Jarv’s Schlock Vault: The Pit and the Pendulum

I’m sorry, mistress, that you weren’t properly able to confess. There just wasn’t enough time to torture you. 

Jarv’s Rating: 2 Changs out of 4. Not a classic, but not awful at all. 

This is a momentous day. I have nearly scaled the North Face of Stuart Gordon, in that I’ve almost seen every film he’s done. This, I feel is some achievement, and as I near the summit, I would like to pause before I take on the last film, King of the Ants, and have a look at the treacherous incline that I just navigated unscathed. As I sit here, touching distance from the peak, enjoying a quiet smoke, I have to say that I’m actually quite impressed at the consistent level of goodness that he’s turned out. There’s only really Stuck that’s dogshit, while everything else has been good to excellent. The Pit and the Pendulum is no exception

Comic books in the 15th Century weren't up to much.

This is a strange film. IMDB reliably informs me that Gordon, who is the king of Lovecraft adaptations, was trying to get this Edgar Allen Poe adaptation off the ground for years with Peter O’Toole in the Torquemada role. That would have been awesome. In the end, Full Moon stumped up for it, and Gordon cast Lance Henriksen in the lead. Lance, to be fair, was at his career high (pre will-work-for-food days), and this is one of his finest performances. I just want to clear up a few things before I start. Firstly, this isn’t an adaptation of  Poe’s story The Pit and the Pendulum. I’ll come to why in a minute, but Gordon takes some massive liberties with it, much as he did with Castle Freak, From Beyond and Re-Animator. This is actually a good thing, because Poe’s masterpiece of a short story is essentially very simple, about one character suffering at the hands of the Inquisition. To adapt it properly would veer dangerously close to Torture Porn territory.

This version of the Pit and the Pendulum is all about Torquemada. For the historically ignorant, Torquemada was the head of the Spanish Inquisition (NOBODY EXPECTS THE SPANISH INQUISITION. Well, you fucking should in this film). He was, historically, a right bastard and responsible for the slaughter of literally thousands of people. Anyhoo, Lance plays the mad monk, and the film follows him on his various mad monkish antics. We see him order a corpse flogged (hilarious), ignore the Emissary of Rome, letch after Rona De Ricci’s Maria (understandable this one), conduct inquisitions and witch trials, stab a few people, and chew the scenery mightily.

Oliver Reed sports a fantastic "Gotta lotta pasta" accent. Lance can only bow in admiration.

While Torquemada provides the narrative thrust of the film, he’s ably supported by Fransisco (Jeffrey Combs), Maria’s wronged and badass husband Antonio (Jonathan Fuller), and Oliver Reed as the Cardinal. The acting from all support is first-rate, but the real stars here are De Ricci as Maria, who is not only very attractive, but also puts in a sterling performance; and Lance himself. This is a stunning turn from Lance, far better than the film deserves. He’s OTT, but intentionally so, being obsessive, fidgety, fevered and otherwise manic. This film is worth a watch for many reasons, but even were the rest of it complete poo, then it would still be worth watching for Lance’s performance. The Pit and the Pendulum represents a career high for him.

Torquemada used his cross/ knife for a variety of purposes. Hunting vampires, for example.

 This is a surprisingly clever film, it follows Torquemada around, but is actually a compendium of Poe stories. Oliver Reed swigs down some sherry before being walled alive somewhere (The Cask of Amontillado), Maria is presumed dead, but not really and buried alive (Fall of the House of Usher)and we get her inside the coffin (Buried Alive), before we see Antonio contending with the monstrous pendulum (Pit and the Pendulum). This is, I have to say, an extremely clever way to adapt these stories. Furthermore, there are trademark moments of levity here. The quote I used at the start is from Combs to the Witch, and her response “Thanks anyway” is a moment of pure comic genius. It helps that Combs is really, really good at dead pan delivery, but the film is awash with genuinely funny moments like this.

Antonio and Maria look down in pity at Torquie's shrivelled and useless penis. He shouldn't have lifted the robe if he didn't want people to openly mock him, really.

This is a good film, clearly, but it is heavily flawed. Firstly, it isn’t scary at any point. Bits of it are, well, gross (Torquemada tearing Maria’s tongue out), but the film itself never manages to be frightening. Secondly, there’s a lot going on here, and so some characters are seriously underdeveloped, or even worse utterly extraneous to the story. It was a mistake, I believe, to make Maria a witch, and the late addition of telepathy to the story is cretinous in the extreme. Furthermore, for as clever as the film is in adapting multiple Poe Stories in one film, this actually makes it unfocused and the climactic pendulum scene is rushed and lacking in menace. The film is about the Pit and the Pendulum, and yet when revealed it’s over in seconds. This is a mistake.

"But Mr. Bay, you told me that I could be the next Megan Fox if I let you punch me in the head during sex"

Overall, this is a good film, and very nearly a lost gem. However, it is also a mess and probably a case of ambition outstripping ability. I do recommend it, more as a curio than anything else, because it is reasonably entertaining and Lance is great fun as Torquemada. However, against that, it is clearly confused and overreaching itself, and, at the end of the day, the Vincent Price version is much better. Still, there’s shit loads of nudity in it, plenty of gore, and this is an extremely brave attempt at an adaptation of a very difficult to adapt author.

Until next time,

Jarv

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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

9 responses to “Jarv’s Schlock Vault: The Pit and the Pendulum”

  1. Continentalop says :

    Yeah, I remember this movie being kind of whacky fun, and for some reason it kind of reminded me of WITCH-FINDER GENERAL (probably regarding the brutality directed towards the female lead). But as a story about the Inquisition, it can’t compare to THIS:

  2. Xiphos0311 says :

    some of us expect the Spanish Inquisition that way I’m not surprised, those inquisitors are sneaky bastards.

    From what I remember, it’s probably been 20 years since I’ve seen this, that it was fun movie with some surprisingly decent acting.

    • Jarv says :

      I’m a bit disgusted at myself for using that cheap joke. Never mind.

      This is an OK film- it’s good in places, but it isn’t anything to get overly excited about. The acting is definitely the big plus in it, and I cannot believe that De Rossi literally made fuck all after this,.

  3. Droid says :

    Never heard of this. If Stuck is dogshit, you haven’t navigated it entirely unscathed now have you?

    • Jarv says :

      Almost entirely unscathed.

      And Stuck has naked chick hitting other naked chick in the head with frying pan.

      It also features Mekon Suvari trying to be black. Which is funny.

  4. ThereWolf says :

    Thought I’d seen this – but no, I would’ve remembered Lance I reckon.

    Good stuff. I shall add ‘Pit’ to the list.

  5. Heidi says :

    I watched this movie for the first time last night. Lance’s character was a despicable, lecherous bugger who I wished dead more than once. At first, I felt some compassion for Maria, then I just wanted to smack her. Had she not opened her yap in the beginning, none of this ordeal would have occurred. Had some good laughs over this movie.

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