For The Corman-Verse Blogathon, I was originally going to review the 1996 film Kyoko/Because of You. The only way I could watch the movie is if I purchased a DVD copy. Unfortunately, the copy I bought would not arrive in time for the blogathon. Even though I do plan to review Kyoko/Because of You in the near future, I needed to select a back-up film to write about for the event. While scrolling through Roger Corman’s filmography, I discovered he directed the 1961 adaptation, The Pit and the Pendulum. Since no other participant had selected the film, I chose to review this movie instead. Vincent Price is no stranger to 18 Cinema Lane. As of the publication of this review, The Pit and the Pendulum is the ninth movie of Vincent’s I’ve seen. The majority of his films have been enjoyable to varying degrees. So, where does the 1961 title lie? You won’t know that answer unless you read this review!
Things I liked about the film:
The acting: As I said in the introduction, The Pit and the Pendulum is the ninth movie of Vincent’s I’ve seen. Among most of these films, Vincent’s acting talents have been on full display, allowing the audience to witness just how versatile of an actor he is. In the 1961 adaptation, Vincent portrays Nicholas Medina. Throughout the story, Nicholas is overcome not only by the loss of his wife, but also by trauma he experienced as a child. When Francis Barnard, the film’s protagonist, questions the cause of his sister’s death, Nicholas’ eyes appear both concerned and wounded. This is because he wants to protect Francis from the truth and himself from the grief. During Francis’ stay in the Medina Castle, Nicholas shows Francis Elizabeth’s (his wife and Francis’ sister) room. While reminiscing over his time with Elizabeth, Nicholas is suddenly overcome with sorrow. With a quivering lip and tear-filled eyes, he bursts out crying, longing for his dearly beloved.
Like I previously mentioned, Francis Barnard is the film’s protagonist. Portrayed by John Kerr, this character was a good representative of the audience. What I mean by this is he and the audience were in the same boat, figuring things out as they go along. That element of the story gave viewers an opportunity to connect with the character. What also worked in John’s favor is how consistent his performance was. Throughout The Pit and the Pendulum, Francis was suspicious of the Medina Castle and the people who lived there. His face was set in a serious expression; mouth displaying a tight, straight line and eyes in a scowling manner.
Nicholas’ sister, Catherine, is one of the people Francis meets. Catherine, portrayed by Luana Anders, reminded me of Snow White from the 1937 animated classic, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. This is because she showcased a gentle concern toward the characters around her. But unlike the cartoon princess, Catherine contributed more to the story, instead of being a more passive participant. When she and her brother are first confronted by Francis about Elizabeth’s death, Catherine shows worry on her face. However, the reason for her facial expression was different from Nicholas’, as she wonders how she will reveal the truth to Francis. Later in the film, Catherine explains Nicholas’ past trauma to Francis, in an effort to show him her brother is being honest. This time, her expressions show more understanding, appearing calmer and sure of herself.
The set design: The Pit and the Pendulum takes place inside the Medina Castle, during the year 1547. While I’m not a historian when it comes to this particular era, I will say the set design appeared historically accurate! Each room of the castle was spacious, presented in long to medium shots to showcase their size and scope. Though the walls were a mix of white and caramel marble, they were covered with exquisite artwork. In Francis’ room, there was a wall-sized piece of tapestry. Elizabeth’s room boasted her portrait, which captured her in blue and purple hues. The rooms in Medina Castle also included elaborate pieces of furniture. A gold canopy bed in Elizabeth’s room displayed small, detailed carvings on the footboard.
The mystery: When I talked about John Kerr’s performance, I said his character, Francis, was in the same boat as the audience. That’s because this is the type of mystery story where the audience figures things out alongside the protagonist. Out of the mystery movies I’ve seen in my life, I find these types of stories to be some of the more engaging ones in the genre. They give viewers the illusion they are experiencing a journey with the main character. The mystery in The Pit and the Pendulum started right away and was carried until the movie’s end. As the story moved forward, the reveal of certain secrets was evenly paced throughout the script. This allowed the film’s momentum to remain consistent and keep the story intriguing!
The flash-back scenes: In a few moments of the movie, flash-back scenes were used to explain things that happened in Nicholas’ past. One example is when Nicholas himself is telling Francis how Elizabeth passed away. Those flash-back scenes were narrated by Vincent Price and were coated in a single-color hue. For instance, in the days of Nicholas and Elizabeth’s happier times, the scenes were displayed in either green or blue. The way the flash-backs were presented made them feel distinct from the “current” events. They also brought Nicholas past to life.
What I didn’t like about the film:
The prolonged appearance of The Pit and The Pendulum: I’ve gone on record to say a movie’s title, sometimes, serves as a promise to the audience. There is a pit and pendulum in this film. But they appeared in the movie’s last eleven minutes. It’s been years since I’ve read anything by Edgar Allan Poe, so I’m not sure which parts of the story are straight from the source material. However, I kind of wish the pit and pendulum would have appeared in the movie sooner.
A somewhat confusing climax: For this part of the review, I will be bringing up spoilers. While I typically try to leave spoilers out of my reviews, I feel I can’t fully explain my points without including them. If you haven’t seen 1961’s The Pit and the Pendulum, please skip this part and continue reading where it states “The underutilization of Maximillian”.
In The Pit and the Pendulum, Francis, and the audience, learn Elizabeth died of shock. But throughout the film, Nicholas is convinced he killed his wife. To prove Nicholas didn’t kill Elizabeth, Francis and Doctor Leon open Elizabeth’s grave, revealing a skeleton. But toward the end of the movie, Nicholas discovers Elizabeth had been alive that whole time. Even though he is overcome by shock, Nicholas pulls out of it, believing he is his father, Sebastian. Looking back on the film, I wonder if Nicholas assumed his father’s identity because the grief and trauma made him take a psychological turn for the worse? Or did Nicholas know about Elizabeth and Leon’s affair that entire time, using the “shock” as the perfect opportunity for revenge? Also, where did Leon and Elizabeth find a skeleton for their plan?
The underutilization of Maximillian: In a handful of moments, a servant named Maximillian appeared in the movie. At one point, I honestly thought he would play a bigger role in the mystery. Unfortunately, Maximillian was underutilized throughout the story. It felt like this character was included in the movie just for the sake of it.
My overall impression:
When it comes to movie blogging, things don’t always go according to plan. That was the case when I chose to review The Pit and the Pendulum. Looking back on the film, I realize this change of plans ended up being a good thing. For starters, I had the opportunity to review one of Vincent’s films on his birthday, which happens to be today. The film in question was also a pleasant surprise because of how good it was! The Pit and the Pendulum is an engaging and intriguing mystery from start to finish. This is one of the more effective horror movies, similar to titles like 1962’s Cape Fear. Vincent Price is one of those actors I’ve come to appreciate the more of his films I watch. After watching The Song of Bernadette, I thought it would be so cool to hear Vincent read some of Edgar Allan Poe’s work. Because of his involvement in The Pit and the Pendulum, my wish kind of came true. I also discovered, in 1970, Vincent was the narrator of An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe. Since I enjoyed the 1961 adaptation so much, I’ll have to seek that production out!
Overall score: 8.1-8.2 out of 10
Have you seen any adaptation of The Pit and the Pendulum? Did you read Edgar Allan Poe’s literary work? Let me know in the comment section!
Have fun at the movies!