I stumbled over the DVD of the movie “Tormented” (the one from 1960, not the one from 2009) and thought it would make for a nice movie evening (or afternoon) for a reasonable price, so I bought it. It turned out to be a wise decision, because I can certainly say I like the movie.
I’ve never had a problem with black and white movies – in fact, I find the black and white look more fitting for quite some movies. Old horror movies can be quite good, too, especially as they had to be far more story-driven than the modern ones. Today, quite some movies seem to rely more on gore or special effects than on the story itself.
“Tormented” has a tacky movie poster, as it were (I assume so, as it’s the cover art of the DVD and also turns up on IMDB) and a pretty tacky German title, too (“Der Turm der Schreienden Frauen” / “The Tower of the Screaming Women,” which is wrong, anyway, as there’s only one ghost in the story, so it would be only one screaming woman). Yet I have to admit I really liked it. There is a nice balance of horror and thriller elements. If you really want to, you can almost ignore the horror, as apart from the church there is no scene in which the appearance of the ghost could not just be a hallucination. In the church, however, all guests are witnesses to the strange dying of the flowers and spluttering of the candle.
The movie has a very nice pacing, starting of slowly with the last meeting between Tom (the main character, though not really hero, of the tale) and Vi, a woman he had a relationship with, but broke it off to be with Meg, who is younger and wealthier than Vi. Whether or not Tom really loves Meg more, isn’t really of any interest, as far as the movie goes. Vi and Tom meet in an old, derelict lighthouse on the island on which Tom grew up and Meg and her family live. During a heated argument, as Vi doesn’t want to accept it’s over between them, she leans against a banister that is not sound and falls backwards. Still holding on to the banister, she screams for Tom to help her, but he decides not to do so. Vi falls to her death – and Tom’s torment starts.
Vi is not prepared to let him out of her grasp, so she comes to haunt him, follows him back to his house at the beach, appears again and again. And Tom spirals deeper into crime. After the guy whose boat Vi rented turns up and demands the second half of her fare, Tom pays him to get him out of his house, but the man realizes Tom is marrying another woman and he knows Vi did not leave the island, so he attempts blackmail. Egged on by the spirit of Vi in the lighthouse, Tom kills him – but Sandy, the younger sister of his bride-to-be Meg, witnesses everything. Then Vi crashes the wedding and Tom flees to the lighthouse to tell her he will be leaving – will not marry Meg and will leave the island behind. When Sandy appears at the lighthouse and he learns she has seen him kill the blackmailer, he even tries to kill the little (8- or 9-year-old) girl. It is then Vi intervenes and makes sure Tom shares her fate.
The movie is very good at building up suspense. Small steps make it more plausible for Vi’s ghost to be around. A gust of wind at the lighthouse, where she died, a bunch of seaweed that seemed to take her shape (or her body that dissolved into seaweed, as you want to see it). Footsteps in the wet sand. A record of her voice (seems Vi was a singer in life, which puts her in close vicinity to Jazz pianist Tom) that plays while Tom is practicing. Her smell, her voice, her ghost in a dream. Vi becomes more and more ‘solid’ to Tom as the movie goes on. The only other person who ever has contact to Vi is the blind real-estate agent Mrs. Ellis. She realizes soon enough what is happening, even though she doesn’t know why. And her almost-death at the lighthouse (where Vi’s voice lures her up to the platform and the still-damaged banister) is a vision of things to come. Vi will lure someone to a death like hers – and chances are high, of course, that it will be the man she still loves and wants to keep to herself.
Even though I, personally, had no doubt Sandy would survive (because in a 1960s horror movie a little, innocent girl would almost never be killed), I liked to see Vi intervene here. It gave the vengeful ghost something of a deeper personality, as Vi had before only furthered Tom’s decent into crime, by making him kill the blackmailer. Like this, Vi did protect the truly innocent, despite being her rival’s younger sister.
Vi’s body is discovered only after Tom fell to his death (about a week after she died), and even in death, as they are taken to the beach, her arm comes around him – sporting the ring that disappeared mysteriously before the wedding. Vi has been united with Tom in death, she has won out in the end. Justice has been served when Tom falls to his death, trying to kill innocent Sandy. Fate, however, has played out the moment Vi and Tom lie side by side on the beach, united in death, for all eternity.
The movie relies more on the setup, the pacing, and the story than on effects. The effects that are there, like a body-less hand that holds the ring, a body-less head that accuses Tom of murder (which, technically speaking, he had not committed at that time, as the blackmailer’s death comes later), the dying flowers and spluttering candles in the church, and the ghost of Vi, translucent and in flowing robes unlike the dress she wore when she died, are good for 1960, even though they could not really hold a candle to modern-day effects.
If you like psychological horror far more than blood and gore, “Tormented” definitely is a good movie to watch.