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Film / Tormented (1960)

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Guess he really got a-head!

A 1960 horror film, directed by Bert I. Gordon.

Jazz pianist Tom Stewart is engaged to rich girl Meg. Unfortunately for him, his possessive former flame Vi shows up intending to disrupt the nuptials. Fortunately for him, Vi meets him in a dilapidated old lighthouse; and when she falls through the rusted guardrail, he refuses to save her. Exit Vi. Problem solved...

Nope. Turns out Vi's spirit is still hanging around, "tormenting" Tom and still intent upon wrecking his wedding. Or, is it all in Tom's head?

Well, no, turns out it's Vi's head.

After about an hour of ghostly cat-and-mouse, a beatnik boater arrives and, deducing what has happened to Vi, begins to blackmail Tom, forcing him into action to protect his secret. This, however, is witnessed by Meg's little sister, Sandy. Tom is about to off Sandy as well, but Vi's ghost arrives and finally exacts her revenge.

For the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode see here. Not to be confused with the 2009 British film of the same name.

This film provides examples of:

  • Alone with the Psycho: Sandy and Tom in the lighthouse, after Sandy sees Tom killing the beatnik. It's Tom basically wringing his hands as he tries to work himself up to killing her rather than risk her telling anyone what she knows.
  • Anti-Villain: Tom, at least at first, with Vi going out of her way to assure him she would ruin his life even as he was trying, in his way, to try and be a better man.
  • Arc Words: "Tom Stewart killed me! Tom Stewart killed me!" A bit misleading, but "Tom Stewart stood there staring without lifting a finger while I pleaded for him to save my life!" doesn't quite have the same ring to it.
  • Asshole Victim: Vi is a pretty much loathsome person that nobody really feels sorry for. The boater is much the same way, as he cares less about justice for Vi and more about getting blackmail money. It's hard to feel sorry for Tom as well, of course.
  • Beatnik: The ferryman who brought Vi over from the mainland and starts pulling the thread when he realizes she's nowhere to be found; he dresses like a milkman and talks fluent slang. It's a strange kind of movie where the Villain Protagonist is an alleged jazz pianist but one of the primary antagonists is a beatnik, but there you have it.
  • "Begone" Bribe: Tom pays the boatman the cost of Vi's charter when the latter is snooping around for her to collect on it. It initially works, but after learning Tom is engaged to Meg, he returns to twist Vi's disappearance around towards his own ends.
  • Betty and Veronica: Sultry Vi is the Veronica to good girl Meg's Betty, though admittedly it doesn't last for long, with Vi dead before we even actually meet Meg.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Tom is killed by falling from the lighthouse, which he kinda deserves... and after his and Vi's bodies are found, Vi's arm slumps over him possessively. The film closes on the newly-widowed Meg's horror and the mentally-scarred Sandy's tears.
  • "Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word: The beatnik boatman who catches wise to Vi's conspicuous absence from the island to Tom: "The way I see it, you an' me... we should be partners."
  • Blackmail Backfire: Tom decides to murder the beatnik boatman for his blackmail attempt.
  • Blind Seer: Mrs. Ellis seems to be able to sense Vi on some level, but doesn't appear to realize she's a ghost until her ghostly laughter nearly leads the old woman to her death.
  • Broken Pedestal: Sandy idolizes Tom. She goes into a full-on Heroic BSoD when she witnesses Tom murdering the boat driver to keep Vi's death a secret.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Vi won't let anyone else have Tom, even if that means ruining his life. Even in death. Maybe.
  • Driven to Madness: Whether Tom believes in Vi or not, seeing and hearing her when no one else can has this effect on him.
  • Dutch Angle: The ill-fated wedding is shot in this style, to show how "off" everything is.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog:
    • Mrs. Ellis' dog freaks out and absolutely refuses to go into the lighthouse when she decides to investigate what's happening there. Her ignoring the dog's warnings and going in anyway nearly gets her killed.
    • We also get an Evil Detecting Chicken: After her encounter with Vi, she asks for eggs from the local short-order cook with her lunch. However he has to tell her they're out because the hen he usually gets his eggs from has suddenly stopped laying. Mrs. Ellis has a mild Oh, Crap! when their conversation reveals this is what happened during the last haunting.
  • Evil Laugh: Vi's ghost has a good laugh at Tom's suffering as the knowledge of her death drives him to distraction.
  • Fate Worse than Death: The end of the film has Vi's body slumping over Tom's in a possessive embrace, implying that now that he's dead as well, his spirit is stuck with Vi forever.
  • Flying Face: Most of Vi's appearances as a ghost have her popping out of furniture or hovering around taunting Tom as a disembodied head.
  • Forgotten Framing Device: The movie opens with Tom doing some narration, which he doesn't do again.
  • Forgot the Disability: Tom absent-mindedly asks Mrs. Ellis if she saw the spooky goings-on regarding the Samuels boy's death; she quips back that "it's been many years since I've seen anything," and Tom admits that he keeps forgetting her blindness.
  • Harmful to Minors: Sandy sees her Precocious Crush bludgeon a man to death, gets stuck alone with Tom in the lighthouse while he tries to decide — out loud — whether or not to kill her, then sees him fall to his death and wash ashore with the body of the woman he murdered.
  • Have You Told Anyone Else?: The beatnik boatman hasn't, which gets him killed. Tom asks this almost word for word to Sandy when he realizes she saw him killing the beatnik.
  • He Knows Too Much: Scuzzy beatnik boat guy and, eventually, Sandy.
  • Informed Ability: Tom is allegedly a great jazz pianist. Allegedly.
  • I See Dead People: Well, dead people's heads. And they won't shut up!
  • It Won't Turn Off: The record player, apparently being manipulated by the ghostly Vi.
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Vi's death is accident mixed with hesitation, which becomes Murder by Inaction by virtue of how easily Tom could have saved her if he'd tried. The boat driver is an obvious slimeball, so Tom decides to murder him rather than allow him to ruin his life. Finally, Tom is about to kill Meg's younger sister Sandy to keep the previous two deaths a secret. Instead he dies a Karmic Death, still haunted by Vi.
  • Karmic Death: Backing away from Vi's ghost in terror, Tom falls over the lighthouse railing to his death, in much the same manner as he himself allowed Vi to fall to her death when the railing previously gave way.
  • Lighthouse Point: The film starts in the crumbling old lighthouse, reaches its climax there, and ends on the beach below it. Most of the other major events revolve around it in one way or another.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane:
    • Tom's the only one who can see Vi, and he mostly thinks he's imagining things, Driven to Madness by the guilt. On the other hand, Mrs. Ellis senses something in the lighthouse as well, but at first she believes Vi is alive and hiding, and simply playing tricks on Tom. It's only when Vi nearly kills her that she begins to put two and two together.
    • The wedding ceremony. The doors flying open, candles going out and Bible pages turning to a funeral rite could be seen as merely gusts of wind; however, the candles don't snuff out abruptly but rather die gently, and there's the matter of the wilting flowers — including the bridal bouquet. The finale of the film suggests that there has indeed been ghostly activity going on.
  • Monochrome Casting: A common feature of movies at the time, but made all the more noticeable since Tom is supposed to be a jazz musician, yet his friend group is as white as snow.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Vi is very curvy, and while her body may not be in the film for long, the director makes the most of it.
    • Meg is no slouch in that department either.
  • Murder by Inaction: In the opening of the film, a railing suddenly gives way and Vi falls over the ledge. There was no premeditation or intent on Tom's part, but he spends an awful lot of effort trying to convince himself it wasn't his fault while knowing full well that he had nearly half a minute to reach her and could've easily pulled her to safety if he weren't more concerned with the potential damage she could do to his marriage to Meg.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: Tom keeps hemming and hawing and doubting himself, but this is the conclusion he arrives at each time.
  • Never My Fault: Tom spends the majority of the film trying to convince himself he was in no way responsible for Vi's death. He only admits that it really was his fault at the end, when he decides he has to kill Sandy to keep his secret.
  • Never One Murder: Tom is driven to commit more murders to cover up his involvement in Vi's death.
  • Oh, Crap!: Mrs. Ellis has a mild one after the short-order cook tells her the hen he usually gets his eggs from stopped laying...just like what happened when the little boy and his dog vanished while out fishing. Already rattled by her earlier encounter with Vi's vengeful spirit, this all but confirms Vi's true nature to her.
  • Oh, No... Not Again!: Vi's method of haunting Tom has a parallel with a story of a previous tenant that Mrs. Ellis tells Tom about. A boy and dog drowned nearby, and from then on, his parents felt seawater in his bedroom and could hear his voice along with the dog's barking.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: Vi is just a head, and it's not clear whether she's actually a ghost or just in Tom's mind; or if what Mrs. Ellis senses is the ghost of Vi, the lingering presence of murder in the lighthouse, or just her intuitively sensing something off between Tom, Sandy, and the beatnik.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: Meg's dad does not approve of musicians, especially jazz musicians, and blames the ruined wedding ceremony on Tom despite the obviously supernatural goings-on. He never actually vetoes the marriage, but makes his disapproval clear nonetheless.
  • Precocious Crush: Sandy to Tom, who plays along.
    Tom (to Sandy): All right; from now on, you're the other woman in my life!
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: Tom is a jerk (albeit a somewhat sympathetic one) since his first scene, but over the course of the movie he lets his panic take him from "trying to hide his failure to save his ex-girlfriend's life" all the way to "attempted child murder."
  • Railing Kill: Vi leans against the faulty lighthouse railing which breaks and Tom doesn't save her, the blind Mrs. Ellis is seemingly lured by Vi's ghost to almost fall through the same gap, and Tom, seeing the spectre of Vi, backs over the edge.
  • Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll: Tom is convinced that his relationship with Vi will ruin his career.
  • Title Drop: The record in the record player, which is "Tormented."
  • Together in Death: Vi and Tom. At the Dénouement, when their bodies are discovered and laid side by side on the beach, her arm drapes itself around him and sports Meg's previously lost wedding ring. Whether or not that's what Tom wanted is something Vi didn't care about.
  • Totally Radical: The freaky hepcat beatnik and his hip lingo.
  • Unfinished Business: Vi is "tormenting" Tom in order to get revenge for her death.
  • Villain Protagonist: Tom, moderately sympathetic at first, lets Vi plummet to her death within the opening minutes of the movie and closes it out openly contemplating the murder of his fiancee's baby sister.
  • Villainous Rescue: Towards the end of the film where Tom is psyching himself up to murder Sandy at the lighthouse, Vi appears and flies at him, scaring him over the broken railing to his death. Considering she earlier goaded him into killing the ferryman and nearly lured the blind housekeeper to her death just for fun, this was more about finally getting her revenge on Tom than any care for Sandy's well being.
  • Verbed Title: The record in the record player, which is "Tormented."
  • The Voiceless: Ghost Vi until she found her voice, and at that point Tom was even more tormented. "Tom Stewart killed me!"
  • Yandere: Vi still pines for Tom even after he's responsible for her death and remains just as determined to have him while keeping him away from another woman.