REVIEW: PIT AND THE PENDULUM / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: ROGER CORMAN / SCREENPLAY: RICHARD MATHESON / STARRING: VINCENT PRICE, BARBARA STEELE, JOHN KERR / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
The second of the Vincent Price/Roger Corman collaborations from the 1960s, in which the duo brought to life (with some fairly liberal interpretations) some of Edgar Allan Poe's most famous tales, The Pit and the Pendulum is 76 minutes of glorious, colourful, melodramatic perfection.
Set in 16th century Spain, it tells the story of Francis Barnard (Kerr) who has travelled to the castle of of his brother-in-law Nicholas Medina (Price) to learn more about the death of his sister Elizabeth (Steele). He is met by his grief stricken brother-in-law who, after initially trying to fob him off with the tale that she died of a blood infection, eventually admits that she succumbed to madness and was found dead of fright, locked up in the torture chamber’s Iron Maiden. From this point on almost nothing is as it seems and one of the story’s chief delights is the way in which it sets a series of enjoyably macabre surprises within a context of some very familiar but nonetheless effectively spooky ghost story clichés. The plaintive notes of a harpsichord echoing down the castle's empty corridors at night for example is something that is so chillingly realised that, if you aren't already watching it in bed, will have you wishing you had a duvet to pull up to your nose when viewing the scene alone.
Such an approach to horror could only ever benefit from the presence of Vincent Price and here, playing a man increasingly convinced that he may have buried his wife alive, he is at his haunted, deranged best. As his seemingly doomed wife, Barbara Steele is a hypnotic and unsettling presence, with her uncanny and beguiling physiognomy used to its very best here. For such a beautiful woman Steele was always capable of unnerving an audience, particularly with those eyes which are utilised in one particularly memorable shot that may induce a few nightmares.
However, if you already know all this, then there's a good chance that what you really want to know is: how does it look? How do all those rich colours and that lush, often psychedelic palette that Corman employed in these films come across on the Blu-ray release? Very well indeed is the answer, with Arrow’s work once again bringing to glorious life the saturated Technicolor that horror films of the period often favoured.
But it's the extras that really push this disc into the realm of essential purchases. The best of these is Price narrating a selection of Poe stories to a spellbound studio audience and watching this, one can only marvel at the charisma of the man as he makes these stories come alive with a passion and intensity few could match. Add to this two commentaries (one from Corman), a very enjoyable making of documentary and some wonderful artwork commissioned especially for this release, and you have another superb effort from Arrow that does full justice to a film that is at last receiving the treatment it has always so richly deserved.
Extras: See above