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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 7/10/01

The Pit and the Pendulum
1961 (2001) - American International (MGM)

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

The Pit and the Pendulum

Film Rating: B

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B/B-

Specs and Features

80 mins, NR, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary by director Roger Corman, theatrical trailer, theatrical prologue, film-themed menu screens, scene access (16 chapters), languages: English and French (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles: French and Spanish, Closed Captioned

In The Pit and the Pendulum, Vincent Price stars as Nicholas Medina, a disturbed man who wrestles with the painful childhood memory of his father torturing his mother. He fears that he too will end up like his father, and his father's reputation as a mad torturer during the Spanish Inquisition doesn't help his mental state any. When Francis Barnard (John Kerr) receives word that his sister Elizabeth (Nicholas's wife, played by Barbara Steele) has died, he shows up at Medina's castle to get the full story. But it seems Elizabeth wasn't the devoted wife she appeared to be, and her "disappearance" could lead to her getting her just dues. This is, after all, a Poe story. And what Poe story would be complete without some sort of revenge and madness?

The Pit and the Pendulum is very similar both in story and structure to the first of Corman's Poe adaptations, The Fall of the House of Usher. Like Usher, and many of Poe's other works, The Pit and the Pendulum is about betrayal, adultery and the insanity that both can lead to. That said, if you watch these films back to back (which I did) it feels a bit repetitive. Price's role is different (this time he's very over the top), but otherwise the film plays a great deal like its predecessor. Realize also that you're going to have to swallow a bit of "psychodelia" in this film. It is indeed a product of its time. The ending, on the other hand, is a killer. The entire pendulum sequence is a real nail biter and is a perfectly executed ending to a very well made movie.

The Pit and the Pendulum is presented on DVD in its original aspect ratio, but unlike many of the other films in MGM's Midnite Movies series, it comes without anamorphic enhancement. Despite the lack of added resolution afforded by an anamorphic transfer, it looks about as good as The Fall of the House of Usher. The image is stable and lacks the softness of Usher, but does show some tell tale signs of edge enhancement. Colors and flesh tones are accurate, as are black levels. The major negative to the picture is the presence of some color bleed that detracts from the overall quality of the image. All in all, it's not a bad.

The audio, once again, is a serviceable mono track. Like the Usher disc, the audio is mixed so that you have to turn up the volume some to catch everything. Not a major distraction, but a distraction nonetheless. There are no bells and whistles to the track, but you'll get what you need to from the mix.

As was the case for The Fall of the House of Usher DVD, Corman has taken the time to provide a commentary track for the release. It's a good commentary, and he spends a lot of time talking about the details of making a period piece. At one point, Corman comments that he didn't think using Cinemascope widescreen was the best option for his Poe workings, and that the process is better suited to outdoor vistas than indoor sets. I think Pit and the Pendulum is a beautifully filmed movie, so it's strange to hear this sentiment coming from him. The track is worth a listen, but be prepared to sit through a couple of lapses in his narrative. You also get the theatrical trailer (in non-anamorphic widescreen) and a rarely seen, five-minute prologue, which is basically five minutes of additional torture. It's a confusing little segment that doesn't really tie in with the story, but it's a good addition to the disc.

Chances are, if you like Corman's other Poe workings (and you like old horror films), you'll like The Pit and the Pendulum as well. It's a loose adaptation of the Poe story and it's slow to start, but the film's grand scale (on a tiny budget) and pay-off make it well worth a viewing. And, despite the lack of anamorphic enhancement (which is a BIG issue for me), the picture looks nice. That's especially true if, like me, you've only caught this puppy on late night TV in an ages-old print. Do check it out.

Dan Kelly

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