Classic Review – Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

Pit and the Pendulum

Pit and the Pendulum

Directed by Roger Corman

Starring Vincent Price, Barbara Steel, John Kerr

Review by Jordan

From the tortured mind of Edgar Allen Poe, the articulated pen of Richard Matherson and the directorial eye of a young Roger Corman came one of the great gothic horror films of the 1960’s; Pit and the Pendulum.

Upon hearing news of his sister Elizabeth’s death (the iconic Barbara Steel), Francis Barnard (Kerr) travels to Spain to seek understanding of how this occurred, where he dwells with her initially reclusive husband Nicholas Medina (Price), Nicholas’ sister Catherine (Luana Anders) and close friend and doctor Charles Leon (Antone Carbone). It is first confirmed that the cause of death was a blood disorder, made worse by the damp, stale conditions of living in such a castle, but this theory is soon abandoned as the true cause of death, and in fact the true nature of the castle and Medina’s history is gradually revealed. The plot unravels slowly and precisely, becoming increasingly tense and macabre as Francis demands the truth, unaware that he may be sealing his own fate in doing so.

Part of a critically acclaimed collective of Poe adaptions directed by Corman including House of Usher (1960), Tales of Terror (1962) and The Tomb of Ligeia (1964), Pit and the Pendulum stands as the best of this very impressive bunch, and is in fact one of the most beautifully realised horror films of this renowned period. From the opening paint spill on canvas to the flashbacks tinted with a blue hue, the use of colour draws the viewer’s gaze to a state of complete attention, as do the fantastic performances from the entire cast, most notably Price and Kerr, who embody their characters perfectly through appearance, speech and actions. It becomes chilling to watch Francis constantly prod at Nicholas and Charles to reveal more about his sister’s death, as it is obvious Nicholas is burdened with a murderous past, and his fragile and fractured mind can’t be far off breaking.

Successfully remade in 1991 by cult director and Lovecraft enthusiast Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator, From Beyond), Pit and the Pendulum has more-than retained its power to chill and enthrall, and if you give it a chance it will gladly crawl under your skin and reside there. As far as cinematic climaxes go, there aren’t many that can top the pendulum once its in full swing, and as far as films from the immortal Roger Corman go, there are none better (and yes, that includes The Masque of Red Death).

Wait until midnight, turn out the lights and enjoy.

5 torture devices out of 5

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8 responses to “Classic Review – Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

  1. Good review. This is a great and underrated movie. I pull out my DVD and give it a view now and then when I need some quality and classy horror.

  2. Pingback: Pit and the Pendulum 1991 Movie Review - Eradicator Reviews·

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