Cast & Crew
Bert I. Gordon
On a secluded resort island, concert jazz pianist Tom Stewart finalizes plans to marry his fiancée, young, wealthy Meg Hubbard, who lives there with her parents. A week before the wedding, Tom's scorned ex-lover, nightclub singer Vi Brown, charts a private boat to the island and arranges to meet Tom at a deserted lighthouse, where she threatens to expose their past affair to Meg unless he returns to her. As she argues with Tom, Vi falls through the broken railing at the top of the lighthouse, but manages to grasp the railing, dangling by one hand high above the rocky shore below. When she begs Tom to save her, Tom remains motionless and watches Vi fall to her death. The next morning, Tom finds Vi's body washed up on the shore. After the corpse mysteriously turns into a heap of seaweed, Meg's eight-year-old sister Sandy shows Tom a watch she has found bearing Vi's inscription. Rattled, Tom quietly reminds himself that he did not kill Vi and throws the watch into the ocean. Soon after, Meg finds Tom in the lighthouse and, believing his nervousness is due to his upcoming concert, gives him words of encouragement. As the couple walks along the beach, Tom notices a third set of footprints forming in the wet sand and tries to show the anomaly to Meg, but the tide washes them away. Disturbed by Vi's ghost and wracked with guilt, Tom tells Meg that they should marry immediately. Upset, Meg refuses, noting her family obligations, but Tom insists he must leave the island now regardless of whether they marry first. Later, Tom is practicing at the house when a record starts playing. Tom removes the record from the player, but Vi's invisible presence returns it to the turntable where it plays again. Tormented, Tom breaks the record and then asks his blind real estate agent and neighbor, Mrs. Ellis, if she believes in the spirits of the dead haunting the living. Mrs. Ellis recounts that after a boy and his dog disappeared many years ago on the island, the family left the house. When she then tried to rent it out to three tenants in row, they all refused to stay because of mysterious occurrences such as an unseen dog scratching at the door and wet seaweed found in the missing boy's room. The sage Mrs. Ellis then advises Tom not to run away from his problems. That night, Tom wakes from a nightmare about Vi and goes to lighthouse, where he tells Vi's ghost that he is going to ignore her and marry Meg. The next morning, after Sandy tells Tom that Meg is ready to make up with him, Tom shows her the wedding ring, which Vi's floating hand, unseen by Sandy, grasps and uses to taunt him. Sending Sandy from the room, Tom confronts Vi, then rushes to the beach and embraces Meg. The couple returns to the Hubbards' house, where Meg screams in horror when she finds her dress covered in seaweed. Later, after Mrs. Ellis tells him the seaweed must have an explanation, Tom tells her about Vi's visit to the island, but does not reveal that his ex-lover is dead. Learning from Sandy that Tom spends time at the lighthouse, Mrs. Ellis goes there and, smelling perfume, speaks out loud to Vi, telling her to stop bothering Tom. Mrs. Ellis follows the ghost's cackle to the top of the lighthouse, where Vi tries to trick her into falling through the railing, but Mrs. Ellis manages to escape unharmed. Meanwhile, the island's sole boat operator, Nick Lewis, remembering that Vi was visiting a Tom Stewart, finds Tom and demands that he pay for Vi's return ticket. Desperate to keep the man quiet, Tom pays him. Later at an outdoor café, Lewis overhears that Tom is marrying Meg, realizes that Vi must be Tom's lover and tries to extort $5,000 from him, suggesting that they meet later. The night before the wedding, Tom becomes hysterical when he sees Vi's image in a Polaroid snapshot of him and Meg taken by a photographer at the rehearsal dinner party. Meg cannot see Vi's image, but, concerned, asks Tom if there is another woman. Tom replies that there is no reason to be jealous of a dead woman. On the morning of the wedding at Tom's house, when Vi's disembodied head appears in a basket flowers and calls out repeatedly, "Tom Stewart killed me," Tom throws the head in a cloth and throws it outside, where it lands at Lewis' feet. When Lewis, who has come to blackmail Tom, opens the cloth, he finds a basket of wilted flowers. After Lewis, who has found Vi's medallion, insinuates that Tom murdered Vi and demands money, Tom takes him to the lighthouse, where Vi tells Tom to kill him. Hidden high up in the staircase, Sandy watches as Tom murders Lewis with a blow to the head. Later at the house, Sandy asks Tom if she should keep murder a secret because she loves the person who committed it, but Tom does not understand that she witnessed his brutal act. That afternoon at the wedding, as the minister asks if anyone has just cause why the marriage should not take place, a cold wind blows open the doors, dousing the candles and wilting the flowers, including those in Meg's bridal bouquet, sending the bride screaming from the room. A desperate Tom rushes to the lighthouse, where he promises Vi that he will leave the island without Meg. When Sandy finds Tom and asks why he killed the man, he admits that he could have saved Vi. Now delirious, Tom guides Sandy to the top of the lighthouse, planning to push her off, deliriously lamenting that she was a witness. However, Vi's apparition suddenly appears, startling Tom into falling to his death over the railing. Later, townspeople gather at the shore, where two bodies have washed up together, Tom and Vi, who is wearing Meg's wedding ring.
Bert I. Gordon
Bert I. Gordon
Bert I. Gordon
Bert I. Gordon
Flora M. Gordon
George Worthing Yates
However, the public's appetite for rampaging monoliths was waning by the decade's end, and full-blown horror was staging a major comeback. Famous gimmick maestro William Castle was making a killing with Vincent Price vehicles like House on Haunted Hill (1959), and even Alfred Hitchcock was about to jump into the fray with his first unabashed "terror film," Psycho (1960). In the interim, Gordon was looking for a way to follow up what would prove to be his final "giant" film of the '50s, Attack of the Puppet People (1958), which marked the screen debut of his young daughter, Susan Gordon. In 1960, both Gordons would team up again for two more films in very different genres: The Boy and the Pirates, a modest children's fantasy adventure, and the considerably darker Tormented, which stomps much further into William Castle territory.
In fact, Tormented was released theatrically by Allied Artists, an independent studio dabbling in spooky fare at the time with titles like the aforementioned House on Haunted Hill and another Vincent Price vehicle, The Bat (1959). The story concocted by Bert and his frequent screenwriter, George Worthing Yates, follows the spectral misadventures of Tom Stewart (Richard Carlson), a jazz musician living in a Cape Cod lighthouse whose plans to marry young Meg (Lugene Sanders) are disrupted with the arrival of his possessive ex, Vi (Juli Reding), who aggressively threatens to ruin his life if he goes ahead with the wedding. When the lighthouse railing gives out and Vi winds up dangling over the rocky sea below, Tom decides to let her fall. Of course, her spirit returns in a variety of guises over the next few days (as a body transforming into seaweed, for example), which puts a serious damper on the wedding plans. The apparitions become more disturbing with Vi manifesting as a severed head and a disembodied hand, and Meg's younger sister (Susan Gordon) witnesses a murderous Tom dispatching an attempted blackmailer. Needless to say, Tom's wedding day does not go well.
A highly memorable film thanks to its outlandish ghost sequences, Tormented still casts a nod back to the heyday of '50s sci-fi monsters with the lead casting of Richard Carlson, a Minnesota-born actor best known as the hero of Universal's two big 3-D monster productions from the '50s, It Came from Outer Space (1953) and Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). The World War II veteran had shot to success in the 1950 adventure King Solomon's Mines opposite Deborah Kerr, but it was his science fiction and horror work that would cement his reputation with other titles like The Maze (1953) and his directorial effort, Riders to the Stars (1954).
Also noteworthy among the cast is its ill-fated blackmailer ferryman, Joe Turkel, who also appeared in Gordon's The Boy and the Pirates the same year. A busy character actor, Turkel would reunite with Gordon for a return to gargantuan territory with Village of the Giants (1965), though he had already sown the seeds for his most famous role in 1957 in Stanley Kubrick's war classic, Paths of Glory; of course, he would go on to immortality as the sinister bartender Lloyd in Kubrick's The Shining in 1980. Two years later he would affirm his genre credentials as replicant creator Eldon Tyrell in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982), which would prove to be his penultimate big screen role to date.
Perhaps the most distinctive name here behind the camera is its composer, Albert Glasser, whose brassy, jazzy compositions give Tormented a very different atmosphere from most ghost stories. Essentially Gordon's composer of choice in the '50s, Glasser had worked steadily since the mid-1940s with credits including I Shot Jesse James (1949) and Invasion USA (1952). His work has experienced something of a renaissance among soundtrack fans, with several of his noteworthy scores earning CD releases including a complete release of the Tormented score in 2012. The film itself has also maintained a steady following, oddly enough thanks to its lapse into the public domain with numerous home video labels keeping in circulation. The film also featured in a memorable episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, which certainly dealt a blow to its critical reputation but also earned it several new generations of viewers.
As for Susan Gordon, she would have no further big screen roles outside of her father's films, choosing instead to work on television including a well-remembered turn in "The Fugitive" episode of The Twilight Zone. She retired from acting in 1967, though she made occasional convention appearances and championed her father's work until her death in 2011.
Meanwhile Bert I. Gordon's output slowed down in the '60s, relatively speaking, as he turned out a mere three more films including the bizarre Picture Mommy Dead (1966) with Zsa Zsa Gabor. However, he returned to his busy former days in the 1970s with a diverse string of drive-in stalwarts like the outlandish 1972 occult shocker Necromancy (later spiced up for reissue as The Witching), the frequently reissued and reedited The Mad Bomber (1973), and - proving you can't keep a big man down - delivered a final double ode to his oversized origins with the animal attack favorites The Food of the Gods (1976) and Empire of the Ants (1977).
Producers: Bert I. Gordon, Joe Steinberg
Director: Bert I. Gordon
Screenplay: George Worthing Yates (screenplay); Bert I. Gordon (story)
Cinematography: Ernest Laszlo
Art Direction: Gabriel Scognamillo
Music: Albert Glasser
Film Editing: John Bushelman
Cast: Richard Carlson (Tom Stewart), Susan Gordon (Sandy Hubbard), Lugene Sanders (Meg Hubbard), Juli Reding (Vi Mason), Joe Turkel (Nick, The Blackmailer), Lillian Adams (Mrs. Ellis), Gene Roth (Mr. Nelson, lunch stand operator), Vera Marsh (Mrs. Hubbard), Harry Fleer (Frank Hubbard), Merritt Stone (Clergyman).
Voice-over narration provided by Richard Carlson, as the character "Tom Stewart," introduces the story by stating that it is a memory. Tom's inner thoughts are heard intermittently as voice-over, as the strange occurrences slowly drive him insane. According to a July 23, 1959 Daily Variety article, Tormented was to be the first film made by Cheviot Productions, a company formed by producers Bert I. Gordon and Joe Steinberg, but no additional features were produced by the company. As noted in a August 5, 1959 Los Angeles Times article, Gordon's daughter Susan played the part of "Sandy Hubbard."