Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

Directed by:
Roger Corman

A bit slow going at times, but classy and entertaining Poe adaptation (scripted by Richard Matheson) features Vincent Price as Nicholas Medina, a 16th Century nobleman suffering in his seaside castle after the death of his beloved wife Elizabeth (Barbara Steele), believing she had been buried alive. Guests, including a doctor friend (Anthony Carbone), his sister Catherine (Luana Anders) and Elizabeth's brother Francis (John Kerr) show up looking for answers... but some of them are up to more devious things, like trying to drive poor Nicholas insane. An elaborate downstairs torture chamber with a rack, an iron maiden and (of course) a pit and a pendulum add up to a lively finale when Nicholas finally snaps and believes he's his own father... a notoriously sadistic Spanish inquisitor!
Corman knows how to stretch a limited budget with some stylish flashback sequences, a professional cast, good Les Baxter score and effective period sets and costumes as good as anything else you'd see at the time. In fact, reading the AIP pressbook for the film reveals that 12,000 pounds of plaster, 2,000 red candles, 85 torches and 20 gallons of cobwebbing were used during the production! A 40x80-foot mural was also constructed in the pendulum room and the pendulum itself measured 18 feet in length and was mechanically operated. And all that for just 200 thousand dollars (the film went on to gross more than 2 million during its theatrical run). It was the second entry in the Corman Poe series. He did eight of them, seven starred Price, five were written by Matheson, and one - 1963's THE HAUNTED PALACE - is actually an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft, but is still considered part of this same series). All eight are good; some are even excellent.
MGM's Midnite Movies DVD release pairs this one up with Corman's HOUSE OF USHER (1960).


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