The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) | blu-ray release
Director: Roger Corman Screenplay: Richard Matheson
Cast: Vincent Price, Barbara Steele, Antony Corbone, John Kerr, Patrick Westwood
80min Horror US
“The agony of my soul found vent in one loud long and final scream” Poe
There’s an ethereal and otherworldly quality to Roger Corman’s impressively mounted opening sequence to his second gothic outing. Loosely based on Poe’s THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, it has a young English man John Kerr (South Pacific) arriving at an eerie sixteenth century hilltop castle soaring above the choppy seas of the Palos Verdes coast, (California) to visit the grave of his sister. This Spanish themed outing is set in the aftermath to the dreaded Spanish Inquisition – a time of torture and religious persecution – hence the title. Once again Vincent Price plays a suavely elegant aesthete (Don Nicholas Sebastian Medina) deeply disturbed by a woman’s influence: his beautiful (dead) wife, Elizabeth (Barbara Steele), a woman he passionately adored beyond extremes (“Life was simple, quiet; richly pleasurable”) and became obsessed with after her mysterious death. It later emerges that she was buried alive due to the error of Dr Charles Leon (a rather spivvy Antony Carbone).
Elegantly scripted by pulp writer Richard Matheson (Duel), it benefits from Floyd Crosby’s widescreen colour visuals – that frequently cut back to turbulent seascapes – and the opulently authentic set designs of Daniel Haller, which belie its modest budget. The film was shot in 15 days. Matheson constructs his own narrative for the first two acts, the third more accurately reflecting the Poe story that culminates in a horrendous denouement involving the titular instrument of torture.
This is a richly atmospheric chiller scored by Les Baxter’s cleverly composed score that hovers between high romance and spine-tingling strings. As the cursed Don Medina, Price gradually morphs into menacing madness as Italian giallo actress Barbara Steele makes her Hollywood debut as his darkly spooky revenant wife (to benefit European distribution). The Blu-ray edition ramps up the images giving the pendulum scene an almost 3D makeover with the set design reeking of German expressionism. MT
* Superb extras include Vincent Price reading a selection of Poe stories to a live audience.
* Commentary and insight by Roger Corman on making the film
AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY COURTESY OF ARROW FILM AND VIDEO