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Co-directed and co-written by Samson Aslanian and John Hopkins, 1986's Torment introduces us to man (William Witt) who is, on the surface at least, a meek and mild middle-aged man. He's got good manners and his appearance would be, by anyone's standards, decidedly normal. He is, however, unfortunately for the people of San Francisco, a serial killer with a nasty habit of brutally killing any young woman who is unfortunate enough to set him off… and he's very easily set off. The cops in town are well aware of the killings and doing their utmost to solve the murder spree as quickly as possible, but they're on the wrong track and he knows it.
The story also introduces us to, Jennifer (Taylor Gilbert), a lovely young woman who is engaged to a cop named Michael Courtland (Warren Lincoln), who has recently been assigned to the case. As Michael starts poking his nose into the man's business, Jennifer starts to be swayed by what he uncovers, and soon enough she realizes something isn't adding up. Michael shares his time between hanging out with Jennifer, doing his job and caring for his invalid, widowed mother (Eve Brenner), a weakness that our killer isn't above exploiting if it gets this young man out of his hair and off of his scent. In fact, he's not above exploiting any weakness he needs to, particularly when Jennifer and Michael's mother winds up together one night. The elder of the two figures something is wrong early on in the evening, but Jennifer figures that she's just imaging things. The old lady does have a habit of calling the cops, after all.
That plot synopsis is intentionally vague (unlike the box copy on the back of this Blu-ray release, which gives away a bit more than it should) so as to avoid spoilers, but Torment turns out to be a very clever, and very tense, thriller. Aslanian and Hopkins, who had worked together previously on The Dorm That Dripped Blood and decided to branch out and direct on their own, prove more than capable behind the camera (making it a shame that they didn't collaborate on further directorial endeavors) and they deliver a smart script with some well-written characters. There's definitely quite a bit of talent on display here, these guys make the most of what they have to work with and never overreach, but at the same time, are confident enough to show some ambition and impress the audience now and then. The visuals are slick without being distractingly glossy, and the score from composer Chris Young does a great job of highlighting the tension and the drama as it unfolds on the screen in front of us.
Performances are strong from the four principal cast members. William Witt is excellent as the killer, really creeping us out early in the film in a scene where he calls a radio talk show and flips out about his experience with a member of the opposite sex. He never overdoes it, thankfully, and manages to create a believable killer who is all the more menacing for Witt's decision not to chew the scenery here. Gilbert and Lincoln have good chemistry together, we like them as a couple and they play their parts well. We believe their romance but so too, when the time comes, do we believe their fear and their anxiety. Eve Brenner steals more than a few scenes as the shrewish older woman in the film. The script is careful not to make her too sympathetic, as this would have weakened her character. She's a bit neurotic, and that comes through wonderfully in Brenner's work, but so too is she a tough old woman and despite her many character flaws, she's quite likeable in her own, surly way.
This one comes together really nicely and probably should be a better known film than it is.
Torment is brought to Blu-ray in a 1.78.1 widescreen transfer taking up just over 21GBS of space on the 25GB disc and taken from a ‘brand new 2k scan of the original interpositive' and it looks quite good. There's quite a bit appreciable fine detail and texture here, despite some softness inherent in some of the original photography. Colors look good here, and the image is clean, showing only the occasional white speck now and then, with a natural amount of film grain present throughout. There are no problems here with any noise reduction or edge enhancement and the disc is free of obvious compression artifacts.
English language audio is provided in 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 with optional English subtitles and it sounds really good. Dialogue is always easy to understand and perfectly clear. The levels are nicely balanced and there are no noticeable issues at all with any hiss or distortion. No complaints here.
The main extra on the disc is a new interview with composer Chris Young that lasts eleven-minutes. He shares some memories about the film's Hitchcockian vibes, how he met director's Samson Aslanian and John Hopkins and how he got the job to score the film. He talks about how he didn't go to the set while the movie was being shot in San Francisco, how close he got to the two filmmakers only to eventually fall out of contact with them, what he tried to accomplish with the score and the use of flutes, percussion, water glasses and more.
Aside from that, the disc includes a trailer for the feature as well bonus trailers for King Of The Mountain, The Greek Tycoon, Tricky Baby, The Killing Time, Stand Alone and The Omega Syndrome. Menus and chapter selection are also provided.
Torment is slick, suspenseful and very well-crafted. The direction and writing are very strong and the acting is impressive across the board, making this a very taut thriller worth seeking out. Scorpion's Blu-ray release is light on extras but the interview with Young is worth your time and it offers up the film with a very decent transfer and good audio. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.