(US - 1986)
Written and directed by Samson Aslanian and John Hopkins. Cast: Taylor Gilbert, William Witt, Eve Brenner, Warren Lincoln, Najean Cherry, Stan Weston, Doug Leach, Lisa Ramirez, Dan Kosloff. (R, 83 mins)
The mid-film plot twist in TORMENT is such a whopper that with some higher-caliber actors, the film could've been a minor hit. A low-budget indie shot in San Francisco for $160,000, TORMENT was picked up by New World, but they only gave it a limited release in the spring of 1986 on its way to every video store in America, where it found a small cult following that's managed to keep it to themselves all these years. Just out on Blu-ray from Scorpion (because physical media is dead), it's a tangential offshoot to the work of the '80s cult team of Jeffrey Obrow and Stephen Carpenter, who had some drive-in and cable success with 1982's THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD and 1984's THE POWER en route to their most-remembered film, 1987's THE KINDRED. Samson Aslanian and John Hopkins were part of the Obrow/Carpenter crew--Aslanian was the production manager and Hopkins was assistant director on both DORM and POWER--and the two were looking to make their own movie. They conceived TORMENT and managed to get most of their buddies onboard, with Carpenter doing them a solid by serving as cinematographer and Obrow credited as "production consultant" (also part of the gang was co-producer and post-production supervisor John Penney, who would go on to write and direct the 2006 punchline ZYZZYX ROAD). Made when the '80s slasher boom was starting to wind down and special effects were all the rage, TORMENT is a film out of its own time. It's certainly got some '80s elements in terms of very intermittent splatter and a handful of swear words, but with its "women-in-peril" motif and one of the main characters being an old lady in a wheelchair, it feels more in line with a LADY IN A CAGE or a HUSH...HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE of the '60s or maybe even a '70s TV movie. Judging from its poster art and the tag line ("If the suspense doesn't kill you, the terror will"), and the spoiler-filled trailer, New World didn't seem to know how to sell TORMENT. But despite some first-movie jitters and some performances that aren't as polished or nuanced as they'd be with more experienced actors, it's a surprisingly engaging and well-crafted little thriller that goes into some genuinely unpredictable directions.
Fort Point historical site near the Golden Gate Bridge, which does a lot to enhance the production value). Hopkins' never really went anywhere after TORMENT, though he did nab a writing credit on, of all things, 1996's DUNSTON CHECKS IN, but with some of the stylistic touches on display, it's not surprising that by the '90s, Aslanian embarked on a career in music videos, running a production company and working with artists like Madonna, Janet Jackson, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Alice in Chains.
For more on TORMENT, check out Video Junkie's 2014 interview with co-writer/co-director Samson Aslanian here.