When Roger Corman and Vincent Price teamed up to work on an Edgar Allan Poe adaptation of The House of Usher in 1960, it ignited a series of films inspired by the American writer of the macabre, such was the success of the film. The second venture however, entitled The Pit and the Pendulum would bear little resemblance to Poe’s short novella with the exception of the final act which featured the titular pendulum and pit.
Price would as usual bring another of his deliciously macabre and melodramatic performances that he had become known for. In this instance Price plays Nicholas Medina, whose wife Elizabeth (Barbara Steele) has mysteriously disappeared. It is through Elizabeth’s brother Francis (John Kerr) from which the story is told when he travels to Medina’s abode in Spain to find out what has become of his sister. Upon arrival he learns from Medina and through a local physician, Dr. Leon (Antony Carbone) that his sister has supposedly died of fright, due to her morbid fascination with the torture chamber beneath the castle, a leftover from the days of the Spanish Inquisition. The story does not ring true however and Francis becomes hellbent on uncovering the truth.
Corman with the aid of screenwriter Richard Matheson (I Am Legend) weave together a delightfully melancholic tale that embodies Poe’s unconsciousness through a psychological disintegration of the human psyche. The destruction of Medina’s mind and the mask of sanity that slowly falls is maginficientally portrayed by Price. And the supporting cast lift this larger than life fantasy to deliver an apt climax, ticking all the boxes that makes this era of filmmaking so great to revisit.
The effect would prove a financial success for American International Pictures (AIP) and would carve the formula for Corman and Price with further adaptations of Poe’s work. The Pit and the Pendulum would also have a significant impact on future filmmakers, most notably Antonio Marghereti’s Web of the Spider and Mario Bava’s The Whip and the Body, as such it’s an important keystone in the realms of gothic horror films.
- Saul Muerte