It’s All Connected: Pit And The Pendulum (1961)

Like I said last time, I’m going to keep it relatively simple with It’s All Connected for a bit and just mainline Vincent Price movies. Some will be from the re-issued Vincent Price Collection Blu-ray set from Scream Factory while others will be find their way to me from darker corners of my collection and various streaming services. Today, though, there are several connections as, like Usher, Pit And The Pendulum is another Roger Corman-directed, Richard Matheson-adapted, Vincent Price-starring, Les Baxter-scored American International Pictures-produced Edgar Allan Poe flick starring Price!

Also, as with House Of Usher, I’d never seen this film before! In this one, a man named Francis Barnard (John Kerr) travels the house his sister Elizabeth (Barbara Steele) shared with her husband Nicholas Medina (Vincent Price) only to find out that she had perished several months prior.  Barnard continues to push to find out exactly what happened to his sister, but kept getting conflicting reports, though one revolved around her becoming obsessed with the house’s torture chamber and accidentally trapping herself in an Iron Maiden.

Barnard’s talks with Nicholas’ visiting sister Catherine (Luana Anders) help remove some guilt from Nicholas who had apparently seen his father torture his mother and uncle to death after discovering their affair. Eventually, though, circumstances push Nicholas too far and he breaks, leading to the film’s epic climax.

This film is really a showcase for all the tools Price has in his acting kit. Unless you’re firmly in Barnard’s shoes from the beginning, you can feel Nicholas’ pain at the loss of his young wife. You learn about the trauma he carries from his childhood and how it wears on him well into his adulthood. And then, SPOILER, by the end, you see him take on the personality of his mad father Sebastian in a turn that’s both heartbreaking (when you think of what the character is going through) and delightful (when you, as a viewer, get to see Price go there).

Double SPOILERS for this paragraph, but the reason for Medina’s slide into madness comes from the realization that his wife, Elizabeth, wasn’t really dead! She had been hiding in the castle playing little tricks on Nicholas until she could run away with the man she had been having an affair with, Doctor Charles Leon (Antony Carbone). Though she thinks she’s killed her husband, she’s actually driven him to the point where his Inquisition-loving father could take control after a fashion. All of this leads to one of the coolest combinations of set design and matte painting I’ve seen in a long time.

This, of course, is where the film’s climax takes place as Nicholas switches his anger towards Barnard as the new stand-in for his rage. The resulting scene with the pendulum is perfectly tense as you see that blade swing back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. My stomach muscles clenched with each pass! Once again, I was super impressed with the combination of Matheson’s script and Corman’s direction which resulted in an eerie, creepy film that keeps ratcheting up tension.

The best part about digging into your favorite artist’s work is coming across more pieces of art that remind you of why that person is so great. That’s the experience I’m having while going through Price’s films. Thankfully I’m finding more examples of his greatness and hope to keep experiencing more as I continue through his filmography!

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