The Pit and the Pendulum Movie Review
Directed by Stuart Gordon
Written by Edgar Allen Poe (story), Dennis Paoli
1991, 93 minutes, Rated 18 (UK)
DVD released on 26th March 2012
Lance Henriksen as Torquemada
Stephen Lee as Gomez
Jeffrey Combs as Francisco
Rona De Ricci as Maria
Jonathan Fulller as Antonio
William J. Norris as Dr. Huesos
No-one expects the Spanish Inquisition! Nor would they expect a Full Moon Features movie to be good, either. Yet this one is based upon an Edgar Allen Poe story and was directed by none other than Stuart Gordon, director of Re-Animator. It also stars Lance Henriksen and Jeffrey Combs, which I didn't expect either.
Not that the folks behind The Pit and the Pendulum haven't made their share of crap in their time. Henriksen, particularly, has made some questionable career moves, as anyone unfortunate enough to have seen In The Spider's Web will attest. Still, the man always gives it his all, and he's very good in The Pit and the Pendulum. His hair alone gives a very entertaining performance, making him appear like an evil Charlie Brown from Peanuts. He's joined in his cartoon villainy by Jeffrey Combs, who wears a ridiculous pair of round spectacles and a silly hat. It's hardly the worthiest output for their talents, but one dreads to think what the film would have been like without them. And then Oliver Reed appears, wearing an even sillier hat and drinking heavily. His cameo does little to further the plot, but it's awesome to see Oliver Reed in the same movie as Lance Henriksen and Jeffrey Combs, all looking like the result of an explosion in a fancy dress shop.
It's essentially a women-in-prison movie, only set in the 1400s and given a classy title. Its exploitative nudity and sleazier elements make it seem more like a remake of Witchfinder General than The Pit and the Pendulum. Henriksen certainly appears to be channelling the spirit of Vincent Price's Witchfinder General for his portrayal of lead Inquisitor, Torquemada. Witch to Henriksen's 'finder is Maria, who is declared a sinner and cast into the torturer's dungeon. She is followed by her husband, (Jonathan Fuller, looking a lot like Kevin Sorbo's Hercules) who heroically attempts to rescue his virtuous wife.
As an enormous fan of Stuart Gordon, I found The Pit and the Pendulum to be a mild disappointment. Without Cthulu and The Old Ones lurking in the background, it's just a sleazy story about human evil and religious fanaticism. The sleaze works in Gordon's Lovecraft adaptations, but less so here. Had this film been made more recently, it'd be declared torture porn or the like. Instead, it's very much a relic of the early nineties. The blood flows bright red and Jeffrey Combs shouts things like “they can't confess if they don't have a tongue!” But despite the film's silliness and very camp performances, it does have its moments of genuine tension and horror. The bit with the pit and the pendulum has been overdone, but Gordon still wrings from it plenty of nastiness. The film becomes a lot more watchable when its torturous attentions are turned to Antonio, who channels his inner Bruce Campbell to take on the might of Torquemada and some rats. The supernatural elements work well too, employing the gory horror and black comedy that make Gordon one of my favourite horror directors of all time.
Still, The Pit and the Pendulum is by far of the director's lesser works. Even amongst his non-Lovecraft adaptations, it's a disappointment – not as brilliantly cruel as Stuck, nor as weird as Edmond. His best Poe adaptation remains The Masters of Horror episode The Black Cat, in which Edgar Allen Poe (played by Jeffrey Combs) battles an evil cat. The Pit and the Pendulum was never going to live up to that, but it has a jolly good go at trying. As ever, Mister Gordon's enthusiasm is without fault.
No-one expects the Spanish Inquisition. But if you don't go in expecting too much from The Pit and the Pendulum, you might just have a good time with it.
Video, Audio and Special Features:
Video, audio and special features will not be graded as this was a screener.