Sunday, 25 May 2014
Blu-ray Review: Pit And The Pendulum
Made in 1961, Roger Corman's 'Pit And The Pendulum' was shot on a budget of $270,000; $50,000 of which went to Vincent Price who turns in a gem of a performance as Nicholas Medina. A Spanish castle is the setting for this wonderfully atmospheric take on Edgar Allan Poe's story, as Francis Barnard (John Kerr) arrives in search of the truth regarding the death of his sister Elizabeth, played by Barbara Steele. Elizabeth died at the age of 29, and the cause of her untimely demise lie within the castle walls, and can only be conveyed by Nicholas, his sister Catherine (Luana Anders) and family physician Dr Leon (Antony Carbone). The initial explanation that Elizabeth died from "something in her blood" proves wholly unsatisfactory, and Barnard resolves to uncover the truth come what may. His quest is punctuated with flashback sequences containing fragments from the tortured past of Nicholas, who is locked in a public world of grief over Elizabeth's passing and who believes she has returned from the grave to wreak vengeance. Certainly, the strains of music coming from the harpsichord she so loved to play suggests her unquiet spirit resides in the castle.
Corman's film essentially plays out in three acts, with the third based on Poe's story which would have proved insufficient to fill and 80 minute feature. Richard Matheson did a fine job with the screenplay, which presented a considerable challenge and one he rose to admirably, throwing a dose of Freudian angst into the mix by painting a lurid picture of Nicholas' father whose personality will reach out to the living in a terrific final act. Matheson's work here is exceptional, and the same can be said for the art department and effects work, along with the skills of DOP Floyd Crosby. Those beautiful matte paintings, sumptuous set designs and macabre splendour of the halls and passageways really do make this film a feast for the eyes, while the cast - particularly Vincent Price - step off the pages of Matheson's script and mostly deliver. It's true that some reviewers have charged Price with a hammy, over-the-top performance, but I feel this is unfair as the range of emotions demanded by his two roles are perfectly conveyed.For me, John Kerr's performance is the odd one out, though I have tuned in a little better to his turn down the years.
'Pit And The Pendulum' is one of those films that induces a warm glow with each viewing. It's delights are many, and guarantees repayment of the admission fee tenfold; not least for a scene that culminates in one of the shock moments in horror film history.
'Evening' appeared on the American DVD of 'Tomb Of Ligeia' and is a nice bonus feature here.
A 5 minute added television sequence follows, shot in 1968 when this film was sold to television and found to be too short for its two hour time slot. Luana Anders was the only cast member available, and appears here telling her story in an asylum. Tim Lucas notes in his commentary that Anders, seven years on, seems a better actress and it's a good point.
The original theatrical trailer rounds things off as far as the disc is concerned, but Arrow Video have included a booklet contains photographs, notes about the transfer and a Jonathan Rigby essay titled 'The Waiting Pit Of Hell'. Jonathan's piece provides an excellent overview of production history, its influence on other films and concludes by recognising its place as "an enduring Gothic masterwork".
'Pit And The Pendulum' is available to buy now, and you can choose between a standard Blu-ray or a nifty steelbook. For sure, this will find its way on to many 'Best Of The Year' lists.