16 May 2014

TORMENTED/1960/BERT I. GORDON

TORMENTED
1960/Director: Bert I. Gordon/Writers: Bert I. Gordon (story), George Worthing Yates (screenplay)
Cast: Richard Carlson, Susan Gordon, Lugene Sanders

I mostly, actually only, know Bert I. Gordon for his AIP giant bugs or giant people movies. In fact until I watched Tormented the other night I did not know he did any pictures outside the giant themed ones that earned him the title Mr. B.I.G. (get it? B.I.G. = Bert I. Gordon?). I watched the MST3K version of this film in the manner I watch a lot of movies recently, on my iPad using a media player that will play AVI, MKV or MP4 files. I guess some flicks like this are a little more easy to digest in the Mystery Science format and Gordon has the dubious distinction of having the most films by a single director being done up by either Joel or Mike and the bots. Eight in total. I just saw Village of the Giants ala MST3K not long ago too and plan on writing about that someday, but thought I would mention 1960’s Tormented as it struck me as a bit of an oddity for Gordon. I feel Bert I. Gordon wanted so bad to be a special effects wizard though most of his attempts have come to be regarded as rather hokey and sub-par as time has gone on. Lessons in how not to do special effects. But his movies tend to have a fan base of cheesy film lovers (like myself) and for the most part still remain popular with the so bad it's good movie crowd.

Tormented was Gordon’s first (but not last) venture away from the sci-fi themed giant bug and people films that he made for AIP during the 50’s. It is a big leap away really and into the relatively unexplored genre –for the time at least in American horror- of the basic ghost story. There had been haunted house movies and even a few ghost stories before of course but it was still a area not much covered much by 1960 really. The film stars Richard Carlson (It Came from Outerspace, Creature from the Black Lagoon) as jazz pianist Tom Stewart who becomes nvolved in murder one night while meeting his secret lover. Tom actually does not murder his mistress, but rather does not rescue her after she dangles from a lighthouse after fallings through an old rusty, broken railing. Tom is engaged to be married and soon the ghost of Vi (Juli Reding who, by the way, had some nude scenes included in the European release and I hope I can find that one day) is haunting him and tormenting him, assuring him nobody else will ever have him. Along with his fiancée is a pesky kid named Sandy (played by Gordan’s own daughter Susan) who seems to be in every other scene and a hip talking beatnik blackmailer named Nik (Joe Turkel,  Dr. Tyrell in Blade Runner), whose character provided for some of the best jokes by the MST3K crew. I do not know much about how special effects are done, but most here seem to be low budget uses of things like rear projection and traveling mattes. Many of these things looked pretty weak in those days outside the way a few special effects giants like Ray Harryhausen used them along with other things like stop motion photography and detailed puppet making. I think Bert I. Gordon really wanted to do things like that but just wound up doing camp classics Cyclops and The Amazing Colossal Man instead.

In Tormented he does try to get away from all of that -and deserves some creative risk taking credit I guess- and plays with a story of a guilt ridden man whose conscience is his real tormenter. The direction and photography (by the actually very good and Oscar nominated many times over Ernst Lazslo, cinematographer for films like D.O.A., Stalag 17, Vera Cruz and The Fantastic Voyage) are none too exciting. Thes tory drags and lacks any suspense or tension.  The effects are unintentionally comical at times, and yet the movies is not to be totally written off. It is an attempt at doing an atmospheric ghost story -though it fails miserably in this department, sorry Bert- at a time when such stories were not really being done in American films. The ghost story then was more a product of the classic Japanese studios -and those were great stories and films- and of course the Gothic horror out of Europe, and I might take an uneducated guess and say out of Italy in particular. For some reason I can’t help but feel maybe Robert Zemeckis may have been somewhat influenced by this for his 2000 film What Lies Beneath. Maybe or maybe not, but I thought of that film a couple times while watching this one. If you are fan of Mr. B.I.G. (not the Paul Gilbert band) and American International Pictures in general I think you may want to check this one out. You can do the MST3K version to be safe and it is on Youtube as of this writing. I like the guy's stuff myself and do not take it all too seriously. Just good clean fun.


No comments: