The Pit and the Pendulum (1961): 55 Years of Swinging Terror – By Baron Craze

 

Roger Corman, a producer of countless b-movie creations and successful in them all, but early on was a director, and this movie marked his second Poe film. He enjoyed Edgar Allan Poe’s gothic writings, inspiring him recreate the stories, involving Richard Matheson, the writer I am Legend to flesh out the story to feature length, he had an incredible knack of matching scripts with budgets and deadlines, especially creating a grandiose feel with pennies on the dollar concepts. Then possibly one of the greatest casting decisions in the history of the horror film genre he got Vincent Price to play the lead. Poe’s incredible tale lives on in other versions, remade three times, in 1913, 1967, & 1991 and even referenced in the film The Raven. This movie serves as a great starting point for the discovery of both Price’s and Poe’s work in cinematic realm, after all sometimes the tortures on the screen find themselves more interest than mere life.

For this reviewer the discovery of both Poe and Vincent Price conjured wonderful tales and lead to great enjoyment and entertainment from this movie, and hence the Pit and the Pendulum, after this came the Universal Horrors, but Price captivates the audience. So much that I purchased the Hangman game where he graced the cover art, his work showed passion for his craft, sometimes a tad too much, but when referencing the greats of the genre he always ranks in the top five. Therefore, it is without any doubt the star of this film was Vincent Price, brought a fantastic style of acting, enhancing a scary invitation for one to venture forth and accompany him adventures of the sinister delights. All the fans Vincent Price, know what pulled us into his clutches a sophisticated tone of dramatic forcefulness of his voice, devilish humor, and that grin. This version of Pit and the Pendulum opening credit looks like a psychedelic show, from Lucio Fulci’s Giallo films (mystery elements used) however, it conveys very well years later, in fact 55-years later and the passion of the fans old and new still adore the movie. A small cast living within the walls of the a sinister castle (all on a production set) and stars the legendary Barbara Steele (Black Sunday (1960)) as Elizabeth and a torture chamber in the basement left over from the inquisition. While many have seen the movie, this reviewer will try not to spoil much for those new to discovering hidden treasures in the vast horror genre. Price portrays Nicholas and in some scenes his father Sebastian Medina, who recently lost his wife, and prompts a visit from a brother Francis Barnard (John Kerr), upset with how his death was handled and throws about wild accusations. One must note the supporting actors Nicholas’ sister Catherine (Luana Anders) and their family Doctor Leon (Antony Carbone), although each new introduction only adds more suspension, and turns the undercurrent of movie into a mystery while keeping gothic horror growing nicely.

In addition, to the lies and secrets, Francis tries valiantly to sort through the blurred realities plaguing the family and uncover the truth, but finds hints that Elizabeth’s ghost now haunts Nicholas, playing the harpsichord at night, accompanied by the destruction of her sealed bedroom. All of it directed at her husband, is he the cause of a murder among them, or perhaps someone else shifting blame, all of needs your eyes to uncover the sinister trappings of this castle. The countless twists and turns makes one wonder if they’re going as mad as the cast members, and yet recalling how the script seems like The Sixth Sense (1999), in where what is seen does not actually exist. In any case, the degrees of separation confuse all involved until learning that Elizabeth might have actually been mistakenly dead and now seeks revenge or could the harm become the torture of souls who die under the pendulum.

Roger Corman understood the cost of having a crew, of familiarity, and knew their abilities, as well as the limitations, this knowledge insured in a safety net when weighing profit and loss. As with most of his Poe films he employed Floyd Crosby as cinematographer and Daniel Haller with the production and art designer in the productions to maintain a firm control and deliver a spellbinding tale each time, to captive the viewers. Haller had the unique talent of cannibalizing one set or room and changing it successfully to fit another different movie, and gave the films the opportunity to reduce shooting schedules. As most fans of the movie, the real attraction aside from Price, the magnificent and all inspiring Pendulum, and for actor John Kerr the device haunted and worried him, from the first moment he gazed upon it to refusing to perform the much need tension scene. It took Corman himself to prove the safety of the design, and only then Kerr agree (though his might proved why only did one horror movie his entire career). The film contains some aimless plodding and minor wrinkle in the plot structure but nothing that takes away from the overall story.

This movie truly gives a wonderful entry for the fans of Corman, Price and/or Poe to rediscover and expand their viewing pleasure of true gothic creations complete eerie composed music, phenomenal designed sets, this finest starting point there is for that next adventure. The movie has a quick pace, yet not rushed, it moves seamlessly well, even for its age, occasional a bit of overacting or a dramatic paused held a moment longer than needed, but the price you pay for enjoying Vincent. Having a tightly woven story filled with decrepit, vile acts, dark devilish secrets, then a haunted house tale one needs to invest the time and attention to capture the richness of the scenes, and set pieces. The madness and evil echoes in much the movie, and returns one to the simplicity of gothic storytelling, versus the rampant design of CGI paranormal goblins. The pit calls for you stay for a while or if like all eternity.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0055304