22 May 2014

Blu-ray Review - The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

Gothic, Horror, Thriller
Arrow Video
Rating: 12
BD Release Date:
19th May 2014 (UK)
Run Time:
85 minutes
Roger Corman
Vincent Price, Barbara Steele John Kerr
Pit and the Pendulum [Blu-ray]

The Pit and the Pendulum is the second Edgar Allan Poe adaptation by Roger Corman. It came out after the enormous success of his version of House of Usher. That film came to be after Corman suggested instead of making two more black and white horror films, why not make a colour one? It turned out to be the most successful film for American International Pictures of that time.

Francis Barnard arrives in Spain after he hears of his sister’s untimely mysterious death. He finds it hard to be believe she died of a blood disease, despite the claims from her husband Nicholas Medina (Vincent Price), who just happens be the son of the Spanish Inquisition’s most infamous torturer. Francis starts to investigate and snoops around the Medina castle. As usual with Poe’s work, strange things start to happen.

The film is very typical of Corman’s Poe Cycle. There are barely 90 minutes of film, which was of course to make it easy to show the films more times in a day and as part of double bills. These films were exceptionally written, often by esteemed writers like Richard Matheson (in the case of this one) or Robert Towne (who would later write Chinatown). The cinematography by Floyd Crosby (the father of the Byrds’ David Crosby) is very lush and proto-psychedelic in nature. Crosby was one of those oldtimers who worked on films such as F.W Murnau’s last film Tabu in 1931 and High Noon. The sets and matte paintings are absolutely gorgeous as well.

Vincent Price, however, is the star of the film gives one of his best unhinged performances of a career comprised of many; the last 15 minutes alone are up there with his best work. Price was very happy to be associated with Corman on the Poe films because it helped his slumping career and had some cachet of quality. He would star in all of them bar one, The Premature Burial.

Arrow has pulled out all the stops as usual on this release. It includes a director’s commentary from Roger Corman and a second commentary from critic Tim Lucas. The highlight of the disc is fantastic 40-minute “making of” documentary on titled “Behind the Swinging Blade.” It also includes an added TV sequence that was made to pad out the film when shown in longer slots on TV. Also, there is “An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe with Vincent Price,” which is Vincent Price reading Poe shorts in front of a live audience.

This also looks like it won’t be the last of Arrow’s Corman series, as there is a hint of more to come in their tease for upcoming releases. Let’s hope they can get rights to the masterpiece of the Poe cycle, The Masque of the Red Death, along with many others. It would also be great if they could release some of Corman’s non-Poe films, such as The Intruder or the original The Little Shop of Horrors.


Ian Schutz

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