‘The Pit and the Pendulum’ – Roger Corman’s Gothic horror on Criterion Channel

The success of The House of Usher gave director Roger Corman and screenwriter Richard Matheson the confidence to take more liberties with Edgar Allan Poe in The Pit and the Pendulum (1961).

Vincent Price again stars as the brooding hero, tortured by the unspeakable crimes of his Inquisitioner father and guilt-ridden over his wife’s (sixties horror icon Barbara Steele) sudden death. When the dead wife’s brother (a dour John Kerr) comes to investigate, her ghost returns for to haunt Price, but Kerr suspects a more earthly culprit.

It’s a moody, stylish, grand looking piece of Gothic horror, even more lavish than his first Poe production (Corman poured his new budget into the impressive dungeon while reusing the sets from the previous picture for the house) and once again shot in rich, bleeding color and CinemaScope by the great Floyd Crosby.

Steele’s savage eyes and feral smile are even more terrifying than the grandiose bladed pendulum set piece that inches ever closer to its victim, while Price cackles and declaims like a Shakespearean ham unleashed when madness transforms him into a reincarnation of his sadistic father. But Corman saves his most chilling image for the wickedly ironic climax.

Corman’s next Poe film, The Premature Burial, was made without Price but the actor returned in the trilogy film Tales of Terror.

Streaming for a limited time on Criterion Channel

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
The Vincent Price Collection (The House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Haunted Palace, The Masque of the Red Death, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, The Witchfinder General) [Blu-ray]
The Pit and the Pendulum [DVD]
The Fall of the House of Usher / The Pit and the Pendulum [DVD]

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The DVD from MGM features commentary by director/producer Roger Corman. The Blu-ray set includes three additional Corman-Price Poe collaborations with supplements, plus two additional Vincent Price films.


Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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