’s all in Tom’s mind (he wouldn’t be the first or last technically blameless protagonist haunted by his own inability or unwillingness to do the right thing). That said, I don’t think it was deserving of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 slagging, and the final scene is perfect. The cast take it seriously though, with Carlson sympathetic as the guilt-ridden hero even during the climax when his desperation causes him to turn against his only friend. Reding is indeed entertaining and alluring as the ghost (the rest of her career would consist of TV guest roles amidst her extremely busy and tumultuous personal life). At first it seems that Gordon’s daughter Susan (PICTURE MOMMY DEAD) was cast as the usual cutesy kid character – here as Meg’s little sister Sandy – but she actually gives a strong performance; and the strain the haunting puts on the relationship between Sandy and Tom – whom she idolizes – is far more compelling than the one between Tom and his fiancée. Joe Turkel – who would later gain cult fame from his prominent supporting roles in THE SHINING and BLADE RUNNER – shows up late in the film to blackmail Tom, and Gordon regular Merritt Stone (EARTH VS THE SPIDER) plays minister who performs Tom and Meg’s supernaturally-interrupted ceremony. The film’s story was conceived by Gordon and scripted by George Worthing Yates (THEM!) who was the nephew of Consolidated Film Industries (CFI) film lab president Herbert J. Yates.

TORMENTED first became available to home video collectors by way of mail-order catalogues like Sinister Cinema. That bleary fullscreen source made its way onto various PD DVD editions from Madacy – in a double bill with THE SCREAMING SKULL – Mill Creek, and the like. Opening with the Allied Artist Pictures Corporation presentation card, Warner Archive’s progressive, anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer isn’t perfect but no doubt the best the film has looked in a long time (the cinematographer of KISS ME DEADLY’s Ernest Laszlo is slick but not particularly inventive). Night shots and opticals are a little grainier than the rest of the picture, but reel change damage is kept to a minimum. The painted backdrop behind the lighthouse top – a set with broken windows that doesn’t really match the real location one – is more evident with the increased resolution. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is in fine condition. There are no extras and the single menu screen is the generic one with the Warner water tower and the single “Play Movie” option. (Eric Cotenas)