Sunday, 14 March 2010

Stuart Gordon's The Pit and the Pendulum

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.


  1. I got to see this on a screener VHS a week or so before its release. I actually still have that tape - and what's funny is that of all the Full Moon screeners I have (a bit of a long tale, that) it's the only one that has a time code clock in the corner running across it's entire running time. That same timecode would look not at all out of place in Crash and Burn or Trancers - but in the movie set in olden times in Italy - it's as annoying as hell! I do like the movie quite a bit - must shout out to Frances Bay here - a wonderful character actress who has a nice bit as an accused witch heading for a fiery punishment - who then takes some extreme measures to make sure she's not the only one who'll suffer when she goes up in smoke...

    Lance Henriksen wrapped up playing the biker villain in Stone Cold for director Craig Baxley on a Friday - flew to Italy over the weekend, let them shave off his long biker locks, and started playing Torquemada on Monday morning. That, sir, is acting. Love me some Lance H!

  2. Craig, great story about Lance Henrikson ! I really like that particular that strata of actor - the hard-working jobbing player who goes where the work takes him, ducking and diving, as you say, wrapping one role and prepping the next with barely a break to catch one's breath. But that's incredible to go from a contemporary biker to a 15th century inquisitor over a weekend !