The Pit and the Pendulum

The Fall of the House of Usher, Theatre of Blood, the Dr Phibes collection and Pit and the Pendulum, it would be more than fair to say that Arrow are on something of a Vincent Price kick as of late. With their previous release, the great man himself was given a level of freedom that he rarely saw throughout his career, in a more traditional move Pit and the Pendulum sees the screen icon in much more conventional territory with one of the many Edgar Allen Poe adaptations he made with Roger Corman.

In Corman’s Pit and the Pendulum, Price plays Nicholas (Don) Medina, son of the brutal torturer of the Spanish Inquisition and husband of the late Elizabeth (Barbara Steele). As the film opens, Elizabeth’s Brother, Francis (John Kerr), visit Don Medina to find out why his fit and healthy sister died abruptly.  Medina reveals that it was the suffocating aura of residual death and despair from his father’s barbaric hand that caused the death of his Wife. The guilt of being responsible for his wife’s death and the sights scorched into memory as a child have caused Medina to become emotionally fragile to the extreme. A delicacy threatened by strange things happening in the halls of Castle Medina.

Corman has long been distinguished for his thrifty ways, that same sentiment could be extended to this very review. Everything that characterised the previous Arrow/Corman/Price release, fall of the House of Usher, is present and correct here too with the exception of the use of colour. Using filters to suggest a sense of oddity is a simple but effectively eerie approach.

Almost too predictably, Vincent Price’s commanding performance elevates the admittedly goofy adaptation by a good few grades. The character Don Medina is one who is plagued by death at every corner of his life, from Childhood under the iron rule of his father to his adult self and beyond. As a character who suffers at the hand of his own history, Price’s performance infers a resolve hidden deep within. This tenacity eventually snaps, revealing a savage malevolence that the actor takes to just as naturally. Without Vincent Price, neither The Pit and The Pendulum nor the fall of the House of Usher would be the renowned landmarks they both are. As a result, this film could easily be characterised as one of the best films of Corman’s directorial career.


Arrow releases tend to fall into two camps. The first of the group of films that define the form for one reason or the other and stand up as classic icons of a particular genre, films that can be appreciated by the uninitiated. The other group is where one finds The Pit and the Pendulum. This second group are films that are lost in time. That is to say they are testaments to nostalgia, films that hark back to a far less pretentious era of storytelling, films that are appreciated most by people who saw that during their teenage and early twenties – usually. Pit and the Pendulum will be enjoyed most by people in love with celebrated genre studios such as Hammer and Amicus.

The Blu-ray print is quite glorious. There are still little glimmers as one would expect with a film of its vintage, but that is expected issue with many a mastering. That is but a mere subliminal hint at the age of the film when one considers that this is the best the film has looked since it was released in cinemas back in 1961, maybe ever. Extras also, the two which need attention drawing too are “An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe with Vincent Price”, which is a dream come true for fans and a sequence shot in 1968 to pad out the film for the longer TV time slot – a true treat for fans.


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