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The Pit and the Pendulum

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The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) starring Vincent Price, Barbara Steele
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The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) starring Vincent Price, Barbara Steele

It has been said that Vincent Price often played the role of the tragic monster. And that’s never truer than in  The Pit and the Pendulum. Vincent Price plays Don Nicholas Medina, a man whose wife has unexpectedly passed away.  And whose brother-in-law has come seeking to find out the truth of his sister’s  death.

Vincent Price in The Pit and the Pendulum

Don Medina had an unhappy childhood, due to his parents — his father was a sadist who delighted in torture; his mother died in the torture chamber, along with the elder Medina’s brother — both of whom had committed adultery together. The loss of his wife has crushed him further, with his best friend, Dr. Charles Leon (Anthony Carbone) trying to comfort him … seemingly.

It’s difficult to say much more without giving away the plot.  Other than to say it’s a psychological drama, with excellent acting. It’s a reminder of why Vincent Price is highly esteemed as an actor.  The Pit and the Pendulum is highly recommended.

Editorial review of  The Pit and the Pendulum, courtesy of

Vincent Price choking Barbara Steele in The Pit and the Pendulum

The Fall of the House of Usher‘s success in 1960 spurred American International Pictures to quickly launch another production based on an Edgar Allan Poe story. While producer-director Roger Corman had hoped to next adapt “The Masque of the Red Death” (which wasn’t produced until 1964), Pit and the Pendulum (the onscreen title) became the second in AIP’s long-running Poe series.

Set in post-Inquisition Spain, the film stars John Kerr as a young Englishman who travels to the seaside castle of his brother-in-law (Vincent Price) to uncover the circumstances behind the death of his sister (a dubbed Barbara Steele). Price is tormented by memories of his mother’s premature burial by his inquisitor father (also Price) and fears that this sadistic legacy has contributed to Steele’s demise. Furthermore, he believes that Steele was also buried alive–a belief compounded by the mysterious destruction of her room, and the sound of her harpsichord playing in the night…

Barbara Steele in The Pit and the Pendulum

Structured almost identically to Usher, Richard Matheson’s script fleshes out the brief original text with a fast-paced and twist-filled plot that never loses sight of the psychological themes of Poe’s work. It also provides Price with the richest of his many AIP/Poe roles, a sympathetic, deeply emotional man who is unhinged by the sins of his father. Corman’s direction is equally driven and fluid, and features some impressive quasi-psychedelic visuals in the tense climax. Also noteworthy is art director’s Daniel Haller’s impressive design of the title set piece. MGM’s widescreen DVD features commentary by Corman, which focuses primarily on the film’s technical aspects. Also included is the original trailer and a prologue (shot by Norma Rae producer Tamara Asseyev) featuring costar Luana Anders, which was added to fill out the film’s 1968 television broadcast. –Paul Gaita

Movie quotes from The Pit and the Pendulum

Don Nicholas Medina: The atmosphere is heavy in here.
[opens the curtains in Elizabeths room]
Francis: Why have you brought me here?
Don Nicholas Medina: It is her room sir, I’ve had it kept exactly as she left it.

Doctor Leon: We will exhume Elizabeth.

Elizabeth: [shouting Don Medinas name causing him to fall down the stairs] Nicholas!

Doctor Leon: [after Nicholas has fallen down the stairs and appears to have died] I told you to wait.
Elizabeth: I couldn’t.
[she and Dr. Leon kiss]
Elizabeth: What about my brother?
Doctor Leon: He’s supposed to leave in the morning , but now… why couldn’t you wait one more day?
Elizabeth: I’ve waited too long already. [goes down to where Nicholas is laying] And now my dear Nicholas I have you exactly as I want you , helpless.
Doctor Leon: Elizabeth there is no time for this.
Elizabeth: I’ve waited an eternity for this moment there has to be time, is it not ironical my dear husband, you wife an adulteress, your mother an adulteress, your uncle an adulterer, your closest friend an adulterer, do you not find that amusing dear Nicholas?

Don Nicholas Medina: Do you know where you are Bartolome? You are about to enter hell. In hell Bartolome, IN HELL!: the dead world, infernal zone, damned house, tortures place, pandemonium, purgatory, avernus, fire, Satan, THE PIT!… and the pendulum.

Don Nicholas Medina: You will die in agony. Die!

Catherine: Maximilian, we must break into the torture chamber! Quickly!

[last lines]
Catherine: No one shall ever enter this room again.

Trivia for  The Pit and the Pendulum

  • To increase the pendulum’s sense of deadly menace, director Roger Corman took out every other frame during the editing stage making the blade appear to move twice as fast.
  • Actor John Kerr was worried about being strapped down to the table with the pendulum above him for the movie’s climax. In order to demonstrate that it was perfectly safe, director Roger Corman stood in for Kerr while the scene was being set up.
  • This was the second of Roger Corman’s “Poe” films. He had intended to do “The Masque of the Red Death” but felt that it was too close to the content of Ingmar Bergman’s recent The Seventh Seal (1957). Several years later Corman would go to England to make The Masque of the Red Death (1964).
  • This film was shot in fifteen days.
  • The film never had an original prologue. It was added when the film was sold to TV and a further few minutes were required to pad out the running time. Only Luana Anders from the original cast was available so an extra scene of her in a madhouse was filmed and tacked on to the beginning.
  • The pendulum was made out of wood and had a rubber blade.

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