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Francis Barnard goes to Spain, when he hears his sister Elizabeth has died. Her husband Nicholas Medina, the son of the brutest torturer of the Spanish Inquisition, tells him she has died of a blood disease, but Francis finds this hard to believe. After some investigating he finds out that it was extreme fear that was fatal to his sister and that she may have been buried alive! Strange things then start to happen in the Medina castle. Written by
Leon Wolters <wolters@strw.LeidenUniv.nl>
Following the sudden death of his sister, Francis Barnard (John Kerr) travels to Spain to question her husband, Don Nicholas Medina (Vincent Price), son of a notoriously barbaric Inquisitor. Medina openly mourns the death of his wife but Barnard is unconvinced by his story and is determined to discover the truth.
Proceeding from 'The Fall of the House of Usher' (1960), director Roger Corman's second film in his now-famous cycle of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations was this delightfully lurid and lavish offering that can at once be both repugnant and resplendent. 'Pit and the Pendulum' is a uniquely and profoundly visual experience. Dazzling colour and abhorrent darkness coalesce to invoke the most unpleasant aura of trepidation. The luxuriant cinematography of Floyd D. Crosby coupled with the artistic eye of Corman merge eminently, ensuring that mood and atmosphere remain constant and that the viewer feels the agony of the events depicted on-screen. Furthermore, Richard Matheson's screenplay is both intelligent and eloquent and Corman makes full use of what he is gifted here. The pacing of the film is superb, constantly moving onwards, never lingering too long and remaining thoroughly enthralling throughout. Truly this film is perfect in presentation and direction.
Sadly, there are imperfections in the performances of the cast, most notably John Kerr whose continually wooden, dull and tepid acting is too explicit for a leading role. Similarly, while the linguistical talents of Vincent Price lend themselves to an almost Shakespearean delivery of his lines, he occasionally allows himself to sink into ham-acting which detracts somewhat from the more serious nature of the film. However, minus these minor distractions, the performances of the cast are more than adequate to support what is in essence a strongly visceral experience. Luanne Anders and Anthony Carbone offer masterful performances in their supporting roles and cult-favourite, Barbara Steele, makes short appearances as Medina's deceased wife.
If the Corman/Price collaborations are to horror what the Scorsese/De Niro collaborations be to drama then this may well be Corman's 'Goodfellas'. A sublime entry into the genre that offers numerous thrills and chills, inherent beauty and one of the strongest screenplays to grace Sixties horror cinema. What few flaws that there are cannot truly undermine the hard work that went into making this magnificent horror film.
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