Title : The Pit and The Pendulum
Release Date: August 12, 1961
Plot: After hearing of his sister’s death, Francis Barnard travels to Spain to find out why and how she died, suspecting her inquisitor husband of being involved.
Review: This plot is suspiciously similar to the first in the series, reusing elements such as the ill love interest, monologuing Vincent Price, and insanity. As this was made a year after the first, there wasn’t a whole lot of time to create a new script, or the writer ( who is the same guy), may just particularly love these tropes. Not that Poe himself was immune to this.
The sets, as with all of these films, are lovely and themed to fit 16th century Spain’s aesthetic. The costumes however get just a tad bit silly (poofy bloomers do not make for a terrifying villain.) Though a few props do end up getting reused ( be on the lookout for a set of red wine glasses.)
This is very loosely related to the Poe story it takess its name from, much like every film in this series I’ve seen so far,not that it makes this a bad film. The main actor is leagues better than the first, and has a more nuanced performance , mainly because he doesn’t yell every other line. Price and Barbara Steele however, steal the show. Barbara Steele doesn’t have much screen time, but she plays a wonderfully evil character who is quite memorable. Madeline in the first film did about as much, but she simply comes across as bland.
Vincent Price once again plays a tortured protagonist who loses his mind. He is the perfect actor for these Poe protagonist roles, as his torment is actually genuine looking ( instead of being angsty). He also monologues about gloom and death, several times and the pacing of this film means that less time occurs between them. What replaces the meandering is a lot of Vincent Price fainting, for some reason.
Thirty minutes or so in, a who did it mystery occurs, as it appears Elizabeth is not dead, or is taking vengeance on Nicholas (Vincent Price) from beyond the grave. This includes a red herring in the form of the maid , and the doctor, who mistakenly pronounced Elizabeth dead and caused her premature entombment. Yes, that plot point is used again ( I did say they liked their plot devices.)
So who did it? Elizabeth, in the flesh, with help from the doctor. They had planned to kill Nicholas and inherit his wealth. This does little to help his sanity, and we get the best shot in the film. While Vincent Price nibbles the scenery and acts ridiculously mad, he’s wearing this thing. Maybe its just me, but I find this more funny than terrifying.
Even with that ridiculous thing, the tension during the torture is actually effective, with the color filters adding to the crazed atmosphere. The music is used to more effect, and timing has improved from the last film. Elizabeth’s fate is far from pleasant, as she ends up trapped in the iron maiden she faked her death in, doomed to starve in a locked room and unable to scream.
Highlights: Vincent Price is joined by Barbara Steele, both of whom provide great roles. The timing is improved and pacing is much better.
Recommendations: This one is less likely to bore the viewer, and more Price is always good. Stay for the monologues and the end scene.
Next week we watch The Premature Burial,and we must sadly say goodbye to Vincent Price, at least for now. Let’s hope the new guy is just as good…