Many of you horror fans have probably seen one of Roger Corman's many famous film adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe stories. Among them is the original PIT AND THE PENDULUM in which a psychopathic Vincent Price fancies himself as a Spanish Inquisitor. Now comes the updated version, directed by Stuart Gordon of RE-ANIMATOR and DOLLS fame. Unlike the old 60s version, this one eschews subtlety and leaves little to the imagination. And that's just the way I like it.
First the plot. A naïve young couple living during the Spanish inquisition enjoy themselves having sex while literally baking buns...related imagery? A subtle metaphor of overlapping themes? Sorry, I thought I was a legitimate film critic there for a second. Anyhow, soon the young woman, Maria, finds herself unjustly accused by the Chief Inquisitor played by B-movie king, Lance Henrickson (best known as the android Bishop in ALIENS). Maria is taken into custody while her husband finds himself in the hapless position of being unable to track her down.
Once in the dungeons, our young, sexy heroine (played by the lovely Rona di Ricci in her last of two screen roles) is subjected to strip searches and other demeaning tests. While this is truly offensive and non-PC, something tells me you're not going to watch this film for its politically-correct social commentary. Essentially, the plot less film moves back and forth between random scenes of torture in the dungeon and the husband's attempts to save his bride.
The lack of a plot is not a major problem however, because the torture scenes are excellent (I never thought I’d use the words ‘torture’ and ‘excellent’ in the same sentence – suddenly I’ve become Dick Cheney). In THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM we have everything from the cutting off of tongues to victims being buried alive in walls. And, best of all, the famous torture technique of the original film is brought back in fine form: the pendulum, a large swinging ax which slowly moves towards its victims. In this film we actually get to see someone get chopped in half by it. Outstanding.
One interesting note: the film features a cameo by the famous British actor Oliver Reed. Once again, a straight-to-video horror movie shows us how the mighty of yesteryear have fallen into the obscurity of the present times. This guy was in OLIVER!, THE FOUR MUSKETEERS, and countless other film classics before his death in 1999. In THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM he has about a five-minute part which ends in another torture by the Grand Inquisitor, which I don’t want to spoil.
THE PIT IN THE PENDULUM is downright sick at times. It is very gory and there is plenty of sexual content as well. Actually, what better recommendation could I possibly offer? Henrickson is adequately creepy and odd in his part and the other actors don't have to do much but get tortured, which they do well. Any other low-budget flick of this sort would not give you half of the violence found in this one. A terrific film which perfectly fits into the category of B-horror movies...a great rental (or even purchase) movie for true fans of the genre.
Rating: *** and a half (out of a possible 4)