Friday, October 31, 2008

Tormented (1960)

... aka: Eye of the Dead
... aka: Hell Hath No Fury Like a Top-Heavy Torch Singer Scorned (ok, that's just a joke)
... aka: Tormented by the She-Ghost of Haunted Island (wow, this one is actually real!)

Directed by:
Bert I. Gordon

Director Bert I. Gordon was a man obviously fascinated by size. He made quite a few movies featuring enlarged people, bugs and animals that wreak havoc on us puny humans. These giant movies contained everything from 60ft. plutonium-exposed army colonels (The Amazing Colossal Man) to giant arachnids (Earth vs. the Spider) to giant, super-intelligent ants (Empire of the Ants) to giant hot-blooded teenagers (Village of the Giants). If that wasn't enough, he also gave us miniaturized people with his 1958 effort ATTACK OF THE PUPPET PEOPLE. Though best known for the type of movies listed above (which earned him the nickname "Mr. B.I.G."), Gordon also seemed interested in plot-lines which dealt with the supernatural; witchcraft, ghosts, possessions, etc. And that brings us to this 1960 effort, which is surprisingly not bad at all despite being saddled with a tiny budget. It benefits from a lively, incident packed screenplay (based on a story by the director) written by George Worthing Yates, who had helped write several notable classic sci-fi/horror flicks, such as Them! (1954), It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956), among others.

Jazz pianist Tom Stewart (Richard Carlson) is engaged to wholesome and well-bred Meg Hubbard (Lugene Sanders), but first has to call things off with his other lady friend, busty blonde sexpot Vi Mason (Juli Reding). Late one night, Tom meets Vi at a lighthouse where he comes clean about his affections for Meg and tells her he's no longer interested carrying on an affair with her, but Vi doesn't like to take no for answer. When her attempts at seducing him fail, she threatens to blackmail him with an incriminating letter. Unfortunately for Vi, she doesn't get to do much else when the railing on the upstairs balcony breaks loose and she takes a tumble down into the sea below. The next morning, Tom finds Vi's dead body floating in the water. He retrieves it and drags it to shore, where it does an odd time-lapse change into a pile of seaweed. Tom thinks he's just seeing things and decides to hide all evidence and go about his business as if he'd never even known Vi. And that's when a bunch of strange and unusual things begin happening... The smell of perfume fills the air... An extra set of footsteps follow him and Meg down the beach... One of Vi's records ("Tormented") plays by itself... The lighthouse (right down the beach from Tom's home) shines its light seemingly by itself...

Vi - in nagging ghost form - feels like she was done wrong (Tom could have actually saved her but chose not to), warns "No one will have you but me!" and goes out of her way to destroy Tom's upcoming wedding, which is just one week away. As family members start coming to the island to help get things set up, Vi's restless spirit returns to spoil all the fun. She swipes Meg's wedding ring, ruins Meg's wedding dress by covering it with seaweed and starts driving Tom bonkers by showing up at the most inopportune times, including in a photograph. Bert's own little daughter, Susan Gordon, has a major role and does a fine job as Meg's inquisitive 8-year-old kid sister Sandy, who loves Tom but inadvertently uncovers some dirt on him. Lillian Adams also does a respectable job in a supporting role as a blind real estate agent. To add extra complication to the story, a seedy shuttle boat driver (Joe Turkel) finds out about Tom's affair and Vi's disappearance and then tries to blackmail the groom into giving him five thousand dollars.

The film starts out with some voice-over narration, so we get to hear Tom's inner thoughts, but that approach is curiously dropped early in the film. Thankfully, the performances are all pretty decent (Reding is particularly fun), and some of the special effects (devised by Gordon and his wife, Flora M. Gordon) are amusing and entertaining. Best of all is a memorable and hilarious scene where Vi's disembodied head pops up on a coffee table screaming "Tom Stewart killed me!" over and over again. Unlike many low-budget films from this time period, this one never seems to drag. There's always something interesting going on and the pace is pretty brisk. The beach locations along Catalina aren't bad to look at either, though the cinematography isn't exactly inspired. All in all, it was much better than I expected.


1 comment:

Matthew O'Leary said...

I didn't realize that Sandy was Gordon's daughter. Child actors are always such a risk, and Susan really does do a great job. She certainly has the most character development.

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