Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

Pit

From horror’s premier team of Roger Corman, Vincent Price and, of course, Edgar Allen Poe comes this menacing, macabre and suspenseful tale of insanity, death and betrayal. This film is certainly one of, but maybe even ‘the’ finest Corman-Poe film. It’s Poe at his most devilishly malicious as it deals with themes of torture, and the most frightening method of death known to man; being buried alive. As usual, Vincent Price takes the lead role as the tortured soul of the piece, this time playing Nicholas Medina; the son of the Spanish inquisition’s most notorious torturer. All is not well for Nicholas, as his beloved bride, Elizabeth, has killed himself and the notion that she may have been buried alive has tortured the torturer’s son to the brink of insanity. We enter the fray as Elizabeth’s brother comes to the castle in search of answers to discover the fate of his sister…

Through a great Gothic atmosphere and gorgeous lavish sets, Roger Corman has created a macabre masterpiece from Poe’s classic tale. Vincent Price is superb (again!) as the almost insane son of a madman. As usual, he captures the essence of his character and through his stark tone that was made for the horror genre; and he gets his portrayal spot on. Horror fans can thank god that Vincent Price decided to become an actor, as any other actor simply couldn’t have pulled off this performance like Price did (as is the case with most of Price’s resume). Price is joined by Barbara Steele (of Mario Bava’s Black Sunday) and a small cast of unknowns. Steele, unfortunately, doesn’t get a lot of screen time and it’s a shame because seeing her and price on screen together more would have been a treat.

The theme of being buried alive is something that appears to have fascinated Edgar Allen Poe as it appears in a number of his stories and it fascinates me also. It’s impossible to imagine the terror of being alone in an enclosed space with nobody or nothing to help you escape and that’s what makes it so horrifying, and such a great springboard for a Gothic horror film. This film makes the best of that, with Price’s brooding adding all the horror that the subject needs. Corman succeeds in making the subject dreadful as well, as he shows the tomb in which the unfortunate young lady was trapped in, and also through the castle’s many corridors and steel doors; it gives the impression that there truly is no escape. The film’s flagship sequence – the pendulum scene – is a true masterpiece of horror imagery. For the scene, Corman took out every other frame to give the impression that the pendulum was swinging faster than it actually was. The way the pendulum swings across and gets lower every time depicts another horrible way to die, and through his portrayal of the scene; Corman makes the best of it. The story itself is brilliant, soaked with irony and the bitterness of revenge; it truly is one of Poe’s best.