The Pit and the Pendulum/Review
From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
< The Pit and the Pendulum
In 1960, Roger Corman and Vincent Price unleashed The House of Usher. This cinematic incantation of Edgar Allan Poe’s chilling short tale left nightmares in the minds of audiences to come. So about a year later, America’s new favorite scream team returned with a new terror film, “The Pit and the Pendulum”. True the budget was once again 300k, but the boys utilized it to a new and with a legendary scream queen on board. In this Barbara Steele, who sent chills up many a horror fan thanks to her dual role as Asa Vajda/Katia Vajda in Mario Bava’s Black Sunday. Speaking of split personalities, onwards to the film….
The story takes place in 1545 during the Spanish Inquisition which nobody expected (cue the horns). A lad named Francis Barnard investigates the mystery surrounding his sister, Elizabeth whose believed to be dead. The master of menace himself comes in as Nicolas, Elizabeth’s husband recently shaken up by her death. We also find out that he’s also traumatized by memories of witnessing his father kill his uncle and mother on the grounds of adultery. Soon enough and dare I say it, things aren’t what they seem. I won’t spoil much but let’s just split personality logic and treachery in the name of greed are involved in the end.
One particular highlight that I must get out of the way is the gorgeous cinematography by Floyd Crosby. He really shines in this picture as he did with Attack of The Crab Monsters, the previously mentioned “House of Usher” and later Corman films like X: The Man With X-Ray Eyes. Crosby knows how to use shadows and colors to really bring in the mood and darkness of a scene. The pièce de résistance is the pendulum scene with the monks painted on the walls in a manner almost like inner-city graffiti. It adds a haunting, timeless vibe to the gothic torture chamber from Hell.
Speaking of guys who worked on Usher and later X, Les Baxter in the house! He’s one other asset that really stands out here. I really enjoyed his music here the way he operates the soundtrack with these albeit mechanical, almost industrial-style ambiance. It’s kind of a precursor to Wayne Bell’s nightmare fuel sounds in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Both feature a sort of avant-garde, unnerving boom to them. However it works for climatic effect, unlike some areas here.
As much as I adore “The Pit and the Pendulum”, one thing I would’ve done differently is the final shot pre-ending credits. We have Barbara Steele just standing still in her iron maiden tomb without any punch or weight to it. One thing that could’ve added some meat to it would’ve been to hear her scream in terror as we fade from her to the Poe quote that concludes our film. Hell let good ol’ Les loose and have him be weird-experimental by sound mixing the scream. Yet it’s only just a minor detail that luckily doesn’t deter from the wonderful experience.
Granted my favorite of the Corman-Poe-Price saga is “House of Usher” since it’s more cooler and relatable. It still doesn’t take away from “The Pit and the Pendulum” being a shocker in itself. The movie is photographed, soundtracked and acted beautifully all around. It’s no wonder why this whole saga dominated the box office in the early sixties. Roger Corman, Vincent Price and Edgar Allen Poe go as well together as the Beatles and radio. Whether you’re Team Roderick or Team Nicolas, you’ll find yourself whispering the name of Vincent.
I give “The Pit and the Pendulum” 4 and half red hot Scarlet “A”’s out of 5, check it out!
Reviewed by Ken Hegarty