Zone Horror, a cable channel transmitted in the UK and Ireland offers up mostly disposable trash (Mega Snake, anyone ?) but occasionally, something interesting gets washed up. A few nights ago I caught up with Stuart Gordon's 1990 film The Pit & the Pendulum, which is more Mark of the Devil, than Roger Corman, set during the time of the Spanish Inquisition. The story concerns a married couple who unwittingly fall into the clutches of the monk Torquemada, witchfinder general and torturer extraordinaire of the Inquisition (played by Lance Henriksen), when the beautiful wife becomes the object of Torquemada's Madonna/Whore complex.
The Pit & the Pendulum is not a bad effort from Stuart Gordon, certainly not in the league of his iconic debut feature Re-Animator, and the flawed genius of From Beyond. Still, the film is engaging, and with some tasteful nudity and a smattering of torture sequences (not especially gory but one or two will make you wince), its worth seeking out. Regular Gordon collaborator Dennis Paoli's screenplay is good, importing ideas and themes from other Poe works, and there's plenty of sardonic humour along the way. Performances are variable, but Lance Henriksen is especially memorable as the monk tormented by black and secret desires, and look out for Herbert West, Re-Animator himself, Jeffrey Combs as one of Torquemada's judges; and Tom Towles, who's wasted in a non-role, hidden behind a silly Musketeers-style garb. Oliver Reed appears in a very fleeting cameo as a visiting Cardinal rallying against the Inquisition (a nod to The Devils perhaps ?). The film was shot in Italy, but suffers from a flat TV look, similar to some medieval documentary seen on the History Channel. And, yes, the titular torture device turns up at the end for the spirited climax.
There was a R1 DVD of The Pit & the Pendulum available a few years ago, but now it seems its only available in a 4-disc Stuart Gordon Collection (Amazon, priced at $117 no less!). There's also a R2 DVD which may be out of print but shouldn't too hard to find. Recommended.