‘The greatest terror tale ever told!’
The Pit and the Pendulum is a 1961 American horror feature film directed by Roger Corman, starring Vincent Price, Barbara Steele, John Kerr, and Luana Anders. The screenplay by Richard Matheson was based on Edgar Allan Poe‘s short story of the same name.
Set in 16th century Spain, the story is about a young Englishman who visits a forbidding castle to investigate his sister’s mysterious death. After a series of horrific revelations, apparently ghostly appearances and violent deaths, the young man becomes strapped to the titular torture device by his lunatic brother-in-law during the film’s climactic sequence.
The film was the second title in the popular series of Poe-based movies released by American International Pictures (AIP), the first having been Corman’s House of Usher released the previous year. Like House, the film features widescreen cinematography by Floyd Crosby, sets designed by art director Daniel Haller, and a film score composed by Les Baxter.
A critical and box office hit, Pit’s commercial success convinced AIP and Corman to continue adapting Poe stories for another six films, five of them starring Vincent Price.
In 1968, when the film was sold to ABC-TV for television airings, the network noted that the film was too short to fill the desired two-hour time slot. They requested that AIP pad the film out. Approximately five minutes of additional footage was subsequently shot by Corman’s production assistant Tamara Asseyev.
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Of the original cast members, only Luana Anders was available at the time, and the new sequence featured her character, Catherine Medina, confined to a lunatic asylum. After much screaming and hair pulling, Catherine reveals the details of her horrific story to her fellow inmates, at which point the film itself follows as a flashback. This shot-for-television footage has been made available as an extra on the MGM Midnite Movies DVD release of the film, but was erroneously advertised as being the “Original theatrical prologue”
“Pit is great delirious fun, and Price is magnificent as always, sinking deeper and deeper into a pit (pardon the pun) of madness.” Lawrence P. Raffel, Monsters at Play
“The Pit and the Pendulum will be too over the top for some viewers, but if you have a taste for this sort of thing, it’s delicious. Corman revels in his art and Price is compelling as always. Whilst parts of it might seem more like pantomime than modern horror, it is still a truly fantastic viewing experience.” Jennie Kermode, Eye for Film
“The Pit and The Pendulum is a masterpiece of gothic horror that has no equals. There was/is nothing that could equal the force of both acting and directing prowess leveled when Vincent Price took the stage under the direction of Roger Corman.” Chuck Arrington, DVD Talk
” …a class suspense/horror film of the calibre of the excellent ones done by Hammer…It is carefully made and has full production values…Vincent Price gives a characteristically rococo performance…” The Hollywood Reporter, 1961
“Atmospherically at least—there is a striking fusion of rich colors, plush décor and eerie music—this is probably Hollywood’s most effective Poe-style horror flavoring to date…Richard Matheson’s ironic plot is compact and as logical as the choice of the small cast…Roger Corman has evoked a genuinely chilling mood of horror.” Howard Thompson, The New York Times, 1961
“The last portion of the film builds with genuine excitement to a reverse-twist ending that might have pleased Poe himself…a physically stylish, imaginatively photographed horror film…” Variety, 1961
“This was my father’s world, Mr Barnard. The shrieking of mutilated victims became the music of his life!”
Cast and characters:
- Vincent Price … Nicholas Medina / Sebastian Medina
- John Kerr … Francis Barnard
- Barbara Steele … Elizabeth Barnard Medina
- Luana Anders … Catherine Medina
- Antony Carbone … Doctor Charles Leon
- Patrick Westwood … Maximillian
- Lynette Bernay [as Lynne Bernay]… Maria
- Larry Turner … Nicholas as a Child
- Mary Menzies … Isabella
- Charles Victor … Bartolome