Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961). Producer/director: Roger Corman.

Francis Barnard (John Kerr) arrives at the castle of his brother-in-law Don Medina (Vincent Price) and his sister, Catherine (Luana Anders), after hearing of the supposed death of his own sister, Elizabeth (Barbara Steele). Medina is the son of a notorious torturer of the inquisition, and the cellar is full of the sinister implements that he used in his work. As Kerr struggles to find the truth from Don Medina and Catherine, there are disturbing indications that Elizabeth may still be alive. Richard Matheson's screenplay doesn't really have much to do with Edgar Allan Poe's excellent short story upon which this is very loosely based, instead being a tale of marital and familial discord and mental illness with a dollop of "The Fall of the House of Usher' [which Corman had previously filmed] thrown in. (Corman apparently liked the basic plot of this film so much that he used it again for Premature Burial.) This is a handsomely appointed production with superior art direction and scenic design by Daniel Haller and an effective score by Les Baxter. Price is also effective as Medina, borderline hammy but dramatic and fun. For some reason Barbara Steele is dubbed. Kerr is fine, as is Anthony Carbone as Dr. Leon, and Luana Anders scores in a very different role from the one she played in Dementia 13. Not much is done with the "pit," but the sequence with the deadly pendulum is very well done and the best thing in the movie. Great ending!

Verdict: Don't expect much Poe, but on its own terms this is quite vivid and entertaining. ***1/2.


Matthew Bradley said...

Great to see a Matheson resurgence on GOM! I've often felt that the similarity to USHER was PIT's greatest weakness (which, of course, goes double for BURIAL's similarity to PIT), but Matheson certainly had his work, uh, cut out for him turning Poe's tale into a feature. He ended up cannibalizing the outline for an unfinished novel he was working on, HOUSE OF THE DEAD. The first four chapters were recently published in MATHESON UNCOLLECTED: VOLUME TWO, although they bear little if any resemblance to PIT.

William said...

Thank you for this information! Despite all the hodge podge the movie is quite entertaining.

[Matthew is the author of a new book on Richard Matheson.]