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Pit And The Pendulum, The

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    Ian Jane
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  • Pit And The Pendulum, The



    Released by: Arrow Films
    Released on: May 19th, 2014.
    Director: Roger Corman
    Cast: Vincent Price, Barbara Steele, John Kerr
    Year: 1961

    The Movie:

    After the success of The Fall Of The House Of Usher, director Roger Corman was able to talk MGM into bankrolling another Poe adaptation, this time in the form of The Pit And The Pendulum and of course, once again starring the inimitable Vincent Price in the lead role. This one had pretty much everything you could want from a Poe movie: great gothic sets, period dress, a tortured lead character and a finale that still impresses even to this day.

    The movie follows Francis Bernard (John Kerr) as he travels to Spain after hearing of the demise of his sister, Elizabeth (Barbara Steele). When he arrives he's greeted by her widower, Don Nicholas Medina (Vincent Price), a man still very much overcome with grief over the loss of his beloved wife. Nicholas' sister, Catharine (Luana Anders), shares the home. Nicholas' family is somewhat infamous, as his father, a wealthy nobleman, was known for his penchant for torture. In fact, so malicious were his ways that he had built in the stately old castle and massive torture chamber. Nicholas insists, however, that the loss of Elizabeth had nothing to do with this family's past and that she was in fact poisoned to death, the culprit still at large.

    Francis is not convinced. He, with some help from Nicholas and his right hand man, Doctor Charles Leon (Antony Carbone), go so far as to exhume her corpse, mysteriously buried in the basement behind a brick wall. Much to the surprise of all involved, the corpse appears to have been buried alive. Upon this discovery, strange things start to happen. Nicholas believes to have seen the ghost of his dead wife while the maid, Maria (Lynne Bernay) swears she heard her whisper to her in the night. As Nicholas' behavior becomes increasingly more insane, Francis becomes only more determined to uncover the truth, all of which leads up to a grisly finale.

    This is a solid horror film with a great cast and some impressive visual flair. Yes, there are times where the film's low budget shows (the scenes in the dungeon being the most obvious) but outside of that, this is well paced and actually pretty nice looking as long as you don't mind the matte paintings. Corman shows a great grasp of timing here, and the script (adapted from Poe's source material by Richard Matheson) manages to build the mystery nicely so that when we get the big reveal at the end, we know the characters well enough for it to have some pretty strong impact.

    The cast all turn in fine work. Price is as excellent here as you'd expect, with the role really fitting his occasionally over the top acting style rather well and allowing him the chance to exaggerate things rather appropriately once his character breaks down. Seeing him cast opposite Barbara Steele is great, she too does fine work here. Even if she doesn't get as much dialogue as most of the other characters her piercing eyes and gauntly beautiful features communicate everything they need to. John Kerr is also quite good here. All in all, this one fires on all cylinders, it's quite entertaining and just polished enough to let us suspend our disbelief, without taking the spotlight away from the talented cast.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Arrow presents The Pit And The Pendulum on Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p high definition “transferred from original film elements by MGM” in its proper widescreen aspect ratio on a 50GB disc. It looks similar to the domestic release that came out last year through Shout! Factory, which is a good thing, but it improves on that disc with a higher bit rate resulting in less obvious compression artifacts. Aside from that, you can look for a similarly pleasing level of fine detail and very nice color reproduction. There are no noise reduction issues or edge enhancement problems and the film looks excellent.

    The only audio option for the feature is an English language Mono PCM track with optional English closed captioning provided. Though range is obviously a bit limited, this is a good mix offering clear dialogue, a nice, rich score and properly balanced levels. There are no noticeable issues with hiss or distortion and to be brief, the sound quality is just fine here.

    Carried over from the old MGM DVD is an audio commentary with Roger Corman that was originally recorded for the MGM DVD release of the movie. It's a good track, but not Corman's best. He does offer up quite a bit of information as to the story behind the film and what it was like working with Price, and he also discusses some of the challenges in adapting Poe's work for the big screen and some of the more unusual moments involving Freudian psychology that creep into the picture. There are, however, a few too many spots where he simply goes quiet for this to be as involving as you might want it to be. The good outweighs the bad, however, and it's inclusion in the set is very welcome indeed.

    The disc includes a new audio commentary by critic Tim Lucas in which the man behind Video Watchdog gives us his take on the film. He starts off by discussing the optical used in the film's iconic opening credits and then goes on to discuss the difference between the hero in this film versus the hero in other Poe films, plenty of background information on Price and details about his career on stage and screen and just as many details about Barbara Steele and her work - of course tying it into her films with Bava (he makes some apt comparisons between this film and Black Sunday). He also talks about the studio sets used, some of the details about the storyline, details about plenty of the other cast and crew members and of course some critical insight into the look of the film and its effectiveness. This is quite an insightful track and very interesting.

    From there, dig into the featurettes starting with The Story Behind The Swinging Blade, which is a new forty-three minute long documentary on the making of the movie with input Roger Corman, Barbara Steele, Vincent Price's daughter Victoria Price, filmmaker Brian Yuzna and critic/Price historian David Del Valle. Corman talks about how he got into making the Poe films in the first place, how they did very well for AIP and how inevitably he wound up making this picture and how Richard Matheson came on board to write the adaption. Steele talks about the difficulty of a quick low budget shoot but expresses her admiration for Corman, while all involved speak fondly of Price. Victoria shares some thoughts on the picture, talking about Corman's admiration for her father's artistic background and how he was perfectly suited for the horror genre of his day. Yuzna expresses his admiration for the film and Del Valle offers up his thoughts and some critical insight into the picture. It's quite a well made piece with the newly shot interview clips making up the bulk of it and a few pertinent clips and plenty of archival stills used nicely to give it all some visual flair.

    The disc also includes An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe with Vincent Price which is a fifty-two minute piece that was made for television in 1970. Here Price performs dramatic readings of a number of Poe stories such as The Tell-Tale Heart, The Sphinx, The Cask Of Amontillado and The Pit and the Pendulum. While this is literally just Price set against different backdrops in various costumes he gives such committed performances here that it's a blast to watch even if the video quality won't blow you away. He's so ridiculously theatrical here, particularly when he reads Heart, that you can't help but get wrapped up in it.

    Rounding out the extras are an optional Isolated Music and Effects Track, the 1968 prologue with Launa Anders shot to pad out the film for its TV broadcast, the film's original theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection. The disc comes with a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx in addition to an insert booklet featuring an essay on the film by Gothic Horror author Jonathan Rigby alongside a nice selection of archival stills and poster art.

    The Final Word:


    Arrow's Blu-ray release of Roger Corman's The Pit And The Pendulum is superb. The video quality is excellent, the audio quality very fine and the extras are plentiful and interesting proving to be both entertaining and very informative. All in all, fantastic release of one of Price and Corman's best collaborations.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!






























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