Synopsis: Francis Barnard travels to Spain to investigate the death of his sister, Elizabeth. Her husband, Nicholas Medina, the son of a member of the Spanish Inquisition, tells him she has died of a blood disease, but Francis doesn’t buy it. With the help of the Medina family friend, Doctor Charles Leon and the support of Nicholas’ sister, Catherine, Francis discovers that it was extreme fear that supposedly killed his sister and that she may have been buried alive. But all is not as it seems in this tale of haunted childhood memories, torture, adultery past and present and betrayal! We dive deep into the mind and memories of Nicholas AND his father, Sebastian Medina, leading only to madness…in the pit…
Originally, Roger Corman had wanted to film Masque of the Red Death as the 2nd film in his Poe film cycle, but some of the story and stylistic choices in Masque were so influenced by Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal (1957), Corman felt the timing would be poor, looking as though he were ripping off certain elements, so he decided to hold off on Masque and went ahead with The Pit and the Pendulum instead.
From Wikipedia: "...However Samuel Z. Arkoff said it was his and James H. Nicholson's decision to make Pit as the second Poe film "because it was a lot more graphic and in the second place, Masque of the Red Death would have needed a dancing troupe that would have been quite expensive. In all those early Poe pictures we had relatively few actors, so when we did finally make Masque of the Red Death we went to the UK where it would be less expensive to do it."
The Pit and the Pendulum stars Vincent Price as both Nicholas and Sebastian Medina, John Kerr as Francis Barnard, B-movie/horror icon Barbara Steele as Elizabeth Barnard Medina, Luana Anders as Catherine Medina, Antony Carbone as Dr. Charles Leon, and Patrick Westwood as Maximillian. Richard Matheson wrote the screenplay again, taking a short story and fleshing out new details to make it feature length.
John Kerr was a Tony Award-winning actor (for Tea and Sympathy (1955)) also starred in South Pacific (1958). His role as the hero in Pit would prove to be the last notable film appearance of his career.
This was Barbara Steele's first film since her break-through horror performance in Mario Bava's Black Sunday (1960). Steele recalled of Price: "Our major confrontation where he strangles me was done in one take…He really went at me and I had the bruises on my throat to prove it. Afterward, he was so concerned he had hurt me—a perfect gentleman—a truly kind figure in spite of his image." More from Wikipedia: While watching the daily rushes of the movie, Corman became convinced that Steele's "thick working class English accent" was not blending well with the other cast members, so after the filming was completed he had all of her dialogue dubbed by a different actress..
Luana Anders first met Roger Corman years before while they were both attending acting classes taught be Jeff Corey (in LA). After Pet, she made two more films with Corman as director - The Young Racers and The Trip.
Antony Carbone was also a brief member of Roger Corman's early 60s "stock company" of actors. He appeared in four of Corman's films, with Creature from the Haunted Sea (1960) his only starring role. Pit was his last appearance in a Corman-directed movie.
To increase the pendulum’s sense of menace, Roger Corman took out every other frame in post production, making the blade appear to move twice as fast. Also, the image of the castle at the edge of the cliff is a very detailed matte painting.
Vincent Price’s portrayal tips further into feverish madness than his prior role as Roderick Usher. Nicholas Medina is merely grieving when we first meet him, though a sense of his fixation with his father’s old torture devices is hinted at in the beginning of the film. But by the end of the film, his mind broken by his wife’s betrayal, he is fully convinced that he is his father, Inquisition Assassin, driven to destroy his adulterous wife and her lover. That’s when the titular pit and pendulum come in…
The set for this film is darker, drabber, as it is set in a stone castle rather than a mansion, however haunted, and much of the action takes place in a dungeon. We are still treated to lush velvet and brightly coloured candlesticks, however! I find that the sets for all the Corman-Poe films tend towards either The Fall of the House of Usher—lavish, though haunting mansions, or The Pit and the Pendulum—stony dungeons and yawning castle foyers and lobbies. Sometimes you get both, depending on what room you’re in at the moment. But either way, it’s all rich and colourful, sometimes combining drab darkness with technicolour accents.
More from Wikipedia: "The Pit and the Pendulum was a bigger financial hit than House of Usher, accruing over US$2,000,000 in distributors' domestic (U.S. and Canada) rentals versus the first film's US$1,450,000. This made it the most successful film to date in AIP's history.
The movie would remain the most financially successful of all the AIP Poe films. "It's also the one I liked the best because it was the scariest," said Arkoff. "We had a wonderful piece of artwork for the poster... as well as some great sets by Danny Haller."
Film critic Tim Lucas and writer Ernesto Gastaldi have both noted the film's strong influence on numerous subsequent Italian thrillers, from Mario Bava's The Whip and the Body (1963) to Dario Argento's Deep Red (1975). Stephen King has described one of Pit's major shock sequences as being among the most important moments in the post-1960 horror film.
When Roger Corman's House of Usher was released in June 1960, its box office success took AIP's James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff by surprise. Corman admitted, "We anticipated that the movie would do well... but not half as well as it did." According to Richard Matheson, "When the first film was a hit, they still didn't consider doing a Poe series. They just wanted another movie with a Poe title fixed to it."
And now, the trailer: