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Director: Roger Corman
Cast: Vincent Price, Barbara Steele, John Kerr
Length: 81 min
Label: Arrow Films
Release Date: May 19, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English: Mono PCM
Subtitles: English SDH
- Behind the Swinging Blade – A new documentary on the making of The Pit and the Pendulum featuring Roger Corman, star Barbara Steele, Vincent Price’s daughter Victoria Price and more.
- Additional footage added TV Sequence – Shot in 1968 to pad out the film for the longer TV time slot, this scene features star Luana Anders
- AnEvening of Edgar Allan Poe with Vincent Price [52 mins] – Price reads a selection of Poe’s classic stories before a live audience, including The Tell-Tale Heart, The Sphinx, The Cask of Amontillado and The Pit and the Pendulum (with optional English SDH)
- Two audio commentaries, one with Roger Corman, and Tim Lucas
- Optional isolated music and sound effects track
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Gothic Horror author Jonathan Rigby, illustrated with original archive stills and posters
Roger Corman—producer, director, and veteran of horror and sci-fi filmmaking—has been a name associated with the rite of passage into scary movies for countless generations of fans. The King of the B’s has been making films for over sixty years, boasting an extensive filmography that others can only dare to dream of in terms of output. Everyone has to start somewhere. For Corman, it was in cheap and cheerful sci-fi and horror features—drive-in fodder such as Swamp Women (1955) and Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), aimed at the teenage market. This simple formula worked and made the studios money. However, not one to rest on his laurels Corman—a man of vision—persuaded studio backing to increase his budgets, in order to shoot more ambitious projects. And so started the legendary Corman-Poe cycle, and the director’s working relationship with another legendary genre name, Vincent Price. It would be easy to dismiss these films in modern times as dated or tame, yet in order to gain a true appreciation one must consider them in context of their time and place. The early 60’s market was dominated to some degree by classic/gothic horror films, yet three names always stand out: Corman, Bava, and Hammer Horror. Moving on from the cold war era’s sci-fi craze, studios such as Hammer began to set up their own brand of horror based on very theatrical, period tales—reworking the classics that had, in part, been covered by Universal earlier, such as Frankenstein and Dracula. In Italy, Mario Bava was crafting his own unique gothic films starting out with The Mask of Satan (Black Sunday). Then there was Corman and his renderings of Edgar Allan Poe. If you consider the three together each had their own style and strengths. Hammer gave their ventures a very British feel, beautiful sets, locations, and costumes—twinned with their staple studio names such as Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Bava built an empire in his innovative use of mood lighting and gorgeous offbeat colouring, via light filtering techniques, to create moody and terrifying pictures. Finally, Corman designed his own brand, focusing on extravagant sets, exquisite period costume, and a bold use of color, seen at its most successful in his opus Masque of the Red Death and here in The Pit and the Pendulum. Now, thanks to the folks at Arrow Films, The Pit and the Pendelum has been given a special edition Steelbook Blu-Ray release.
The Corman-Poe Cycle took themes and inspiration from the writings of Edgar Allan Poe, albeit with a large sprinkling of artistic licence when it comes to comparing the director’s versions to the original texts. There were eight films in total—seven of which starred Price—The Pit and the Pendulum being the second. Production for the entire series took place over a short six-year period, as Corman furiously tried to outdo himself on each new entry into the cycle. The Pit and the Pendulum closely followed the success of House of Usher (1960), which was released a year before and had turned a nice profit for the studio (A.I.P). Wanting to capitalize on this success, Corman hit back with this feature—a tour de force in gothic horror—building in themes more lavish and adventurous than its predecessor.
The story takes place in 16th Century Spain at the castle of Don Nicholas Medina (Vincent Price), a nobleman whose wife, Elizabeth (Barbara Steele), has recently passed under mysterious circumstances. Elizabeth’s brother, Francis Barnard (John Kerr), arrives to find out what has happened and is embroiled in a twisted tale of a family haunted by their past. Elizabeth’s passing also haunts Medina, who is almost inconsolable—although he is supported by his sister, Catherine (Luana Anders), and family doctor, Dr. Leon (Anthony Carbone)—when Barnard enters the family home. Adding to Medina’s anguish, he remains convinced Elizabeth’s presence remains in the castle at night, and some inexplicable events certainly support his story. As the tale builds to a chilling climax scriptwriter, Richard Matheson, crafts in some fantastic elements of terror and intrigue that (although in these sophisticated times may seem somewhat clichéd) at the time of release were original and frightening for audiences.While each Corman film in the cycle do use similar tropes, each has its own personality. With this feature, the red and earth tones of House of Usher give way to a striking color-palette of deep blues and blacks that better suit the dark mood. The sets revel in decadence, come dripping in gothic charm, and no expense is spared when it comes to over the top, ornate garnishing; an overall sentiment that is mirrored in the wildly hysterical acting of Vincent Price, as the poor lamented Medina.The scripting for this feature gives lead, Vincent Price, the opportunity to show off his theatrical acting prowess—his background on the stage made him perfect for the role. His previous role of Usher had been slightly more understated in terms of subtle madness; however, here he goes for gold, switching effortlessly through a myriad of emotions ranging from vulnerable victim to sadistic aggressor. Medina, as with many Price characterisations, remains a sympathetic character despite some of his actions. Barbara Steele makes a memorable appearance as wife Elizabeth, her gothic beauty and strong screen presence making her more than just a supporting character. John Kerr as Francis Barnard portrays a strong, heroic lead. However, as with most Corman-Poe films the heroic lead normally stands in the shadow of Prince, and here is no exception. Luana Anders plays sister Catherine, providing classic beauty and an air of light within the dark castle walls. Although, when you compare her performance to other Corman female leads such as Jane Asher and Hazel Court in Masque of the Red Death (1964), or Elizabeth Shepherd in Tomb of Ligeia (1965), Anders performance can be viewed as slightly weak by comparison.
This 1080p HD upgrade onto limited edition Blu-ray is taken from original film elements, provided by MGM. The quality of the picture allows the viewer to absorb themselves in the gothic grandeur of the film. The crystal clear print showcases the rich, bold colors and minute details in such fantastic clarity it is difficult to believe this film is 54 years old. Providing the original widescreen format also gives the opportunity to see just how ambitious and vast the sets were, each shot framed perfectly and presented as originally intended. Here you can appreciate Corman’s true vision for the film and revel in its magnificence. When you consider just how low-budget this film was, it is exceptionally well crafted and beautiful to look at. The print shows no damage and no evidence of obvious digital enhancements, with a nice feeling of cinematic grain that compliments its age and feel.
The sound is presented, again, in its original format—showing respect to Corman’s original intentions for the film—in the form of an uncompressed Mono track. The dialogue is clear and the music suitably mixed to support the atmosphere of the film. There is also an option to isolate the music and effects track, and English subtitles for the deaf or hard of hearing.This release comes with no less than two valuable audio commentaries. Director Roger Corman gives us fabulous insight into his time working on the feature, and with this information comes the opportunity to bask in how innovative they were with the given budget. While critic, writer, and editor of Video Watchdog, Tim Lucas, provides the second commentary track, handinh out some extraordinary insights into the technical side of the production. Lucas also covers the themes concerned, the film’s place in the genre as a whole, and also his own personal anecdotes as a fan of the film.
As a collector’s edition, Arrow has pulled out all the stops to bring fans a beautiful package. The steel book tin is beautifully illustrated and, as well, the video extras comes accompanied with a great collector’s booklet, where writer Jonathan Rigby provides a new essay on the film, and is illustrated with archive promotional material and stills.The disc comes accompanied with an exclusive documentary Behind the Swinging Blade, where Corman, Barbara Steele, and Victoria Price (among others) talk about the production of The Pit and the Pendulum. This provides some brilliant behind the scenes information and makes for a great accompaniment to the main feature (Steele also touches on her career in general and work with Mario Bava). Also included is an interesting shot-for-TV sequence that was used to extend the running time, and features Luana Anders as Catherine Medina. An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe features Vincent Price reading from Poe’s original texts—with a generous running time of 52 minutes. Price takes to the stage in front of an audience to narrate the chilling work of the gothic writer. This includes Poe classics such as “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Sphinx,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “The Pit and the Pendulum.”The extras package is finished off with the original trailer.
If you consider the names involved with The Pit and the Pendulum—Roger Corman, Vincent Price, Barbara Steele—the film represents a coming-together of some unique talent in the genre. A classic piece that, even today, remains timeless and beautifully crafted. This restoration is sure to please all fans of gothic horror, and the extras, and quality package—complete with collector’s booklet and outer artwork—make this an attractive piece for any collector’s library.