Tormented: My Vi on the hi-fi

Tormented directed by Bert I. GordonTormented directed by Bert I. Gordon

As most fans know, producer/director Bert I. Gordon didn’t receive the pet nickname “Mr. Big” based on his acronym alone. From 1955 to ’77, Gordon came out with a series of beloved films dealing with overgrown insects, reptiles, humans and other assorted nasties: King Dinosaur (’55); Beginning of the End, The Cyclops and The Amazing Colossal Man (’57); Attack of the Puppet People (in which Mr. Big reversed directions and went small), War of the Colossal Beast and Earth vs. the Spider (’58); Village of the Giants (’65); Food of the Gods (’76); and Joan Collins’ least favorite film of all those that she appeared in, Empire of the Ants (’77). In 1960, however, Gordon took a break from his outsized monstrosities and presented his fans with a decidedly different type of tale: a supernatural ghost story! The picture in question, Tormented, was released on September 22 of that year and was one that Mr. Big not only directed, but also produced and co-wrote. And thanks to the DVD revolution, this near-forgotten piece of work may soon be getting some recognition for the entertaining (if minor) journey into the uncanny that it is.

In the film, the viewer makes the acquaintance of a fairly well-known jazz pianist named Tom Stewart, well-played by Richard Carlson. (A personal foible of this viewer is that I always have a hard time differentiating between Carlson and fellow actor Hugh Marlowe. Perhaps it is their similarity in looks and on-screen personae. Whatever the case, I have to keep reminding myself that Marlowe featured in All About Eve and The Day the Earth Stood Still; Carlson in The Magnetic Monster, It Came From Outer Space, Creature From the Black Lagoon and Valley of Gwangi.) When we first encounter him, Stewart is having a heated argument with his ex-girlfriend, Vi Mason (saucily played by Juli Reding), about just whether or not she IS his ex or not. Stewart does his best to explain that he doesn’t love her anymore and that he has a fiancée, Meg (played by an actress with the very strange handle of Lugene Sanders), to whom he is completely devoted. During their contretemps, Vi leans against the railing of the lighthouse where they stand; the railing collapses, and Tom does nothing to rescue her. Vi falls to her doom in the rocks and water below, and Tom feels himself guilt-free, and well rid of the clingy chanteuse.

But as events in the coming days show, though Vi might well be dead, her angry ghost is very much “alive” and well, and hell-bent on doing everything in her power to wreck Tom’s upcoming wedding and claim the pianist as her own. And Tom’s plight is made even more complicated when the tug skipper who had ferried Vi over to the island (although a certain Wiki site avers that the film transpires on Cape Cod, an island off the coast of California is more likely, especially in light of the fact that Meg’s folks have a house in Bel Air) gets wind of what happened and demands “five thou” for his silence, and when Tom’s future sister-in-law, 9-year-old Sandy (the adorable child actress Susan Gordon, who had appeared in Attack of the Puppet People and would appear in father Gordon’s Picture Mommy Dead in ’66), also begins to grow troublesome…

So, as a ghost story, does Tormented provide the requisite chills? Well, yes, there ARE any number of eerie scenes: Vi’s drowned body turning into a mass of seaweed; Vi’s footprints mysteriously appearing in the sand; the song “Tormented,” which Vi once recorded, playing itself on Tom’s phonograph; the ghostly hand of Vi appearing and later stealing Meg’s wedding ring; Vi’s perfume wafting through Meg’s parents’ house; another mess of seaweed befouling Meg’s wedding gown; and Vi’s face appearing in a photo of the betrothed couple. The film, compact as it is at a mere 75 minutes, yet features a number of memorable sequences, including one in which Vi’s floating head appears to Tom, taunting him with the words “Tom Stewart killed me, Tom Stewart killed me,” and the one in which Vi’s ghost busts into the wedding ceremony of Tom and Meg, causing all the flowers to wilt and culminating in a bloodcurdling scream from the terrified bride. (Not for nothing did the trailer for the film urge the viewer to “Attend the Wedding of the Wicked … and the Weird!”) And director Gordon even gives us one truly memorable final shot, with Vi’s ringed hand resting on Tom’s chest.

All told, Tormented is a wholly satisfying little ghost picture, which leaves the viewer with only one nagging question: Why has Tom chosen the comparatively mousy Meg over sexpot Vi, the latter being not only a better-looking woman, but a more talented (as evidenced by her singing) and passionate one as well? Guess there’s no explaining taste! And, oh … just one word on the DVD itself. The one that I recently saw came from those notorious underachievers at Alpha Video, but happily, the print in question here features only minimal damage, and is, for the most part, sharp and clear enough for comfortable watching. All the better for discovering this small but likable picture from good ol’ Mr. Big…

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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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  1. I’m thinking a summer job as “the she-ghost of Haunted Island” could be fun.

    Sandy, I want to say how much I LOVE these movie reviews! You always include so much interesting background, and it’s fun to have a laugh early in the day.

    • sandy ferber /

      Gee, thanks so much for the kind words, Marion. I really do appreciate that. SHOCKtober continues tomorrow….

  2. For some reason, the setting — with its ancient lighthouse and rocky beaches — always makes me think Tormented is set on the East Coast. That, and Tom’s insistence that he needs to practice for his Carnegie Hall appearance.

    My personal quibble with this movie is that it makes no sense to have a blind real estate agent/housekeeper, but that’s Bert I. Gordon for you!

    • sandy ferber /

      Wait…you mean somebody else has seen this superobscure movie besides me?!?! Jana, I am VERY impressed with you!!!

      • Thanks to the old MST3K tv show, I managed to catch a lot of classic movies, many of which are good for an unintentional laugh or two. Tormented is one of the few features which is enjoyable enough to watch on its own, though.

        • sandy ferber /

          My problem with that old “MST3K” show was that, funny as it was, I always would have preferred to see those wonderfully shlocky movies straight and pure. Anyway, good for you, Jana!

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