The Pit and the Pendulum Blu-ray Review
Written by Becky Roberts
DVD released by Arrow Films
Directed by Roger Corman
Written by Richard Matheson (screenplay), Edgar Allan Poe (original story)
1961, Region B, 81 minutes, 12 (UK)
Blu-ray released on: 19th May 2014
Vincent Price as Nicholas Medina
John Kerr as Francis Barnard
Barbara Steele as Elizabeth Medina
Antony Carbone as Doctor Charles Leon
Adapted from Edgar Allan Poe's mid-19th century short story, Roger Corman's 1961 horror classic, The Pit and the Pendulum, gets the restoration treatment from Arrow Films.
Francis Barnard (John Kerr) learns of his sister Elizabeth's (Barbara Steele) sudden death and makes an unannounced visit to the castle of her husband, Nicholas Medina (Vincent Price), in Spain. Nicholas - the son of a brutal torturer in the Spanish Inquisition - tells her brother she died of a blood disease, but Francis finds this hard to believe and refuses to leave until he has answers. As strange, unexplained things start to happen during his stay, the truth about Elizabeth's fate begins to surface...
The Pit and the Pendulum has all the bells and whistles of a classic haunted house film: inexplicable disturbances in the day, haunting bumps in the night, and a remote castle under the permanent wrath of thunder and lightning, with gloomy, dimly candle-lit corridors and damp stone walls. It's more about what you hear than what you see, the soundtrack teeming with bloodcurdling screams and haunting whispers in between the dramatic orchestrated score. It has the high-suspense calibre of Hammer (Horror) written all over it. A real terror tale, it's dead spooky.
The plot has more substance than at face-value, tying in a backstory of the castle's dark history and serving up a decent mystery element the audience can really sink its teeth into. As are the characters, we too are painstakingly made to weigh evidence versus reason. Is Elizabeth's troubled spirit walking the corridors? Is something or someone messing with the protagonists? It's not a sweeping enigma, but a well-crafted conundrum that progressively plays out for the majority of the film. Ultimately it's this patience that leads the way for a spectacularly unforeseen end pay-off.
Price made quite a name for himself on-screen, and his role as Medina (a restless man overcome with grief and fear) is one of his more stellar. It's a passionate performance - a real screen-stealer - that takes many faces as he is driven to desperation and verges on madness. The supporting cast doesn't really have the chance to shine in Price's shadows, but there's no qualms with Kerr's or Steele's theatrical portrayals.
If you're wondering the relevance of the title, all is revealed in a tense final ten minutes. Just think torture chamber. It's a nail-biting finale, I promise.
Video and Audio:
The 1080p high-def transfer looks stunning: colours are rich, contrast is good, and there's little picture noise. In my review sample there were a few flickers here and there, but nothing distracting. The audio track is in the original PCM Mono format, so doesn't have the sound separation in stereo (two-channel) or, better yet, surround (multi-channel) sound. Those with 5.1channel set-ups will be disappointed.
There are plenty of special features offered on the disc, the most interesting of which is 'Behind the Swinging Blade', a 'the making of' documentary featuring Corman and some of the cast, as well as Vincent Price's daughter Victoria.
An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe with Vincent Price is a 50+ minute reading by Price of some of Poe's classic stories, including The Sphinx, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Cask of Amontillado and, of course, The Pit and the Pendulum.
The original trailer is also featured on the Extras, as well as a brief additional scene shot in 1968 to prolong the film for the given TV slot.