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Pit and the Pendulum (1961) Film Review

Pit and the Pendulum (1961) Film Review

Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

Starring Vincent Price, John Kerr and Barbara Steele. Directed by Roger Corman.

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.

Pit and the Pendulum 1961 Vincent Price

Proceeding from ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ (1960), director Roger Corman’s second film in his now-famous cycle of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations was this delightfully lurid and lavish offering that can at once be both repugnant and resplendent. ‘Pit and the Pendulum’ is a uniquely and profoundly visual experience. Dazzling colour and abhorrent darkness coalesce to invoke the most unpleasant feelings of trepidation. The luxuriant cinematography of Floyd D. Crosby coupled with the artistic eye of Corman merge superbly, ensuring that mood and atmosphere remain constant and that the viewer feels the agony of the events depicted on-screen. There is an unmistakable majesty to a film that has all the hallmarks of a fine theatrical production transferred so impeccably to the movie screen.

Pit and the Pendulum 1961
Furthermore, Richard Matheson’s screenplay is both intelligent and eloquent, bringing this adaptation of one of the works of the masterful Edgar Allen Poe to life; albeit perhaps not always faithful to the source material, as is so often the case. Corman makes full use of what he is gifted here with aplomb – the pacing of the film is superb, constantly moving onwards, never lingering too long and remaining thoroughly enthralling throughout. Truly this film is as close to perfect in presentation as a viewer could possibly hope for.

Pit and the Pendulum 1961

It is, alas, impossible to write nothing but glowing praise for this film as when the flaws do rear their ugly heads they are hardly inconspicuous. The most notable issue lies with John Kerr whose continually wooden, dull and tepid acting is too explicit for a leading role. It could be argued that the brilliance of what was around him draws abnormal levels of attention to his failings but throughout he does seem to be woefully miscast as our hero. Similarly, while the linguistic talents of Vincent Price lend themselves to an almost Shakespearean delivery of his lines, as so often was the case he allows himself to ham it up just a tad too much which detracts somewhat from the more serious nature of the film.

Pit and the Pendulum 1961

However, the iffy acting performances fortunately do not detract greatly from the finished product and though a little more control from Mr Price and a little more competence from Mr Kerr would be a welcome addition, the absorbing visuals, rapid pacing and thoroughly enthralling nature of the production as a whole serve to paper over the cracks convincingly enough. There are also more positive performances to be enjoyed from Luanne Anders and Anthony Carbone who despite their place in supporting roles are most enjoyable. Cult-favourite, Barbara Steele, makes short appearances as Medina’s deceased wife.


If the Corman/Price collaborations are to horror what the Scorsese/De Niro collaborations be to drama then this may well be Corman’s ‘Goodfellas’. A sublime entry into the genre that offers numerous thrills and chills, inherent beauty and one of the strongest screenplays to grace Sixties horror cinema. What flaws that there are cannot truly undermine the hard work that went into making this magnificent horror film and it is rightly considered as one of the greats of the genre.


  1. Steve

    Always loved this movie. Far superior to the 1991 version–no matter how great Jeffrey Combs is I couldn’t get into that one.


      Hi Steve,

      Sorry, I missed your comment previously! Been moving sites. I can’t remember much about the Jeffrey Combs version of Pit and the Pendulum as it’s been so long. In fact, I think I probably watched it before I saw the Vincent Price version!

      I do recall not being that impressed with it, though. And I concur! Jeffrey Combs is a fantastic actor, but I’ll stick to Re-Animator and his turn in The Frighteners.



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