Sunday, 18 May 2014

MOVIE: The Pit And The Pendulum (1961)

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US 1961, 80m, American International/Alta Vista

Blu-Ray: Arrow Films (UK), Cert 12

When he hears of the death of his sister (Barbara Steele), Francis Bernard ventures to a remote castle in Spain, where she had made home with her husband Nicolas Medina (Vincent Price). Struggling to gain information on his sister's demise from either Medina, his sister Catherine or the family physician, Francis begins to suspect that she may have been buried alive. Then strange occurrences begin to take place, as Nicolas' fragile sanity begins to disintegrate...


After the massive success of the previous year's The Fall Of The House Of Usher, it was inevitable that AIP would want more, and Price was reunited with director Roger Corman for another Poe adaptation. Taking the template set by its predecessor, the film is considerably wider in scope, both in its settings and the more elaborate sets. It also utilises some painted matte work both in its interiors and exteriors which still stands up astonishingly well, especially considering the age of the film and its relatively small budget.

The Pit And The Pendulum does occasionally feel like the same painting on a bigger canvas, perhaps lacking some of the poetic quality of the previous film to boot, but that's probably nitpicking. It's beautifully shot and framed, economically paced, with another powerhouse performance from Vincent Price. This is an American genre classic, deserving of a place in any serious horror collection, and the torture chamber climax provides one of horror's defining images of the period, as the cover art amply illustrates...

9/10

Blu-Ray Notes: Another first class presentation from Arrow Films. It looks stunning. Extras include a brand new 45-minute making-of documentary with contributions from Roger Corman, Barbara Steele and Price's daughter, Victoria amongst others.

A very welcome bonus is the 1970 TV special, An Evening Of Edgar Allen Poe, in which Price performs four solo renderings of the author's tales in front of a live audience. This is a unique opportunity to catch Price at full throttle in a one-man performance. Sadly, it only appears to exist in a slightly fuzzy film transfer from the original videotaped recording, but the fact that it exists at all is reason for celebration. 

Fascinating commentaries from Roger Corman and Tim Lucas, extra footage of actress Luana Anders to pad out the TV version of the film, as well as booklet notes from Jonathan Rigby make this release truly definitive. If you're a fan of Vincent, you really need this Blu-Ray in your collection, and the steelbook edition is the one to go for.

Original Theatrical Trailer:

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