The Pit and the Pendulum (1991)
By: James Gillett on August 19, 2010  | 
DVD
Big Sky Video | All Regions, PAL | 4:3 | English DD 2.0 | 92 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Stuart Gordon
Starring: Lance Henriksen, Rona De Ricci, Jonathan Fuller
Screenplay: Dennis Paoli
Country: USA
External Links
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Back in 1991 after a couple of successful H.P. Lovecraft inspired efforts including the superb Re-animator, Stuart Gordon and friends took on Edgar Allan Poe's The Pit and the Pendulum, a macabre tale set amidst the dark days of the Spanish Inquisition. Taking title and inspiration from the classic short story (famously adapted previously in 1961 by Roger Corman), Gordon's film tells of Maria (Rona De Ricci) the wife of a baker who finds herself at the mercy of the Grand Inquisitor Torquemada (Lance Henriksen) after she objects to a young boy being whipped at a public execution. What follows is series of disturbing and even occasionally darkly humorous events as Maria suffers the Inquisition's tortures and indignities as her husband Antonio (Jonathan Fuller) desperately tries to engineer her escape.

This interesting little effort produced by Full Moon Entertainment, perhaps best known for their seemingly endless Puppet Master series along with the highly enjoyable Future Cop, thankfully forges its own path, taking only imagery from the short story and completely avoiding a retelling of Corman's adaption. With only so much that can be derived from Poe's very short fiction, which played out amidst the Inquisition's end during the French occupation of Toledo circa 1808, the film instead takes us back to 1492, a time that could be considered the Inquisition's peak of strength and influence in order to explore, in grisly fashion, it's gross abuses of power during the notorious heresy trials.

Not that the film is strictly designed to be any kind of history lesion. The Pit and the Pendulum is a horror flick, with the Grand Inquisitor Torquemada (a real historical figure) making a memorable and formidable villain. Here played in a standout performance by Lance Henriksen, Torquemada is portrayed as a conflicted and tortured man, less sadistic than his close followers, but significantly more fanatical. His growing interest in Maria, an infatuation of which he believes may be the result of her 'bewitching' him, leads to extreme inner turmoil, compelling him to have her confess at any cost...

Embracing the obvious exploitive elements of such a setup, but also infusing the film with a black comedic touch, Gordon creates a tone that doesn't feel quite as at home as it did with the likes of Re-animator and From Beyond. Bleak one moment, almost goofy the next, and with a climax that takes a turn for the strange, the film can feel oddly uneven. Thankfully the fascinating setting and subject matter keep it on the right side of engrossing and engaging throughout, and the more serious and disturbing sequences succeed, helped along by some rather good gore and makeup effects. Shot on a Castle location in Italy, the film aims to squeeze as much as possible out of its obviously limited budget, and does, even if the end result still feels a little small scale.

Long time Gordon fans may notice plenty of regulars along for the ride, including frequent writing collaborator Dennis Paoli, and the likes of Gordon's wife Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Jeffrey Combs and Stephen Lee among others filling out the cast. Unfortunately some of their performances leave a little to be desired. Going a long way to make up for this fact is a brief, if most welcome cameo by the late Oliver Reed as The Cardinal, his scene giving a cheeky nod to another Poe classic; The Cask of Amontillado.
Video
The film is presented in a reasonable 4:3 non-anamorphic PAL transfer. The image is a little soft unfortunately, and displays a couple of film artefacts on occasion. At the very least, it's an improvement over the VHS.
Audio
We get a serviceable 2.0 track without any obvious flaws.
Extra Features
Available is an ok Behind the Scenes featurette (12:49mins) with interviews with the cast and crew including Stuart Gordon, some Bloopers (1:47mis) and the original Trailer (2:32mins).
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
The Pit and the Pendulum is an uneven but ultimately enjoyable effort from Stuart Gordon that ranks easily amongst the best films in Full Moon's catalogue. An underappreciated oddity, and a fascinating and strangely captivating watch, due in no small way to Lance Henriksen's one-of-a-kind performance, the film delivers more than just a straight-up Poe adaptation. While it may not be for all tastes, admirers of both Gordon and Henriksen's work should find it well worth their while.

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