[Theater Thursdays] PopCultHQ Presents: ‘Pit and the Pendulum’- Frightful Classic

”You will die in agony. Die!” – Don Nicholas Medina

It’s October now, and Halloween season is here. That means for the entire month, devoted readers of these articles will be treated to some rather frightful classic cinema.

It’s time now to journey back to 1961. This was the year that saw John F. Kennedy sworn in as the 35th President of the United States, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becoming the first man in space (orbiting Earth once), and the famous ‘Flash of Two Worlds’ story printed by DC Comics in The Flash #123. 1961 was also a year of many great movies, one of the greatest being Roger Corman’s film Pit and the Pendulum, starring Vincent Price, John Kerr, Barbara Steele, Luana Anders and Antony Carbone.

Shown on the set, from left: director Roger Corman, Vincent Price

Roger Corman has been many things in the movie industry. Everything from producer, to businessman to actor. But one of the things that he was best known for, is his directing. There is an especial fondness in his repertoire for films of a spooky nature, as evidenced by such credits as The Little Shop of Horrors, A Bucket of Blood, The Terror, and of course some of his most famous films being the 8 movies produced for AIP (American International Pictures), which were adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe stories. These films are famous not only for Corman’s unique directorial style of working with low budgets, but yielding high-end profitable results for AIP. And during this time, he worked with one of the legends of Hollywood, Vincent Price.

Vincent Price is a man whose name and body of work are well known throughout movie history. From work on the stage to radio to TV to movies, Vincent took on all roles given to him and made them his own. A prime example of this is the second of the Poe films, Pit and the Pendulum. While the plot itself has nothing to do with the original story, that doesn’t stop Price from taking his character of Don Nicholas Medina and running the gauntlet of emotions with him. Nicholas is man with a troubled past, and a mountain of internal/mental problems that culminate in the movies great final scenes, where he goes from a frightened individual to a dark and sinister being.

As previously stated, the plot itself has nothing to do with Poe’s original story aside from the title and the pendulum itself. This was due to the fact that the original text was shorter and couldn’t fit a two hour time frame. Hence a script involving disturbed family lineage, twisted terrors and things that would drive any sane person out of their mind. All of this mixed together makes for one truly scary film, cementing Roger Corman as a director of vast talent, and further securing Vincent Price as a celebrated horror actor.

Barbara Steele with prop

Something fascinating for movie buffs and fright fans, is that all of the major set pieces for the interior of the castle, including the various torture devices seen in the lower levels, were all rented from various studios due to the low budget nature of the production.

The only set piece that was not a rental, was the pendulum itself. That was a masterpiece of engineering, clocking in at 18 feet in length and weighing over a ton, with a realistic rubber cutting blade affixed to it. During the post-production edits, Corman took out every other frame, enhancing the sense of deadly menace and making it seem that the blade was moving twice as fast.

Another noted fact about this movie is that it not only outperformed the first Poe film The Fall of the House of Usher at the box office, but also helped to pave the way for the remaining 6 films in the series. It was given rave reviews by critics nationally; at the time Howard Thompson of the New York Times praised it, saying Atmospherically at least – there is a striking fusion of rich colors, plushy decor and eerie music – this is probably Hollywood’s most effective Poe-style horror flavoring to date.”

October is a month that means a lot of things. Fall is here, with leaves turning colors, seasons changing as wintertime approaches. It also means that Halloween will soon be here, a time of fun costumes, ghouls and goblins, Tricks or Treats, which means its time to break out everyone’s collection of scary movies and enjoy them in the spirit of the coming holiday. So make a point to enjoy some fright-fest movies this month, and be sure to add this Vincent Price classic to the list. It’s a barrel of thrills and chills that shouldn’t be missed out on.