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Because it's a newer version of a classic horror movie (and it went
directly to video), I have been putting off watching Stuart Gordon's
take on Edgar Allen Poe's classic story, but after finally catching it;
I can honestly say that I don't know why I didn't see it earlier! While
the Roger Corman/Vincent Price version of the tale is far better, this
update still has a lot in store for the horror fan, most notably it's
superb European styled atmosphere, and a fine performance by Lance
Henriksen, which may even be the best of his career. While these
elements are contributors to the film's success, the main reason why
the film works is the story behind it. Of course, it's based (albeit
loosely) on Poe's classic tale, so the story is bound to be solid; but
it doesn't take all of it's influence from Poe, and so Dennis Paoli can
take a lot of credit for the screenplay he wrote for the movie. The
idea of 'the pendulum', along with a 'pit' can conjure up many feelings
of dread and pain, and this film adequately capitalises on that with
it's excellent torture filled finale!
As mentioned, Lance Henriksen gives what is maybe his best performance in this film. He is both powerful and frightening in his role as Torquemada, the head witchfinder of the Spanish Inquisition. When he says "I am the inquisition", it's enough to make your hairs stand on end. Henriksen is a criminally underrated actor and one that certainly deserves more praise...it's just unfortunate that he tends to shine in movies that don't get noticed. Also in the cast is 'Re-Animator' himself, Jeffrey Combs, who shines in a small role as someone in the inquisition. The film isn't wholly serious, and Stuart Gordon has seen fit to add some comic relief to the proceedings, which is OK but I feel that the movie would be better off without any 'relief'. Certain elements from other Poe stories appear, such as a man being bricked in behind a wall, and this film seems to treat it's subject material with respect. The European horror style is a major plus factor in my opinion, and should please fans of movies from the sixties and seventies. On the whole; surprisingly good!
If you've seen the classic Roger Corman version starring Vincent Price it's hard to put it out of your head, but you probably should do because this one is totally different. Subtlety has been abandoned in favour of gross-out horror - nudity, gore and all-round unpleasantness. OK it's ridiculous, trashy, sensationalised and historically dubious (did any members of the Inquisition really wear horn-rimmed glasses?), but despite all this it is strangely compelling. I literally couldn't tear myself away from the screen until the end of the movie. If there's a bigger compliment you can pay to a film I don't know what it is.
OK, sorry, I couldn't resist. Though this is a pretty grim movie
times, I can't hear the phrase "Spanish Inquisition" without
through the Monty Python routine. Once the movie starts, however, I
always so engrossed I forget about the sketch.
This movie had me hooked from the first scene the first time I saw it, but it has that rare quality of actually getting better with every viewing. As many have said, this is without a doubt Full Moon's all-time best. I'm a diehard Stuart Gordon fan, and if it wasn't for Re-Animator, I might say it was Gordon's best, too. By the way, the first scene is very grisly and cold-blooded, and you *know* it's gonna be a great movie when that happens even before the opening credits.
I'm really saddened that this movie didn't get more of a chance for wide release. I remember it being in the theater for maybe one week and then going to video, and the only reason I even knew it existed was from reading Fangoria. Look at the cast- while they aren't all considered "A-list", they are favs among horror and cult fans- Lance Henriksen (Millennium, Aliens) Tom Towles (Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer), Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator, From Beyond), Frances Bay (Blue Velvet), Oliver Reed... I think the other strike it has against it is that people see the title (maybe that's why it was changed in some versions, including the R-rated DVD that I rented, to The Inquisitor) and figure it's a travesty to even try to remake. Some friends wouldn't even give the movie a chance (to the point where they didn't even want to look at the box, they were so scornful) until I had to beg them to watch it- they thanked me after the first few scenes.
Don't get me wrong, the original is wonderful, and Vincent Price is, well, Vincent Price and in a class by himself. However, this movie has very little in common with Corman's other than the title, the fact that both movies are based on Poe's work, and that there's a scene towards the end where some unlucky b*stard tries to get free before the pendulum slices him in half. The similarities end there, however, and I don't think it's fair or accurate to call it a remake.
This version is actually set back in Spain during 1492, the REAL inquisition. Lance Henriksen, who can make his voice sound so quietly evil that Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter sounds harmless by comparison, stars as Torquemada. With the assistance of his underlings, he wants to rid the world of witchcraft and heresy, figuring the best way to do this is to torture and kill what seems like 99% of the population (historically, he was said to be responsible of over 100,000 executions). During one ugly public display involving Gordon's wife Carolyn Purdy-Gordon -other than Re-animator, she always seems to come to a horrible end in his movies) the young baker Antonio and his lovely wife Maria make the mistake of trying to intervene, so they assume she's a witch and toss her in the dungeon. In her cell, she's befriended by kindly Esmeralda. In one of the most clever twists, her cellmate turns out to be the one out of the tens of thousands accused who actually IS a witch. Maria's husband tries to save her and of course is immediately arrested as well. Unfortunately for Maria, ole Torq is horrified to find himself secretly attracted to her (he's a monk, and as Henriksen explains in the feauturette, has 'probably never gotten any in his life') and doesn't know how to deal with it. At first it seems like Maria might be able to use this to her advantage, but since Torq is so psychotically religious that he thinks any human emotions are the work of Satan, things just get more complicated and intense from there.
There are several references other than the Pendulum to Poe's work -clever ones, that fit in with the plot and are not just tossed in for the hell of it. Someone is walled up, even quoting the notorious line "For the love of God!" "Yes...for the love of God" is the grim reply. A cask of wine is revealed to be Amontillado. There's also subtle references to "The Premature Burial" and probably more I missed.
One of the elements that is actually kind of amusing in a horrible way is that you have absolutely NO chance against the evil forces in this movie, to the point where it is ludicrous. You're reasonably attractive? You're obviously trying to tempt men and must be a witch. You're ugly? That's also a sign of being a witch. You look normal? You're a witch disguised as a normal person! You try to fight back when they tear your clothes off to 'examine' you? You're not co-operating, you're a witch! You give up and co-operate? You're an evil whore! You have a mole or freckle anywhere on your body? That's the mark of the devil and you're a witch. Oh, you don't have any? Someone will pinch you and make a mark. Oh, the mark is starting to fade? You're using your evil powers to make it fade! You're just completely screwed no matter what. Also, if they haven't tortured you yet and you confess first to get it over with? Sorry, no such luck! You might just be trying to avoid torture, so confession doesn't officially count until you've been tortured for days-that is, if you don't die under torture ("Not another one!" a torturer complains in exasperation at one point).
The cast is amazing. There's not even near enough room to list all the great acting in this movie. Standouts are Henriksen, who not only portrays total evil all too convincingly but the inner struggle against his lust for Maria VS his 'holy duty'. Oliver Reed has less than 10 minutes of screen time as a heavy-drinking Cardinal who comes to visit Torquemada and try to get him to ease up on the mass killing a little, but trust me, you'll remember his scene long after the movie is over. Jeffrey Combs, as the scribe with the prince Valiant haircut and huge horn-rimmed Harry Potter glasses who seems to be the only one involved who is "just doing his job" and not getting off on it like all of Torquemada's other flunkies, steals every scene he's in. A less talented actor would have been forgettable in what could have been a boring part, but he makes the most of every second of his screen time. He also gets the some of the best and funniest lines ("How can they confess if they DON'T HAVE TONGUES??"), including the best in the movie along with the actress playing Esmeralda. She's wonderful, and one of the best and most memorable scenes of this, or any horror movie for that matter, involves her show-stopping revenge when she's burned at the stake. As she's being dragged up, Comb's character actually tells her apologetically: "I'm sorry that you weren't properly able to confess. There just wasn't enough time to torture you". Esmeralda: "Thanks anyway".
Not only am I running out of room to rave about how much I loved this movie, but I don't want to talk it up so much that I ruin it. Just watch, enjoy, and get the bejeezus scared out of you. Make sure you are not going to be interrupted for 90 minutes, because it is so riveting you do NOT want to have to turn it off even for a minute. Watch, and prepare to be impressed. Caution: this is NOT a movie for kids, or easily upset adults. The movie pulls NO punches in the graphic portrayal of extremely nasty tortures and executions. The movie is scary and disturbing enough; I try not to dwell to long on the fact that it is based on historical events. In the words of a character during a climactic moment that you won't forget for a long time..."Welcome to Hell!"
I haven't liked Stuart Gordon's output much since his classic one-two punch of 'Re-Animator' and 'From Beyond' back in the 1980s, so I've avoided seeing some of his movies for years. 'The Pit And The Pendulum' is one. I thought it was going to be a turkey, but now that I've finally seen it, I'm pleasantly surprised. While it isn't as great as vintage Gordon, it's far better than 'Castle Freak' or his recent 'Dagon'. The cast really makes this work. Lance Henriksen is excellent as the tortured Inquisitor Torquemada, and Rona De Ricci is very good as Maria the beautiful girl he becomes obsessed with. I don't know why De Ricci didn't go on to a career as she can act and she's very hot. The supporting cast is way above average, with Gordon regulars Jeffrey Combs and Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, 'Dolls' Stephen Lee, Tom Towles ('Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer'), Mark Margolis ('Pi') and even a cameo by Oliver Reed, who let's not forget appeared in 'The Devils' back in the early 70s, a movie which this 'The Pit And The Pendulum' has more in common with than the 60s Roger Corman version starring Vincent Price. I liked this movie a lot more than I expected to. It's underrated and definitely worth checking out, especially for Henriksen's intense performance, one of the best of his career.
The Roman Catholic Church has begun to turn away from the Inquisition,
finding its methods and motives more than just a little bit suspect.
But the Grand Inquisitor of Spain (Lance Henriksen) has other plans...
he is his own authority, allegedly guided by God Himself. A baker and
his wife end up on the wrong side of the law -- his law -- when they
protest an execution and she is accused of witchcraft.
Lance Henriksen has a bad habit of appearing in many low budget horror films, so much so that any credibility he gained as Bishop from "Aliens" or Frank Black from "Millenium" is overshadowed by his constant self-degradation. Did we really need so many Pumpkinhead films? But "Pit and the Pendulum" is one of those rare films that is both lower budget and yet still good, today maybe even carrying on well as a timeless classic.
Unlike other Full Moon films, this one has a steady plot and interesting characters -- and a decent cast. Mark Margolis shows up and Jeffrey Combs has a relatively small, but crucial, role to play. (Combs, like Henriksen, has sold out in recent years.... but his very presence makes a film better.) There is excessive -- but not gratuitous -- nudity, bloody torture devices (but not to the point of exploitation like "Saw", just for entertainment). This is a fun film in the vein of, say, the original "Troll" (but not "Troll 2").
Stuart Gordon is best known for "Re-Animator" and "From Beyond", but if there is a third third of his that deserves recognition, this is it. Gordon (and writer Dennis Paoli) found a way to work within the budget of Full Moon and still make things worth watching rather than poor excuses for "movies".
Now out on Blu-ray, the film looks better than ever (as much as it can). There is no audio commentary for some inexplicable reason, but there is a very short making-of featurette. Somehow Tom Towles got his name spelled wrong on the credits (a true disgrace). Blu-ray.com notes that the "transfer isn't masterful, but it's certainly more than capable" and gives the disc 3 of 5 stars. But if the price is right this film is worth getting.
I really enjoyed watching this movie and I wish to recommend to as many
people as possible. But maybe biased because I'm a huge fan of director
Stuart Gordon. I have yet to see a movie of his that doesn't fully lives up
to my expectations. From Re-Animator over Dolls to Castle Freak...they all
belong to my favorite horror movies. And I do believe Gordon belongs to the
most talented directors in the genre because he can handle all sort of
horror topics. His debut - the brilliant Re-Animator - was a comedy splatter
movie while The Pit and the Pendulum doesn't contain that much violence or
gore. This movie contains an intelligent and even educational story and it
has great settings and costumes of the 14th century.
The Pit and the Pendulum is an adaptation of the famous short story by Edgar Allen Poe. The master of low budget - Roger Corman - already used this story once to make a great horror classic starring Vincent Price. Stuart Gordon's movie isn't really a remake of that one. They just used the same plot. Pit and the Pendulum takes place during the Spanish Inquisition. Lance Henriksen plays one of the best roles of his entire career as Torquemada. He decides whether "witches" are guilty or not and when they'll be burned for the eyes of God. A young girl, Maria ( played by Ronna De Ricci who never did anything else in her career )who resists against his way of working is being arrested. Torquemada wants to accuse her of witchery but he's fascinated by her looks and her body. Meanwhile, Maria's husband entered the castle and he wants to free his wife.
The atmosphere and the settings impress the most in this movie. The ancient castle and the torture chambers are really intriguing. The costumes are terrific as well. There isn't too much gore and violence to detect in this movie ( especially not compared to previous Gordon movies ) but they're are a few very explicit scenes that show true horror. But it's always shot with a lot of style and class. Even though Lance Henriksen is getting all the attention in this movie, there are a a few other great performances in this movie. I'd like to bring forward Jeffrey Combs...my favorite B-movie actor and frequently cast by Stuart Gordon. His role is pretty limited but very well acted.
The Pit and Pendulum is warmly recommended to fans of atmospheric horror and historical stories. One to watch !!
"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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Pit and the Pendulum is set in Toledo in Spain during 1492 as the
Spanish Inquisition lead by Torquemada (Lance Henriksen) would strike
fear into the hearts of the local population, they would mercilessly
torture anyone they thought guilty of witchcraft. While at a public
execution a kind hearted woman named Maria (Rona De Ricci) speaks out
against the inquisition & it's methods, straight away she is accused of
being a witch & carted off to be tortured while her baker boyfriend
Antonio (Jonathan Fuller) is left for dead. When he comes round he
bribes a castle guard named Gomez (Stephen Lee, no not the British
snooker player...) to let him in as he tries to rescue Maria,
unfortunately Antonio is caught himself & he too is tortured. Is there
any way Antonio & Maria can escape the horrors of the Spanish
Inqusition & save themselves...
Directed by Stuart Gordon (my on screen digital TV guide claimed it was directed by someone called Stuart Corman!) & based on the story by Edgar Allan Poe this is a pretty good period horror flick. Poe's story had already been turned into a film by Roger Corman as he directed Pit and the Pendulum (1961) staring Vincent Price although this 90's version has next to nothing in common with Corman's flick other than the title & even that was changed to The Inquisitor for it's US DVD release, the script by Dennis Paoli is pretty good here, the character's are better than one would expect with Henriksen obviously having fun playing the part of Torquemada as he's a character with some depth even if not a particularly likable one although I'm not sure about that silly hair-cut. The dialogue is OK & it moves along at a reasonable pace but I couldn't help thinking there wasn't much to it, I mean two people are accused of witchcraft & they get tortured by the Spanish Inquisition who abuse their own power & that's about it, there's a small sub-plot about the pope wanting to end the torture of the Inqusition but this is quickly forgotten & comes to nothing. I didn't like the ambiguous nature of the witches either, I mean were they real witches or not? Why the secrecy? So there you have it, if this sounds exciting to you or you like watching people getting tortured then The Pit and the Pendulum is the film for you, as for me I liked it but mostly because of Hendriksen & it's torture scenes. I know, I'm sick.
Director Gordon does alright, the Italian castle locations look nice enough I suppose but I couldn't help but feel it was all a little flat & bland. There's certainly no real style or visual flair here that Gordon showed in his earlier films, there's a pretty nasty down beat atmosphere running through the film & it certainly isn't a feel good flick as there are no happy endings on show. Don't expect a fact based history lesson either I doubt there's much fact here apart from the Spanish inquisition themselves. While there are plenty of torture scenes The Pit and the Pendulum surprisingly isn't that graphic, there's some blood splatter, someone is impaled on spikes, a rat is sliced in half, people are burned at the stake & various scenes of torture which aren't particularly intense. There's some full frontal nudity as well if that's your thing.
With a supposed budget of about $2,000,000 this looks nice enough if a little forgettable, it's reasonably well made with better than average production values & decent period detail although most of it takes place in the same room. The acting is pretty good even if a potentially great cast is wasted, Oliver Reed, Jeffrey Combs, Stephen Lee & Tom Towles are somewhat underused.
The Pit and the Pendulum is a fine horror film, it's not the most complex or absorbing film ever but for some exploitative nudity & torture it delivers & frankly you can't argue with exploitative nudity & torture. I liked it, I just wish it had been a bit more graphic & the story was a bit meatier. Still a good effort though.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Grand Inquisitor, Torquemada(Lance Henriksen), known for his public
executions and torturous methods of those he and his foot-soldiers deem
heretics and witches, is overcome with lust when he gazes upon the
naked body of baker Antonio's(Jonathan Fuller)lovely wife Maria(the
stunning beauty Rona De Ricci)on trial for being a witch after halting
the never-ending whipping of a boy child in front of a crowd of people.
The film shows Torquemada's battle with his desire for Maria and how
Antonio will try to save her, which will not be an easy task.
I think the main success of this film is Lance Henriksen's powerful performance as the sadistic, psychotic Inquisitor. While his chosen men, Gomez(Stephen Lee)and Dr. Huesos(William J Norris)bask in the joy of making others suffer, Don Carlos(Tom Towles)drunk with the role of captain riding his horse with great pride, and Francisco(Jeffrey Combs, who looks like a bookish accountant tending to his recorded testimonies of sin and acknowledgments of witchcraft as if he were an IRS agent seeking debts owed by clients)logging the accused, very business-like, with little remorse, Torquemada is completely serious in his role as executioner and judge wielding his power as if he were the mighty hand of God striking down anyone he so chooses. Henriksen's always intense and frighteningly believable..I do feel that he best represents what kind of monster those Inquisitors were like during this horrible time in history. While we often watch as his victims suffer, thanks to director Stuart Gordon and screenwriter Dennis Paoli, those who mistreat get their comeuppance in the end. It's fun watching Torquemada fall prey to his own madness, guilt, hypocrisy & buried iniquities which surface and confront him in a fantastically realized climax.
Frances Bay steals every scene she's in as accused and imprisoned witch Esmeralda, who befriends Maria and gets revenge on hecklers and executioners when she's set at the the stake to burn with the use of gunpowder. Mark Margolis ably portrays the abused torturer Mendoza, a puppet Torquemada(..and his goons)uses to do his dirty work(..he has these nasty Christ-like wounds on his hands which Torquemada gave to him as punishment as a reminder of what can happen when you "sin"). Stuart Gordon's wife, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon(..as an ancestor of one Torquemada deems a heretic as his torturer whips the skeletal remains of an unearthed corpse!) gets you-know-what again(..he likes to murder his wife on film in devious ways)and it's quite a grisly fate..she is strangled by a rope over the back of an executioner as her child watches helplessly. Oliver Reed has a very memorable cameo as a visiting Cardinal, with quite the taste for drink, who brings orders from the Pope for Torquemada to end his violent methods, meeting a horrifying end(..yep, the dependable wall entombment).
I also loved the preposterous, but ingenious, way one escapes the swinging razor-sharp pendulum which closes in to his body thanks to rats. That pit of spikes, underneath a trap door where the poor victim lies as the pendulum swings, is also put to good use.And, I think that Gordon utilizes Rona De Ricci's beauty and innocence quite well..she's certainly a sympathetic figure we root for as it seems her fate is doomed because of the trap Torquemada has placed her in. But, this is Henriksen's movie..he's a force of nature and Gordon ideally shoots him in sinister ways. You do not want this man pointing you out of a crowd for the possibility of consorting with the DEVIL, that's for sure.
Good flick from back in the days when Full Moon Entertainment was serious about making them. Not much of a known cast, however they all put out excellent performances, especially Lance Henriksen who is one of my favorites. Well told story. I strongly recommend this one for Lance Henriksen fans, or someone who wants to see what Full Moon was able to do in their heyday.
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