Thursday, August 21, 2008

Pit And The Pendulum(1961)

I have been a great fan of Vincent Price for the longest time. This man was, even before entering the horror movie genre, a very good actor. I think everyone would agree Vincent Price found his "niche", so to speak, acting in horror films. I have always liked many of his early horror movies, especially House Of Wax(1953) and The Fly(1958). Vincent Price starred in a handful of films, based on Edgar Allan Poe stories, directed by Roger Corman in the early 1960's as well, a group of movies that have, I believe, stood the test of time quite well. One of these Roger Corman directed films is an absolute personal favorite of mine, and also a favorite vehicle by which to watch Vincent Price, IMO a master of his craft, at work. The movie I'm referring to is Pit And The Pendulum, produced and directed by Roger Corman and released to theaters in 1961 by American International Pictures.

The film's story:
In 16th century Spain, Englishman Francis Barnard has sojourned to the seaside castle of Spaniard Nicholas Medina, to investigate the cause of his sister Elizabeth's untimely death. At the large and foreboding castle Barnard meets Nicholas Medina(played by Vincent Price), a physician, Medina's sister Dania, and Medina's butler. The Englishman demands details of his sister's death but, at least at first, few answers are forthcoming from the troubled Nicholas Medina, who is, we learn, teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Medina has a gruesome and grisly family history, his father Sebastian one of the Spanish Inquisitions' most notorious torturers, as evidenced by the torture chamber located in the bowels of the castle.
In time it becomes apparent that Elizabeth may not really be dead, a fact that pushes Nicholas Medina closer to insanity. (no other spoilers)

This film is, IMO, a great vehicle by which to showcase the acting talents of Vincent Price. Price is able to explore, and manifest, all of Nicholas Medina's psychological instabilities, and to great effect: paranoia, uncertainty, torment, guilt and finally an insanity filled revenge, acted out with ruthless efficiency on several of the other characters in this film. The score, by Les Baxter, is a moody amalgamation of keyboards and strings, and matches the movie's scenes quite well.
The film's sets will not, admittedly, blow one away but there appears to have been some effort to make the clothing worn by the characters commensurate with the setting(by year) and location of the movie. The best prop for Pit And The Pendulum is the castle's interior, replete with creaking doors, cobweb filled corridors, secret passageways, and the torture chamber itself, a somber collection of instruments used to maim and kill during the Spanish Inquisition. The pendulum is the most fearsome of these instruments, a swinging, razor sharp curved blade that swings back and forth above it's prone victim, lowering slightly with each swing...and you can guess what happens next.
The executive producers for this film might sound familiar: Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson, who partnered on many other sci-fi/horror films as producers.

The film also stars John Kerr as "Francis Barnard", Luana Anders as "Dania", Anthony Carbone as "Dr. Leon", and the exquisitely lovely Barbara Steele as "Elizabeth".

The R1 DVD of this film has been released by MGM in their "Midnite Movies" series and can be bought at a very affordable price at

The Midnite Movies DVD includes scene selection and a trailer for the film, which is presented in 2:35.1 widescreen aspect ratio.

The theatrical trailer for Pit And The Pendulum(1961):