Set in 16th Century Spain, after the mysterious death of his sister, Francis Barnard travels to his brother-in-law's castle to find out what really happened to her. He learns that she died of fear as she discovered in the castle's basement that Nicholas' father was a Spanish Inquisition torturer and she died upon witnessing his horrific torture and killing contraptions. After this, mysterious happenings begin at the castle, happenings that are believed to be that of Nicholas' dead wife's unresting soul or as Nicholas believes her living body as he fears he may have buried her alive.
The Pit and the Pendulum is a 1961 American International Pictures production. It was directed by Roger Corman and stars Vincent Price, John Kerr and Barbara Steele. This is one of several Edgar Allen Poe adaptations produced and directed by Roger Corman and starring Vincent price.
For approximately the first 5 minutes there isn't a word spoken, just eerie music plays as we see Francis Barnard travelling to Nicholas' dark and creepy gothic castle which is located in the middle of nowhere. I felt this built up the intended sense of unease and tension brilliantly, preparing the audience from the very beginning.
There are some rather interesting visual effects used for the flashback sequences, not necessarily great but definitely an interesting choice nonetheless. The use of various colour tints I didn't mind so much, though I think it would have been equally as good to have just used the blurred outline of the screen and left the use of colour tints out. But they did seem to work, though I wasn't initially keen on them they did serve a purpose, they disorientated the viewer which I think worked rather well, especially when used in the sequence where we see the swinging pendulum from the victim's point of view. All in all I didn't particularly mind that visual effect, but I'm not to sure about the rectangle outlined with blackness moving in towards the eyes of the person who is thinking back, it was definitely an effect I hadn't seen used for that purpose before, and maybe it's just that it's different to what I would have expected. On another effects note, a very good and rather horrific model effect is that of Nicholas' dead wife, her body twisted and distorted in her tomb made for a really good piece of horror.
In fairness, for a film about a pit and a pendulum, there isn't a lot of pendulum. There's a good bit of pit but not a lot of pendulum, which I have to say the pendulum was the selling point for me, without knowing anything about the story I assumed it was about a guy killing people with his blade pendulum. But I have to say the actual story is better, some of the plot developments are very good especially near the end, and I even liked the use of the pendulum. It may have been a small use of it but very well built up to, it's just unfortunate that the surprise killing contraption wasn't particularly a surprise as it makes up one fifth of the title, and I imagine for anyone going to see this film at the time they would have went for the “surprise” pendulum killing method.
Overall, I really enjoyed The Pit and the Pendulum. It's the best Roger Corman/Vincent Price collaboration I've seen so far. It was creepy and atmospheric, even the use of colour tints which I wasn't initially keen on worked, as I mentioned earlier. Vincent Price hammed it up as usual which is always good. The story was interesting and kept my attention throughout, the ending I thought was perfect for the film but I would never spoil it, you have to watch the film.
Additionally, it has to be said. I love the tag line to this film, now call me easily pleased but this tag line just amuses me “Betrayal cuts both ways!”
The Pit and the Pendulum 4/5