B&W, 1960, 74 mins. 29 secs.
Directed by Bert I. Gordon
Starring Richard Carlson, Juli Reding, Susan Gordon, Lugene Sanders, Joe Turkel, Lillian Adams
Film Masters (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Anolis (Blu-ray) (Germany RB HD) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Warner Archive (DVD-R) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

Though he's best The Terrorknown for flooding drive-ins with 1950s monster movies about oversized threats like The Amazing Colossal Man, Earth vs. the Spider, and Beginning of the End, filmmaker Bert I. Gordon started to shift gears in the '60s by dabbling in pirate movies, fantasy films, and a pair of wonderfully lurid supernatural The Terrorthrillers inspired by the psycho shockers of Alfred Hitchcock and Hammer, among others. The more frequently seen (thanks to its public domain status) is 1960's Tormented, an atmospheric seaside ghost story, which was followed by 1966's colorful Picture Mommy Dead, both starring his daughter, Susan Gordon. The kind of fast-paced fare that lodged it in the memories of countless kids who caught in on a double or triple bill (sometimes with Caltiki, the Immortal Monster), Tormented remains tons of spooky fun with a third act guaranteed to bring the house down.

Late one night at a Cape Cod lighthouse, jazz pianist Tom Stewart (Carlson) is having an awkward reunion with his old flame Vi Mason (Reding), who's using some kind of incriminating letters in an attempt to scuttle Tom's impending wedding to Meg The Terror(Sanders). A scuffle sends Vi through a broken railing at the top of the lighthouse, with Tom refusing to help her as she plunges to the beach below. Starting the next morning, Tom is plagued by fantastical occurrences like seeing Vi's body wash up on the shore and transform into seaweed, ghostly footprints padding around him, and apparition appearances designed to sabotage the wedding at any cost. Meanwhile Meg and her little sister, Sandy (Susan Gordon), are perplexed by Tom's increasingly erratic behavior, especially when he gets targeted The Terrorfor blackmail by a ferryman (Blade Runner's Turkel) too much.

Though he was far busier as a TV actor, headliner Carlson was already well established as a horror and sci-fi leading man in 3-D favorites like Creature from the Black Lagoon, It Came from Outer Space, and The Maze, and it's fun seeing him cast here as an unraveling murderer being driven up in the wall in what often feels like a TV sitcom a la The Ghost and Mrs. Muir hijacked by William Castle. The nautical setting gives the story an extra edge with the constant sound of waves nicely tying together the poetic opening and closing sequences, and when Gordon really pulls out all the stops (especially the macabre wedding and the unforgettable "Tom Stewart killed me!" scene), the film soars into truly surreal popcorn territory. It's little wonder this became a favorite on the gray market VHS and DVD scene, with ragged TV prints mostly used as the source for a roster of releases that didn't really do it justice.

The first really worthwhile home video release came along in 2013 as a DVD-R from Warner Archive, who had a nice element available thanks to its inheriting of the Allied Artists library. Apart from the ratty main titles, the film looks pristine on this release albeit a couple of notches too dark with some of the night scenes looking a little tough to make out. In 2022, Anolis released a German Blu-ray edition featuring an HD scan of a fairly ratty 35mm print with German titles, with German and English audio options (lossy Dolby Digital) plus a German-language commentary by Ingo Strecker and The TerrorMirko Rekittke, an interview with Susan Gordon (6m34s), the U.S. and German trailers, a Trailers from Hell presentation by Mick Garris, and galleries for the German film program and promotional stills and lobby cards.

In 2024, Film Masters bowed Tormented on U.S. Blu-ray (with a simultaneous separate DVD) featuring a "4K scan from 35mm archival elements," and whatever the source, it's the cleanest and most detailed presentation of the film to date. The look here is about halfway The Terrorbetween the Warner and Anolis editions in terms of brightness, which feels about right as it's moody without losing any detail in the nocturnal bits. All three releases covered here are slightly different aspect ratios, though compositionally it doesn't matter much either way. English options are DTS-HD MA 2.0 and Dolby Digital 2.0 mono with optional English SDH subtitles, and it sounds quite good with the effective horror-jazz score by Albert Glasser faring nicely. A new commentary by Gary Rhodes covers a lot in 75 minutes including his friendship with Turkel, the rise of TV over the past decade leading up to this, the backgrounds of the small roster of cast members, and plenty about Gordon's life and career. Also included are the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode in SD featuring the film (91m42s) getting ribbed by Joel and the robots, a "Bert I. Gordon: The Amazing Colossal Filmmaker" (7m52s) archival interview about his cinematic influences and love of monster movies, a substantial "Bigger Than Life: Bert I. Gordon in the 1950s and 1960s" (39m25s) appraisal by C. Courtney Joyner about the director's immense contributions to fantastic cinema and his dedication to financial independence, a critical dissection of the film by The Flying Maciste Brothers (Howard S. Berger and Kevin Marr) entitled "The Spirit Is Willing: CineMagic and Social Discord in Bert I. Gordon's Tormented" (20m13s) covering the film's Poe-like and surrealist elements and subversion of the All-American family ideal being promoted at the time, a host wraparound by Vincent Price (4m14s) for the film's presentation on th unaired Untold Ghost Stories, and a raw scan and HD reconstruction of the film's theatrical trailer. The package also comes with an illustrated booklet featuring an overview of the film and director by Tom Weaver and a look at Susan Gordon's life and career by John Wooley.


Film Masters

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Warner Archive

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Reviewed on April 6, 2024.