Following the sudden death of his sister, Francis Barnard (John Kerr) travels to Spain to question her husband, Don Nicholas Medina (Vincent Price), son of a notoriously barbaric Inquisitor. Medina openly mourns the death of his wife but Barnard is unconvinced by his story and is determined to discover the truth. “The Pit and the Pendulum” is the second of Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe’s adaptations with a screenplay by Richard Matheson. Nicholas and his younger sister Catherine (Luana Anders) offer a vague explanation that Elizabeth died from a rare blood disorder six months earlier. During the dinner, the family’s friend Doctor Charles Leon (Antony Carbone) unexpectedly arrives and Francis discovers that his sister died of heart attack after visiting the torture chamber in the dungeons. Nicholas witnessed the murder of his uncle Bartolome (Charles Victor) and his adulterer mother Isabella (Mary Menzies) being tortured and killed by his father when he was a kid. Price himself is wonderful as usual as the tormented Don Medina. With ease he can go from melodrama to utter horror and his melancholic over-the-top melodrama was right at home in Poe’s adaptations. John Kerr makes a terrific counterpart and his performance is very believable. Steel’s aura of mystery suits perfectly the atmospheric horror of the film and Anders displays her talent for melodrama.
Pit and the Pendulum’ is a uniquely and profoundly visual experience. Richard Matheson’s screenplay is both intelligent and eloquent and Corman makes full use of what he is gifted here. The theme of being buried alive is something that appears to have fascinated Edgar Allen Poe as it appears in a number of his stories. It’s impossible to imagine the terror of being alone in an encircled space with nobody or nothing to help you escape and that’s what makes it so terrifying. Corman’s lavish, flavorful sets and unique use of color only add to the overall effect of the film.