The Pit and the Pendulum, 1991 – ★★★½

I didnt quite know what I was getting into when I checked out Stuart Gordons take on ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’ I figured maybe a slightly more graphic take on the Roger Corman effort from the 60’s. This was not the case.

Instead Gordon HAS gone the route of Corman, in essence taking the original Poe story and wrapping it around a completley fresh take, largely focussed on the inquisition and it’s cruelty towards anyone they deemed to be ‘of sin’ and in particular of a young woman who begs mercy on behalf of a woman during a witch trial, only to find herself charged with witchcraft too.

It’s not bad all things being said, It could best be summed up as ‘What if someone made an exploitation adaptation of a Poe film?’ with gratuitous gore, people being set on fire, full frontal nudity and at least a couple of scenes of dry humping. it cant be said that this film isnt at least TRYING to be entertaining.

The scripts fine enough, the dialogues a little odd as they blend ‘ye olde’ type dialogue with zingers and more modernist language, which did kind of pull me out of the film a bit (I wish it had picked a lane) The bulk of the film is largely centered around the relationship between the bakers wife and the head of the inquisition who’s openly corrupt. Theres absolutely a sense of drama here and the tone and pace, especially for a ‘Full Moon’ production I thought was actually really quite solid.

Theres a clean 3 act structure that transitions nicely between the acts with a real smoothness, characters that are noteworthy all seem to get a decent bit of establishing and development (though, a couple of characters who arnt in the film very long, but DO steer a lot of the plot did come out a little underdeveloped I fear).

The only thing script wise I didnt much care for honestly was just the fact that it in places can be rather unpleasent. I know the whole point of the movie is that these are unpleasent people, doing unpleasent things at an unpleasent time. But that kind of thing usually works best with a bit of nuance, some light to contrast the dark. Here, it’s all dark, and as such I found it quite an oppressive watch. I cant deny it isnt entertaining and reletively well made. But BECAUSE its so oppressive it kind of stopped me out and out loving it. I think there needed to be a bit more there than ‘We establish half a dozen characters in act one and then slowly torture them to varying states of death for acts 2 and 3’

The directions rock solid, I wouldnt have doubted Gordon for a minute and here he delivers a piece that really feels professional, cinematic and heavily styalised. Theres a couple of nice homages to the Corman version of ‘Pit’ dribbed and drabbed throughout which I thought was a nice touch. But Gordon here has largely managed to bring a distinct and clear take on the story to the surface and i’d arguably rank it amongst some of his best quite honestly.

The cine too is relatively sharp, its a well paced edit with plenty of experimentation and B-roll to work with, shots are well composed. the colour pallet is a little bit too muted for my taste, but the style they’ve gone for is a muted piece punctuated with sharp contrasting colours to help offset it. It works in places, but i’d have personally been happier to see more colour in the offing honeslty. This is a bit above standard professional film work, and I was generally impressed for most of the runtime.

As for the performances? it’s a mixed bag. The bulk of the cast are good to wobbly honestly, delivering performances that seem uncertain. Some go with melodrama and that I feel is where the film shines best, others seem to think this is some kind of serious adaptation and they’re the ones who I feel suffer the most. That being said all the cast are at least animate and work with their set spaces to some degree and it’s clear Stuart Gordon worked closely with them to get the best out of them that he could.

The absolute showstealers here though have to be Lance Hendrickson and Rona De Ricci as the bakers wife and the leader of the inquisition. they BOTH seem to PERFECTLY get the tone this thing is searching for. Which is very fortunate as they’re the people we spend most of the time with on screen. they’re both super memorable, give melodramatic and over the top performances that are entertaining and genuinely fascinating to see. I loved them both in this, and they were easily the biggest reason to check this thing out.

Oh…and the soundtracks fine. nothing mind blowing, but it does the job. I know some people absolutley love this things score, im just happy to settle for “At least it doesnt sound like every other Full Moon film”. It punctuates the film at just the right moments and helps add emphasis. It’s not lifechanging. but it gets things done.

All in all, I thought this was okay, definitely recommended if your getting into ‘Full Moon’ and want to see some of their best offerings. While I personally probably wont catch it all too often due to just HOW opressive the film is in terms of themes and scripting. I thought it was a perfectly competent entertaining little watch.

Though it did get me thinking about similar match ups of exploitation film makers and classic literature. Im sure we’d all be down for Russ Meyer’s “Sense and Sensibilities”, Tinto Brass’s “Great Expectations” or David F. Friedmans “Jane Eyre”…hmm…


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