PIT AND THE PENDULUM was one of the first fright films I ever saw as a child and definitely one of the first to introduce me to Vincent Price. Though the film is somewhat of a G rated version of the recent torture porn we so often see in recent cinema and the torture device in the title is only teased at in the film until the end, it still stands the test of time as a true classic. Stuart Gordon remade the film in the late eighties with a more sadistic tone featuring Lance Henriksen as Torquemada, but while Gordon took liberties with making his film more closer to a retelling of the Spanish Inquisition, here Roger Corman chooses to remain closer and more personal to Edgar Allen Poe’s original masterpiece.
Vincent Price plays the tortured Nicholas, who is haunted my mental illness and nightmares from his childhood (vividly shot in Technicolor gorgeousness by Roger Corman). When Francis (played by John Kerr in a wooden performance comparable to a modern day Keanu) arrives at Nicholas’ castle to investigate the death of his sister (Nicholas’ wife, Elizabeth, played by the always sultry Barbara Steele), his presence stirs up all sorts of trouble. Price is at his best here playing both the tortured and the torturer as his sanity continues to slip with visions of his dead wife lurking around the dark corridors of the castle. Once Price’s Nicholas snaps, it doesn’t take a genius to know the foreshadowing of the torture chamber scenes would come to play later in the film.
While watching PIT AND THE PENDULUM, I couldn’t help but become frustrated. Having endured sitting through recent turds with Roger Corman’s name attached such as DINOSHARK and SHARKTOPUS, it’s easy to forget that the man once had a firm hand on what was horror. Though Corman may have lost that grip today, PIT AND THE PENDULUM is one of those films that is as effective now as it was back when it was released: full of moody atmosphere, gothic themes, and twisted characters. Corman embraces all of the usual themes found in Poe’s work an all too early burial, betrayal, and loss of sanity in this perfect adaptation of one of the author’s best works. Price spent half of his career playing Poe’s characters, in PIT AND THE PENDULUM he gives one of his best performances in one of Poe’s best stories.