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As a follow-up to THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, PIT AND THE PENDULUM ($15) succeeds marvelously by serving up even more Edgar Allen Poe inspired chills and mayhem. PIT AND THE PENDULUM certainly benefits from screenwriter Richard Matheson's ability to pad Poe's short story with enough material to bring it to feature film length, while maintaining a sense of dread worthy of the author himself. As with USHER, PIT AND THE PENDULUM stars horror movie icon Vincent Price and features the direction of Roger Corman, who has certainly earned his own place of honor within the genre.

In PIT AND THE PENDULUM, Vincent Price portrays Nicholas Medina, a man grieving over the death of his beloved wife Elizabeth (Barbara Steele). With the arrival of Elizabeth's brother Francis Barnard (John Kerr), Nicholas is forced to relive the bizarre circumstances of his wife's death. It seems that Nicolas' father was Sebastian Medina, who participated in the Spanish Inquisition and tortured countless individuals in the dungeon beneath family estate. Unfortunately, Elizabeth developed a morbid obsession with the torture chamber and the deadly implements contained therein, which somehow lead to her being frightened to death. Making matters worse, Nicholas is plagued by the fear that her buried his wife alive- just as he witnessed his father do to his mother when he was a small child. Although his doctor (Antony Carbone) and sister (Luana Anders) think his fears of Elizabeth's premature burial are completely irrational, strange occurrences cause Nicolas to believe that his her vengeful spirit is roaming the passageways of the estate.

PIT AND THE PENDULUM provides more outright shocks than were contained in THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, as well as a cutting climax. Price is on top of his game, giving a dual performance as the suffering Nicholas and his deranged father Sebastian. PIT AND THE PENDULUM also benefits from the presence of horror movie queen Barbara Steele, who made a name for herself in a number of great Italian genre films. The production values are a little higher on this film, than they were on USHER, which makes PIT AND THE PENDULUM a grander gothic horror movie. Of course, Floyd Crosby's marvelous 'scope cinematography makes the production seem even more opulent. Roger Corman's direction is efficient, which keeps the pacing quite snappy, without sacrificing the morbid atmosphere.

MGM Home Entertainment has made PIT AND THE PENDULUM available on DVD in a presentation that restores the film's 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio, but sadly has NOT been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. On a 4:3 monitor, PIT AND THE PENDULUM looks quite good, but I hope that MGM will revisit the title at some point and give it a proper 16:9 enhanced transfer. The image is pretty sharp and provides a good level of detail. Colors are nicely saturated and the flesh tones are fairly natural. There are some sequences in the film that employ color filters- these are solidly rendered, without a trace of chroma noise or distortion. Blacks are fairly accurate, although shadow detail is somewhat limited by factors relating to the film’s original production. The film element displays a number of age related blemishes, but they never become distracting. Digital compression artifacts are not a problem during the presentation.

The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack is okay for its age, although some of the oddball sounds on the track do come across as somewhat distorted. Frequency limitations affect the fidelity of Les Baxter's music, but this is related to the age of the recordings and the technology being utilized at the time. Dialogue is always intelligible, but some of the voices sound canned. Considering the film's age and production history, there is very little to complain about in the sound department. A French language soundtrack has been encoded onto the DVD, as have French and Spanish subtitles.

The basic interactive menus provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a few extras. Director Roger Corman is featured on a running audio commentary that definitely worth a listen. Corman is a good talker, with a lot of interesting things to say about the film, so fans of the "AIP/Poe" series will certainly enjoy the commentary. Also included on the DVD is the film’s original theatrical prologue and a theatrical trailer.

PIT AND THE PENDULUM is a fun horror outing that will appeal to Vincent Price fans and genre fans in general. I REALLY wish the DVD was 16:9 enhanced and remain hopeful that MGM will REVISIT PIT AND THE PENDULUM at some point in the future. Until then, the low asking price and Corman commentary makes this release rather appealing.


 The Pit and the Pendulum


DVD reviews are Copyright 2001 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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