Not Schlock at all: Tormented

DATELINE: Low-budget does not mean schlock.

Hang on, Juli Hang on, Juli!

We were a tad put off by the Amazon Prime description of a 1960 movie as a “schlock classic,” and then found the blurb noting that it was Richard Carlson in 1960 as a jazz pianist who is haunted by his former girlfriend.

This sounded intriguing at worst, and it was not truth in advertising. Tormented is a highly professional, thoroughly hypnotic little bit of ghostly lore.

Carlson cut his teeth on the Creature from the Black Lagoon movies, and after was relegated to B-pictures. Well, he was a B-star always. However, he was one of those actors who was far more intelligent than the material and gave everything a kind of gravitas.

The accidental death of Vi, or at least her deliberate lack of saving, haunts Tom (Carlson). In her earliest scenes in particular, Juli Reding sounds like Marilyn Monroe, and even has the hair style down pat. Her later appearances in a flowing flimsy dress seem like Marilyn’s “Happy Birthday gown” for President Kennedy.

Perhaps the most schlocky thing in the movie is when Vi appears to torment Carlson by showing up as a disembodied head on his coffee table. Her ghost is almost comical, to the point of reversing the Vertigo end in ironical fashion-plate boiler-plate.

Wonderful character actor Joe Turkel shows up here in a ghost movie and later made a big hit as a ghost in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. He speaks in the jazz lingo of the 1950s, Dad.

With its simple and elegant beach house and light house as main sets, the film has a minimalist quality that really does not impede its effect. We love the two bodies pulled from the ocean and dropped next to each other. Nice touch.

Watery Gill Man from Black Lagoon

DATELINE: Goon from the Lagoon

Goon from Black Lagoon

Master director of all genres at Universal Studios during the 1950s, Jack Arnold brought us so many low-budget classics: from the Incredible Shrinking Man to Space Children to No Name on the Bullet.

One of his most famous tales was the directorial gem, Creature from the Black Lagoon. It’s supposed to be in 3-D, but you won’t know it.  Film recognition may be enhanced by the odd-ball Best Picture of the Year from Oscar, called The Shape of Water. It’s more like the stolen picture of the year as The Shape of Plagiarism It’s the same movie with a bigger budget, computer effects, and less panache.

So, we wanted to see what Jack Arnold did with his movie with no budget, no big effects, and more panache than horror.

The de rigueur monster of the 1950s, the creature was actually a Gill Man, covered in scales with poorly manicured, webbed fingers. He swims like a cross between Esther Williams and Michael Phelps. And, he is photographed like a choreographed water sequence at Metro from Busby Berkley.

Arnold knew enough to bring in two stalwart 1950s leading men, Richard Carlson and Richard Denning. Carlson was always some kind of scientist with heroic demeanor, and Denning comes off as a proto-Trump businessman on expedition.

Throw in Julia Adams as a research assistant and Whit Bissell as the throwaway scientist, and you have a classic gem of a cast.

Silly plot holes may have you rolling your eyes: the underwater repellent is supposed to be knock-out drops to Gill Man, but it has no effect on the regular guys in snorkel protection mode.

Everyone goes out on a dig at night and leaves Whit Bissell to fall asleep guarding the monster. And, this scholarly scientific expedition claims not to have enough weapons to fight the Creature, though every man has a rifle.

Perhaps Arnold’s most amazing feat is that he put this film together in 75 minutes without bloody gore and with a sense of fun. Victims seem to be scratched like an encounter with one of T.S. Elliott’s cats.

No, this is not Jack Arnold’s best, but it is his most well-known movie, now more than ever.