The Pit and the Pendulum: the Official Nerfed Llamas Review
Hot on the heels of my review of Full Moon Features’ 1994 gem Oblivion, is this review for a beast of entirely different nature, The Pit and the Pendulum. Whereas Oblivion was a fun sci-fi western action comedy mash-up, The Pit and the Pendulum is a straight up erotic horror film. This just shows the depth of the content that Full Moon Features has on display. It is easy to find just about any type of movie in their catalog: horror, comedy, sci-fi, western, fantasy, drama, period piece, grindhouse, obscure indies, family friendly, for adults only, and anywhere in-between. This is just another reason that I love diving into Full Moon like I do, because there’s just so much variety in the content. What’s even better is that by and large most of the Full Moon films that I have seen are very watchable, which many low budget film production companies cannot claim. Sure, these b-movies are not academy award nominee material, but they are furiously entertaining and deceptively creative. Definitely give a Full Moon Features movie a try if you haven’t before. I’d recommend starting with Trancers, Puppet Master, Subspecies, or Oblivion, and I guarantee that you’ll be hooked! As always, check the following link out to stay up to date on all of the reviews and stories that I’ve posted in this 2nd Annual Full Moon Features appreciation month:
What is The Pit and the Pendulum: Based on a story by Edgar Allen Poe, The Pit and the Pendulum is an erotic horror film written by Dennis Paoli (Re-Animator, From Beyond) and directed by Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator, Castle Freak). The film stars Lance Henriksen (Aliens, Millenium), Stephen Lee (The Negotiator, War Games), Mark Margolis (Pi, Breaking Bad), Rona De Ricci (The Penitent), Jonathan Fuller (Castle Freak, Last Man Standing), Jeffrey Combs (Doctor Mordrid, Re-Animator), Tom Towles (Night of the Living Dead, Halloween), Oliver Reed (Tommy, Gladiator) and Frances Bay (The Grifters, Twin Peaks). Set during the Spanish Inquisition, The Pit and the Pendulum is a twisted tale that explores the depths of depravity found within the Grand Inquisitor, Torquemada. When a commoner, Maria, has difficulty watching the Inquisition perform a public execution, she speaks out about how inhumane the act is. Torquemada is immediately drawn to her, finding her physical beauty too alluring to ignore. These thoughts go against his vows, and at first he tortures himself to try and purge the thoughts. As the thoughts of Maria continue to burn in his mind, Torquemada decides that it must be because she is a witch (*sigh* men… am I right?). Outraged by this madness, Maria’s husband Antonio vows to save his wife. Unfortunately, Antonio is captured and must survive Torquemada’s newest torture device: the pit and the pendulum if he hopes to save his wife.
What I liked about The Pit and the Pendulum: First and foremost, it is a proper horror movie. A lot of b-movies get by with quirky humor and absurd characters to entertain the audience, but refreshingly The Pit and the Pendulum decides to play it as more of a straight up drama/suspense tale. There are quirks here and there, but more like character flaws or natural joking rapport and not as pure comedy relief. With a better budget and a few higher profile actors, especially for Maria and Antonio, The Pit and the Pendulum could have been a big screen release. All in all, it is a well acted, and for the most part smartly filmed movie that is proof enough that a big Hollywood budget isn’t necessary to make a thoroughly entertaining and/or good movie.
This film is a Lance Henriksen tour de force in The Pit and the Pendulum. Amazing work being done by a high quality actor in his prime. Henriksen portrays Torquemada’s tortured existence with absolute conviction. Torquemada is a complex and deranged character, much more so than the standard b-movie villain. He also is a man of intense faith which by the nature of the Inquisition, is not pure and at harsh odds with the tenets of the Holy Bible that he supposedly holds dear. He fights against his passions and his beliefs, constantly looking for signs from God to help him decide what to do next and always suspecting Satan as the heretics’ reason for sinning. What is fascinating, is when Torquemada sins in the film he doesn’t believe it is his fault. He believes that he has been bewitched by Maria. This man is clearly delusional. He is a character that requires nuance in order to adequately sell the various moods and struggles that Torquemada feels in his quest for unobtainable purity. Henriksen’s gravelly voice helps seal the evil deal, as you hang on to his every word. This is top notch b-movie acting at its best.
Another strength to The Pit and the Pendulum is the care that went into making the movie look and feel period correct. The costume design is exquisite, especially for the members of the Inquisition. The sets are gorgeous medieval era stone buildings, and all of the areas filmed are expertly decorated to match the needs of the scene. Also, the film is brutally honest in its portrayal of the Inquisition and the terrible behavior, torture, and executions that they routinely performed. One of the reasons that the suspense works so well in The Pit and the Pendulum is because no one in captivity is safe. They make the horrifying lengths that the Inquisition will go to “torture the truth” out of someone very clear in the first 40 minutes of the film. All of it adds up to a movie experience that feels period correct and doesn’t pull any punches in regards to how terrifying the Inquisition must have been.
What I didn’t like about The Pit and the Pendulum: For a movie that is all about desire and what it does to the mind of a deranged man… there wasn’t very much on display to be desired. This is not to say that Rona De Ricci was not lovely to look at as Maria, nothing could be further from the truth. My argument here is that what was filmed, and ostensibly what we are led to believe that Torquemada kept obsessing over was simply not that sexy, seemingly not enough to bring a man of the cloth to be led to nonstop debaucherous thoughts. Yes, once she was captured, Maria was in some scenes nude, but she was dirty and disheveled the entire time. The primary examination scene is disgusting (as it should be given the context), and yet that is one of the primary drivers to his impetus. It was certainly nothing to “fap” about, Holy man or otherwise. Not that I needed the movie to be steamy, it is a horror movie after all, but it is tiered as an erotic horror movie, and there’s only really one scene that qualifies as erotic and it lasts for about a minute or so (and it’s more terrifying than erotic). A dream sequence or two that portrayed Torquemada’s vision of Maria as a wantonly promiscuous woman would have gone a long way to differentiate his vision of her in juxtaposition to the strict modest Christian that she actually is. There is a deeper problem residing in Torquemada that is endemic of many men, and it is important to make the distinction between how a man views a woman and how she views herself, especially when that is the core of your story. It’s not that I don’t believe that Torquemada is infatuated with Maria in the final cut of the film, Henriksen sells that big time, it’s that I don’t believe that the audience was adequately shown why Torquemada instantly fell in love with Maria by just her touching his hand during her protest, as she seems not all that different than the average humble female commoner. There’s no indication of mutual affection, certainly not from Maria. Why her when there were an endless supply of gorgeous women to choose from in the city? It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense as to why Torquemada went cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs over her.
Bottom Line: In the end, The Pit and the Pendulum is a good horror film with some genuinely horrifying elements. Though there are some flaws inherent in the story and the set up for Torquemada’s descent into madness, these can be mostly overlooked purely by Lance Henriksen’s expert portrayal of the Grand Inquisitor. The movie has aged well visually and has benefited greatly from the HD remaster that it received recently. Small aside: all of the Blu-Ray HD remasters that I have purchased from Full Moon have been nothing short of excellent in regards to picture quality and presentation – if you are a fan, you should definitely check them out. If you are in the mood for a solid horror film set during the Spanish Inquistion, you will definitely find The Pit and the Pendulum worth your time. I highly recommend watching this flick. The Pit and the Pendulum can be viewed on Full Moon’s Streaming service, or purchased on DVD or HD remastered Blu-Ray from the Full Moon Direct online store.
Check out the trailer to The Pit and the Pendulum and see if you’d like to end up in the stockades under Torquemada’s watchful eye in the near future: