Blu-ray Review: The Pit & The Pendulum (1991)

The Pit and the Pendulum BR CoverDistributor: 88Films

BBFC Classification: 18

Director: Stuart Gordon

Starring: Lance Henriksen, Stephen Lee, William J. Norris, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Jeffrey Combs, Tom Towles, Barbara Bocci, Rona De Ricci, Jonathan Fuller

Not a remake of Roger Corman’s 1961 film starring Vincent Price but a different interpretation of Edgar Allan Poe’s original short story that incorporates several of Poe’s other stories and the real life historical character of Grand Inquisitor Torquemada, a brutal 15th-century friar who led a campaign against Spanish Muslims and Jews.

Directed by Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator/Dolls) this version of the tale stars Lance Henriksen (Aliens/Near Dark) as Torquemada, who arrests innocent baker’s wife Maria (Rona De Ricci) after she calls out during the public torture of a family and is accused of witchcraft. Torquemada becomes enchanted with Maria’s beauty and inflicts various tortures upon her as he believes his feelings for her to be the work of magic and, after a botched rescue attempt from her husband Antonio (Jonathan Fuller – Castle Freak), Maria must use everything she can to stop Torquemada using his most deadly weapon – the fearsome, razor-sharp pendulum.

With more than a passing nod to the Vincent Price film Witchfinder General, The Pit & The Pendulum is an atmospheric and entertaining film that almost defies you to look away as nearly every single minute of its 95-minute running time is filled with something going on. Lance Henriksen gives an chillingly intense performance as the Grand Inquisitor and could quite possibly have provided some of the inspiration for Paul Bettany’s Silas in The Da Vinci Code as a religious man who feels he must purify with pain. Many other Stuart Gordon regulars pop up throughout the film, such as Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator/Castle Freak/From Beyond) and Carolyn Purdy-Gordon (Re-Animator/Dolls), as well as Oliver Reed (The Curse of the Werewolf) and Tom Towles (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) so there’s plenty of acting credibility but it really becomes the Lance Henriksen show as his presence is felt in nearly every scene; Stuart Gordon even talks about the actor’s method approach to the role in the special features.

The film itself looks excellent on Blu-ray, a really clean transfer showing lots of detail and sharp images, and pretty much covers all of the bases when it comes to gore, nudity and violence. There is a little bit of light relief in the script with some of the lines (“How can they confess if they don’t have tongues?”) but it’s a film that doesn’t really benefit from light and shade, instead working better when it keeps things dark and moody. It’s not a film for everyone but fans of late ’60′s/early ’70′s Hammer and Italian splatter would be well advised to give this a try, and in the context of Stuart Gordon’s output it stands as an underrated gem that isn’t quite as inventive as his more famous earlier films but is probably the purest horror film he has made so far.

The Pit and the Pendulum

Special Features: ‘Making of’ featurette, blooper reel, theatrical trailer, Full Moon Features trailer reel

UK Release Date: 12th August 2013

88 Films – Website


One thought on “Blu-ray Review: The Pit & The Pendulum (1991)

  1. Pingback: Blu-ray Review: Re-Animator (1985) | Ancient Slumber

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