One of Vincent Price’s legendary collaborations with Roger Corman, 1961’s The Pit And The Pendulum is a masterclass is how to adapt a short story that isn’t really adaptable. Using Edgar Allan Poe’s story as a launching point, Corman creates a tale that is high on camp and style. He takes Poe’s scant pages and turns them into a film that feels like a coherent story that could have sprung from Poe’s pen.
Corman’s adaptations of the work of Poe have always been sumptuous – which is remarkable considering that these movies were made on a very low budget. Begging, borrowing and stealing from other films, the sets in these films have always given them scope that belies their origins. When you look back on them today you see films of quality, not something that was intended as a B-movie.
Vincent Price’s velvet tones have never been better than when he worked with Corman. He adds a sense of depth to proceedings, which again remove it from its horror roots. Price may swerve into camp territory every so often, but oh what glorious territory it is. Price can make even the most ludicrous dialogue sound like Shakespeare and it’s always an immense pleasure to watch him on screen. Cinema (and and not just horror cinema) needs more actors like this.
This 1961 film may no longer be scary, but it is entertaining. It drips with atmosphere as Corman teases you along. The titular pit and pendulum may only appear at the film’s climax, but there’s much to be entertained with along the way. We don’t get movies with haunted castles, hidden passages and eerie crypts anymore. These horror tropes have been replaced with found footage and gore. There’s an old world behind The Pit And The Pendulum, a world that must not be forgotten. This is what horror is to me, an atmospheric world where Vincent Price and Edgar Allan Poe collide.
The Pit And The Pendulum is a glorious gothic tale from a glorious time when horror meant atmosphere and not gore. It doesn’t feature slashes or gore or bloodshed and Roger Corman’s film is a beautiful piece of cinema which shows that the horror genre features some splendid gems amongst its many roughs.