Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Pit and the Pendulum, The

Two movies have been based on "The Pit and the Pendulum" (1843) by Edgar Allan Poe.

1. US movie (1961). American-International. Pr Roger Corman. Exec pr Samuel Z Arkoff, James H Nicholson. Dir Corman. Spfx Pat Dinga. Screenplay Richard Matheson. Starring Luana Anders (Catherine), Antony Carbone (Dr Leon), John Kerr (Francis Barnard), Vincent Price (Nicholas Medina), Barbara Steele (Elizabeth). 85 mins. Colour.

In this, the second of Corman's cycle of eight Poe movies, it is the mid-16th century. Hearing of the death of his sister Elizabeth, Francis comes to the forbidding castle of her widower, Don Nicholas Medina, to investigate. It seems she died of fear while exploring the grim torture chamber of Don Nicholas's father, Don Sebastian, where Nicholas as a boy saw Sebastian murder his wife Isabella's lover (Sebastian's brother Bartolome) before torturing the woman and then finally immuring her. Now Nicholas is tormented by fears that Elizabeth may have been buried alive – fears apparently confirmed when her coffin is opened and her corpse discovered disfigured by struggle. And her spirit walks the castle ...

In fact TPATP is a Rationalized Fantasy. Elizabeth's death has been faked in a plot between her and the family physician Leon, her lover, to drive Nicholas insane. Finally they succeed: Nicholas believes himself to be his own father, and the adulterous pair to be Bartolome and Isabella; Leon slain, Bartolome's identification is switched to the hapless Francis, who is bound supine beneath the descending, razor-sharp pendulum. Nicholas's smoulderingly repressed sister Catherine and a servant save him in the nick of time; Elizabeth is inadvertently left immured in the torture chamber.

Aside from the pendulum sequence, the tale owes little to Poe's original, though its themes – notably the Premature Burial – are Poe's, brought here as reprises from Corman's The House of Usher (1960). [JG]

2. Italian/US movie (1990). Full Moon. Pr Albert Band. Exec pr Charles Band. Dir Stuart Gordon. Spfx Giovanni Corridori. Mufx Greg Cannom. Screenplay Dennis Paoli. Starring Jonathan Fuller (Antonio), Lance Henriksen (Torquemada), Oliver Reed (Cardinal), Rona de Ricci (Maria). 91 mins. Colour.

Bearing even less resemblance to Poe's original than does 1, this tells of innocent baker Antonio and wife Maria, and their – mainly her – torment under the Spanish Inquisition in Toledo, 1492. It is a nasty bit of work, mixing sex with suffering. [JG]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.