12/15/06

414 Tormented

(1960, Horror, b&w)

Tom Stewart killed me!

Rating: *

In a nutshell:

A former girlfriend’s ghost crashes a jazz pianist’s wedding.

Summary:

Our hero, the unlikeable attempted murderer of children.Jazz pianist Tom Stewart meets his ex-girlfriend Vi on top of an abandoned island lighthouse in the middle of the night. She tries to regain his love by threatening a lawsuit and then leans on a decrepit railing. Of course it gives way. She dangles from one hand while Tom struggles with indecision. He struggles just a little too long, and she falls to her death.

Spooky things start happening to him. He pulls her corpse from the ocean, which promptly turns into seaweed. Spectral footprints follow his twiggy fiancĂ© down the beach. The record player keeps playing a peppy jazz tune called “Tormented.” A disembodied hand steals the wedding ring. A severed head shouts, “Tom Stewart killed me!” over and over again.

There are other characters, of course. Most notably there’s the blind landlady, who doesn’t believe in ghosts, but tells several hair-raising stories. There’s Tom’s pal Sandy (his fiancĂ©’s eight-year-old sister) who worships him in spite of his lack of anything resembling a personality. There’s also a really irritating guy with an indeterminate east coast accent named Nick.

Vi’s ghost tries to lead the blind lady off the lighthouse rail to her death, but the wily woman outsmarts her by surviving and then disappearing from the film almost entirely. Nick is the boat driver who brought Vi to the island to meet Tom in the first place. He knows she hasn’t gone back yet, and knows she’s not anywhere on the island. He connects the dots and starts showing up at wedding practice to ask for ever-increasing bribes to insure his silence. They meet in the lighthouse, where Tom refuses to pay and bashes him with a pipe while Sandy watches from the shadows.

Sandy keeps quiet through the wedding, but Vi’s unseen ghost shows up and wilts the flowers. Tom runs away to the lighthouse. Sandy follows him and confesses that she saw him kill Nick. Tom is about to throw her off the lighthouse too when Vi’s ghost shows up and scares him into falling off himself. Rescue workers recover his body and Vi’s, laying them side-by-side. Vi’s corpse rolls over to embrace Tom’s and—gasp—she’s wearing the stolen wedding ring.

Introduction:

This'll probably be my last Christmas with you guys.The ‘Bots run away to live in the ventilation duct, dropping crumbs and debris all over the desk. Joel has to sweep up after them.

Host Segment One:

Tom has to, you know, go. Joel knocks him out of the duct with a broom handle. Gypsy tries to crawl up into the duct, but she’s too big. Her long coils fall on Joel and Tom. The Mads have invented the Drinking Jacket, covered with plastic roaches and rats to simulate delirium tremens. Joel has invented the Aunt Catherine Wheel. It’s a See and Say for family reunions so that kids can tell their relatives apart by matching them with their various favorite phrases, like uncle’s “Get me another beer” and grandma’s “This’ll probably be my last Christmas with you kids.”

Host Segment Two:

Joel is cleaning out the ventilation duct. He slips and dangles by one hand. “You have to help me,” he cries. Tom and Crow get offended, make a number of unreasonable demands, and leave.

Host Segment Three:

Joel builds a model lighthouse and they take turns throwing pop star figurines from the top, including: Manhattan Transfer, Kenny Loggins, Anne Murray, and Kenny Rogers (twice).

Host Segment Four:

Tom and Crow take off their heads and shout, “Joel Robinson killed us!” They scare Gypsy and offend Joel, who takes away their bodies and turns off the lights.

Host Segment Five:

Joel and the ‘Bots sing a random tuneless song about happy thoughts, to cheer them up after the utterly depressing movie. They end by wishfully singing, “There’s no such thing as girls.” Down in Deep 13, TV’s Frank continues the song, wishing all kinds of harm on Dr. Forrester, who hands him a live grenade.

Stinger:

Vi’s severed head yells, “Tom Stewart killed me! Tom Stewart killed me!”

Thoughts:

How did she die, again?Despite the line in the film that calls him “the best jazz pianist in the world,” Tom plays jazz piano just like the movie’s Albert Glasser soundtrack—loud, tuneless, and staccato.

The film’s auteur, Bert I. Gordon, can make anything seem bland. He’s more at home with the “Giant Critter” genre, and has several MST3Ked movies in that category (The Amazing Colossal Man and Earth vs. the Spider among others). This movie plays like a giant critter film, with ghostly, animated body parts filling in for the large man-eating animal of your choice, but it really wants to be film noir. A successful film noir, however, requires a labyrinthine plot and engrossing characters, otherwise we’re just watching despicable people doing despicable things to each other for no apparent reason. In this film, only character with any personality at all is Nick, and it’s the kind of personality that makes you want to hit him. It’s obvious that Tom has to die from the opening scene, but everything he does throughout the film is a crime against common sense. All of the purposeless murders made me squirm.

The host segments are competent. The Aunt Catherine wheel is one of their many dysfunctional family host segments that make me very grateful for my own family. The drinking jacket was very Naked Lunch-ish. The ventilation duct sequence was pretty much a rehash of the “‘Bot’s run away, but can’t make it on their own and come back crying” sketch that they’ve done many times previous and will repeat many more times before the show’s end. I liked Joel’s hanging from the duct and the ‘Bot’s “what’s in it for us?” response. The best host segments were “tossing the singers off of the lighthouse” and the “Joel Robinson killed us!” sketch. The happy thoughts song was tuneless and random; they’ve done much better songs.

There’s actually a fair amount of quotable material in the film segments, starting with Tom’s “I bet it’s aptly named,” when the title flashes on the screen. When multiple manifestations of Vi’s ghost haunt Tom, Joel says, “It’s Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills in The Death Trap!” While Tom pounds out yet another haunted jazz solo, Crow says, “Of all the lighthouses in all the world, she had to fall off of mine.” Despite some funny comments and a couple of good host segments, I was still repulsed when Tom Stewart tried to kill the little girl. The movie is a real downer, making it one of the very few episodes I’ll go out of my way to avoid in the future.