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It is the time of the Spanish Inquisition. Maria does not like what is going on during the "Auto De Fe". When she speaks out, she is arrested and accused of being a witch. Torquemada has plans for her! He orders her tortured, and her tongue to be cut out. Her husband attempts to free her... Written by
"The Pit and the Pendulum" marks a high point for Charles Bands' Full Moon Studios; it's an intense, elaborate, bloody, and sexy film that truly lives up to the word "horror". It's not perfect, but even taking any flaws into account, it represents an impressive effort from director Stuart Gordon and a talented cast and crew.
Taking a break from adapting the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Gordon and screenwriter Dennis Paoli instead use the short story by Edgar Allan Poe as a jumping off point for a tale set during the Spanish inquisition of the 15th century. In the city of Toledo, bakers' wife Maria (the stunning Rona De Ricci) interferes when a little boy is being flogged in public. Due to this action, it is assumed by the clergy that she must be a witch and she and her husband Antonio (Jonathan Fuller) are arrested and intended to stand trial. Taking a deep interest in her is Grand Inquisitor Torquemada (Lance Henriksen, in a commanding performance), who explains his lust away by saying that she has "bewitched" him.
The production values are first rate here: filmed on location in Italy, the film looks just right, from the sets to the costumes to the props. Under-rated composer Richard Band contributes one of his best ever scores. This is all wonderfully (and appropriately) lurid and gory; Greg Cannoms' effects are most enjoyable, and the exquisite Ms. De Ricci goes full frontal for some scenes. The atmosphere is palpable; Gordon and company perfectly create a feeling of oppression and despair. Only some unnecessary levity and comedic performances tend to take one out of the film; it just feels too unnatural.
The cast is certainly full of eclectic choices, especially the always fantastic Henriksen, who disappears inside his deranged character. De Ricci and Fuller are both impassioned, Frances Bay has a great role as a cheerful old witch, Jeffrey Combs is amusing, and Mark Margolis and Tom Towles offer fine support. There's also a small role for Geoffrey Copleston, and a great cameo by Oliver Reed.
Outside of his Lovecraft-based efforts such as "Re-Animator" and "From Beyond", this has to rank as one of the best things that Gordon has done. Even if this viewer didn't care for some elements, the rest of the film is just so good that this can be forgiven. Overall, it's well worth a viewing.
Eight out of 10.
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