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30 Jul 2013

THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961)

By David Lee Andrews   Posted at  08:00   VINCENT PRICE

The Pit & The Pendulum Cover Did you know that whilst he was in the army, the esteemed author, Edgar Allan Poe, used the assumed name of 'Edgar A. Perry' instead of his own? God only knows why though. It must have had something to do with this film Directed by: Roger Corman; and Starring: Vincent Price, John Kerr, Barbara Steele, and Luana Anders. It was made in 1961, and lasted for 80 minutes.


The Pit & The Pendulum : The Film - The Poster


THE STORY:
If you found out that your sister just died, wouldn't you want to travel all the way to where she once lived, and then hear first hand about the circumstances behind her demise?

Yeah? You would? So would Francis Barnard (John Kerr) too. Which is why he makes his way to his brother-in-laws foreboding Castle, with the intent of piecing together how his dearly departed sister, Elisabeth Medina (Barbara Steele), popped her clogs.

Thankfully, after a shaky start, the occupants of the Medina household are more than willing to explain to Frances what really went on. From his brother-in-law, Nicholas Medina (Vincent Price), he hears how his seemingly happy marriage dissolved over time, due to the fact that their baroque dwelling made Elisabeth die with fright. Furthermore, to substantiate Nicholas's claim, his sister, Catherine Medina (Luana Anders), explains to Frances how Nicholas saw their Father kill their Mother and Uncle when he was but a child, due to an act of infidelity.  

Still, do you honestly think Frances believes any of what he hears? Even when the family Doctor, Charles Leon (Antony Carbone), tries to reinforce the Medina's tales with medical rhetoric!  

No. Not really. But then again that's most probably why what next transpires goes bump in the night when a spook makes herself known. As death tries to escape from its casket - Nicholas turns into a right fruit-basket - infidelity is the key to this story- and my God, isn't that big axe rather gory?




THE REVIEW:
Now before I explain to you my 411 on 'The Pit and The Pendulum', please allow me to relay a quote I recently read by its director, Roger Corman...

'The method we adopted on The Pit and the Pendulum was to use the Poe short story as the climax for a third act to the motion picture; because a two-page short story is not about to give you a ninety-minute movie. We then constructed the first two acts in what we hoped was a manner faithful to Poe, as his climax would run only a short time on the screen'.

Barbara Steele in The Pit & The Pendulum
Alright? So have you got of all that, folks? Good. Straight from the horse's mouth, this isn't a one hundred percent 'bonafideo' Poe adaptation. Still, it doesn't matter all that much within the scheme of things. Even if this movie isn't 'totally Poe', what it is, is a very nice looking tale that's chock full of mystery, suspense, and the usual savoury and timely beauty of yesteryear. In addition to this, I have to also give a big shout out to my main man himself -- Vincent Price -- who just steals the show by playing it big, small, mannered, or whatever, whenever he need's be.

Yeah. I'm not messing about. If I had to rate movies in order of brain-busting and Gothic splendour, screw Tim Burton, this one would be nearing the top of my list. Furthermore, if you read in-between the line's of my previous Corman quote, you could hazard a guess that this flick took one hell of a left turn at the beginning of the third act, that it actually made me appreciate it a lot more than I initially did.


Vincent Price in The Pit & The Pendulum


The Pit & The Pendulum Movie Poster
Of course, I don't want to spoil the surprise by explaining what that actual 'left turn' is. But what I'll do instead -- surprise-surprise -- is present to you some filmic-facts. (1) 'American International Pictures' released this $300 thousand dollar production on the 12th of August, 1961, and clawed back $2 million dollars at the box office. (2) The director, Roger Corman, originally wanted to make another Poe story, 'The Masque of Death', instead of this one. But he changed his mind because he felt 'Masque' was very similar to the Ingmar Bergman opus -- 'The Seventh Seal' -- which was released four years earlier. (3) To make the wood and rubber pendulum appear more menacing wherever it was on screen, Roger halved its frame rate, thus speeding up its movement. (4) Once this production was sold to the television networks, it was given a prologue just to give it that 'extra padding' it seemingly needed. However, at the time of re-shooting, the only actor available was Luana Andres, because the rest of the cast were away doing other things. (5) This was the second of Roger Corman's 'Poe films', and he shot it in only fifteen days. (6) Alice Guy and Stuart Gordon both directed their versions of this film in 1913 and 1991 respectively. Furthermore, in 1967, so did Harald Reinl too, although he did re-title it as 'The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism'. (7) The brief exterior prologue for this flick was shot on location at Palos Verdes, California, where as the rest of it was shot in Raleigh Studios, Hollywood, Los Angeles.


The Pit & The Pendulum Art Poster


OK, so where was I? Oh, yeah! 'The Pit and the Pendulum'. The film that reminds me of a dead-leg.

Vincent Price
Now hold on just a God damn minute! Before you say to yourself "What the f*ck is the reviewer going on about now?". Just try to imagine that feeling of numbness you get when one of your appendages -- like your leg for example -- plays up.

It's a strange sensation, isn't it? Not bad. Not painful. But comes across as if something that is there... isn't. However, don't you find that this numbness begins to erode away a tingle at a time, and for some peculiar reason, makes your malady feel even better afterwards?

Yeah? Do you see what I'm getting at, folks? I hope so. Because that's what this film seems like to me. An initial numbness that appears supercharged once it's over and done with. And it is a great movie too. One that you'll have to watch if you like mystery, suspense, mannered acting, and the usual savoury and timely beauty of yesteryear.

Say no more.

THE RATING: B+

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