Bert I. Gordon
Review by Thomas Scalzo
Posted on 14 February 2006
Source Platinum Disc Corporation DVD
The great Bert I. Gordon’s first foray into the supernatural takes us to the sun-dappled shores of a luxuriant beachfront community, where up-and-coming jazz pianist Tom Stewart reluctantly informs Vi, his love-smitten mistress, that he will soon wed his steady girl. Dismayed at the news, and determined to keep a hold on her man, the feisty girl on the side promises Tom that he will never marry, and what’s more, promises that he’ll never be free from her tormenting presence—even if she happens to die in a tragic yet preventable accident high atop a decrepit lighthouse balcony.
Released after Gordon’s classic monster flicks (The Amazing Colossal Man and Earth vs. The Spider) and before his legendary When Nature Attacks contributions (The Food of the Gods and Empire of the Ants), Tormented is the work of a director in the prime of his career bravely wading into unfamiliar genre waters. The resultant picture, though certainly not reaching the heights of the abovementioned B-grade classics, offers a semi-successful vengeful ghost story.
The hauntings themselves (spectral whisperings in the night, disembodied limbs floating in the air, a severed head superimposed on a table) are pretty lame, unlikely to induce any shocks to the modern viewer (though some scenes, like Tom lambasting Vi’s severed head as he cradles it in his arms, are frightfully funny). And the characters, for the most part, are one-dimensional and dull (the moments we spend watching Tom’s future father-in-law question the soundness of marrying a piano player are particularly trying).
On the flip side, Tom’s psychological torment is decently brought off and at times is quite engrossing. Incessantly oppressed by the omnipresent spirit of his dead lover, Tom slowly loses touch with reality, isolating himself from his fiancée and friends, and initiating a desperate effort to obliterate any and all evidence of the dead woman’s existence. When this plan leads to Tom bodily dispatching those cognizant of his affair, the movie reaches an impressive level of tension, particularly when Tom whispers to young Sandy, who unwittingly witnessed him smashing in the skull of a nosy sailor, “I wish you hadn’t seen that Sandy.” Creepy.
(One other note worth mentioning is the film’s use of a brazen jazz score in lieu of the expected heavily orchestrated scare chords. Surprisingly, the music works well to craft an atmosphere of unease, and offers an effective counterbalance to the tame special effects and trite characters.)