Pit and the Pendulum, The (1961)

“I am responsible; if it were not so, she would not want to haunt me.”

Synopsis:
In 16th century Spain, a man (John Kerr) visits the grieving husband (Vincent Price) of his recently deceased sister (Barbara Steele), demanding more details about her mysterious death — but he quickly learns that supernatural forces may be at work in this house with a morbid past.

Genres:

Review:
After The Fall of the House of Usher (1960), producer/director Roger Corman’s second adaptation of an Edgar Allen Poe tale was this atmospheric horror flick which, as usual, uses Poe’s story as merely the vaguest inspiration. The sets and cinematography are lush, but the storyline takes a while to get going, and the acting (other than Price’s ham-fest) is fairly wooden. However, once various plot twists occur, things suddenly get quite exciting, and the finale is (literally) gripping.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Price’s hammy performance as Nicholas Medina
  • Atmospheric sets
  • Fine cinematography
  • An exciting finale

Must See?
No, though it’s certainly worth a one-time look.

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2 Responses to “Pit and the Pendulum, The (1961)”

  1. Only a once-must for fans of the Corman / Poe / Price flicks, who will be sufficiently pleased. As per my post in ‘Revival House of Camp & Cult’ (fb):

    “Am I not the spawn of his depraved blood?”

    ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’: Roger Corman’s first Poe-inspired flick, ‘The House of Usher’, was a surprise hit. So next up was capitalizing on it. A two-page short story by Poe was settled on – and all that was used of it for the actual film was its ending. Richard Matheson filled in the other 70+ minutes or so with gothic soap opera. Until the finale, it’s all very s-l-o-w-moving and ominous. People all seem to speak in half-sentences, so it’s no wonder that John Kerr (in what may be his best role) keeps saying things like “What do you mean?”, “I don’t understand.” and “I’m not leaving until this is all explained to my satisfaction!” Poor Vincent Price – in (mostly) a sympathetic role – finds himself pushed to a place beyond mere mourning as weird things begin happening in the night: i.e., who is playing the harpsichord at 2 AM? (“It must be one of the servants!”). I spent most of the film – which is surprisingly well-photographed – trying to figure out how Corman cut corners in his notoriously ‘frugal’ way. It’s fun hearing Vincent explain to Kerr that every piece of furniture in his wife’s bedroom was made by “master craftsmen from Italy, Spain, France…” (certainly not; not on Roger’s budget!). Often-under-used Luana Anders gets a charming role as Vincent’s sister; Antony Carbone is kind of hot as the ‘compassionate’ doctor; Barbara Steele holds the surprise. The film’s best (and most effective) moment is its very final shot.

  2. Not must see. One if the lesser entries in the Price-Poe-AIP-Corman franchise with some stilted performances. Still good, just not top notch.

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