Monday 18 June 2007

Pit and the Pendulum (1961) Roger Corman

Francis Barnard can't get a ride all the way to the imposing manse of Don Medina, which is hardly surprising given that this is one of Roger Corman's loose Edgar Allan Poe adaptations and Don Medina is played by Vincent Price. He's travelled a long way for the early sixteenth century to visit the grave of his sister Elizabeth, who has died of some mysterious illness, and he's suspicious of everything. Apparently she died of fright after becoming obsessed by the torture chamber of the Don's father, Don Sebastian, a notorious inquisitor who used it regularly. Barnard doubts the cause of death but then doubts creep in as to whether she's even dead at all.

This is slow and talky, as if it was sourced not just from Poe's short story but more directly from a radio adaptation for something like The Price of Fear, Vincent Price's own slot of the macabre, but it warms up as time passes and the film picks up depth. The visuals are perfectly adequate, and in fact look great because of the sets and costumes, but none of it really directs us. It's all just eye candy to back up the stories that the characters tell. Price has precisely the voice for it, of course, and the theatricality too, but Luana Anders doesn't have the depth to back up her quiet and sincere clarity. She looks very right here as Don Medina's sister but lacks the passion she had a couple of years later in Coppola's Dementia 13.

There aren't a lot of others to make up a cast here. After all, this is a Roger Corman film and the one thing Corman will never be known for is spending money. John Kerr is Barnard and he finds his place in the role, though it takes a while. The initial scenes with him opposite Anders are not examples of great acting, and he soon specialised in television work rather than film, making only nine movies in total and only one after this. Antony Carbone is Doctor Leon who cared for Elizabeth and for Don Medina himself, and he seems remarkably too American to play what is presumably a Spanish character, given that he was born in Italy.

That leaves the other horror icon of the bunch, who plays the elusive Elizabeth. She made many horror movies over the decades but is probably still best known for the one she made before this: Black Sunday aka The Mask of Satan aka a whole slew of other English language titles given to an Italian film called La Maschera del Demonio, made by the wildly inconsistent Mario Bava. It's far too long since I've seen that film but then it's far too long since I've seen this one too! She gets a great entrance that's well worth waiting for , even though it's marred by Vincent Price hamming it up. He's always far better as the man in control than the man being scared out of it. Thankfully we get some good scenes of that side of things too!

Sure, the pit and the pendulum really don't have much to do with things but this was a Corman picture. We have Vincent Price going charismatically insane and a great ending. What else could we want?

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