The Pit and the Pendulum

The Pit and the Pendulum is currently available on Amazon Prime

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

“Vincent Price plays a 16th century Spanish nobleman who slowly goes crazy when he thinks that his wife has been buried alive. It’s all a joint plot between the supposed dead wife and her doctor/lover to get Price’s money. Price now totally insane, assumes his father’s identity (that of a grand inquisitor) and starts to murder!”

The House of Usher (1960) was Corman’s gamble on a big Poe production. Not only did he spend the money to film it in color but also in widescreen. The gambit paid off handsomely so naturally Corman looked to repeat that success. Most of Corman’s Poe films exist to showcase the talents of Vincent Price and this one is no exception.

In 1961, Roger Corman released The Pit and the Pendulum. With each film in the series Corman takes further liberties with Edgar Allan Poe’s source material. Here, in a stroke of genius, he capitalizes on Vincent Price’s popularity by using the character’s madness to essentially double-cast him. As a nod to Poe, there is someone who was bricked up and someone who may or may not have been buried alive.

Vincent Price was not always a flamboyant actor but his success with House of Wax and subsequent roles persuaded him to make his performances more and more theatrical. Vincent Price plays Nicolas Medina who is going insane. The insanity allows him to play both Nicolas and his father.

Barbara Steele plays Elizabeth Barnard Medina. Steele was hot off her Italian horror hit Black Sunday. She performs well here and looks very striking but her voice is dubbed by another actress. John Kerr as Francis Barnard makes a solid if low-key leading man.

In addition to the titular pit and pendulum, we also get a rack, pokers, and an iron maiden. Corman definitely does not shirk on the torture devices but this being the 60s, actual torture is only alluded to (thankfully). Because this is Corman, we also get a castle (matte painting), scenes of crashing waves, a cobweb machine on overdrive, and wonderful sets.

Remake-itis: The Pit and the Pendulum was previously made in 1909 (Le puits et le pendule) and 1913. After this it was remade in 1991 with Lance Henriksen, Jeffrey Combs, and Oliver Reed and, in 2009, the name was ripped off for a David DeCoteau movie.