Directed By: Bert I. Gordon
Starring: Richard Carlson, Susan Gordon, Lugene Sanders
Tag line: "Her lips, cold as a tomb! Her caress, a naked chill!"
Trivia: An alternate version of this film was made for foreign release, and featured some nudity on the part of actress Juli Reding
Set on a picturesque California island, 1960’s Tormented is a hidden gem from writer / director Bert I. Gordon. Richard Carlson stars as Tom Stewart, a Jazz musician who’s about to marry Meg (Lugene Sanders), a woman he adores. His future happiness is threatened, however, when his old flame, Vi Mason (Juli Reding) shows up on the scene, telling Tom she won’t give him up without a fight. As the two are arguing on the top floor of a lighthouse, Vi accidentally falls to her death. Tom, who had a chance to save Vi, feels guilty over what happened to her, but at the same time is happy she’s finally out of the picture. Or is she?
A nifty little thriller with a supernatural bent, Tormented feels like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits. The film opens with Vi’s death, and even though Tom had nothing to do with it (she leaned against a railing that snapped, leaving her hanging on for dear life), he wasn’t exactly an innocent bystander, either (as Vi called for help, he instead stood back and watched as she dangled over the jagged rocks below, holding on until she couldn’t do so any longer). From then on, Tom is haunted by Vi’s spirit. For a while, he thinks it’s all in his head; the next morning, he sees Vi’s body floating in the water and swims out to retrieve it. When he pulls her to shore, however, she disintegrates before his eyes, turning into a pile of seaweed. But when others start having similar experiences (whenever Vi’s ghost is around, people can smell her perfume), Tom knows she’s come back to prevent his marriage to Meg. Her death even causes a few problems that aren’t of the supernatural variety: the ship’s captain who shuttled her to the island, a beatnik portrayed by Joe Turkel (who’d go on to play Lloyd, the ghostly bartender in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining), shows up looking for the $5 Vi owes him for the trip. But when he realizes she’s nowhere to be found, and figures something bad happened to her, he tries to blackmail Tom for even more loot.
The cast of Tormented does a fine job, especially Richard Carlson (It Came from Outer Space, The Valley of Gwangi) as Tom, playing a man pushed to his breaking point, and trying in vain to keep his wits about him as his world slowly falls apart. Along with the performances, Tormented also features some stunning beach photography (portions were shot on-location in Malibu), and the lighthouse itself is a creepy locale (a scene in which Tom’s blind neighbor, played by Lillian Adams, swings by there to “confront” Vi is one of the film’s more disturbing moments).
Clocking in at a breezy 75 minutes, Tormented is a well-paced horror / thriller that weaves an engaging tale of ghostly revenge, and as low budget black and whites go, it’s one of the better ones I’ve seen.