The Pit And The Pendulum

February 3rd, 2009 by Vomitron

The Pit And The Pendulum   pit pendulum dvd1 82x120 shock endings Director: Roger Corman
Writer: Richard Matheson based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe
Release Year: 1961

The Pit And The Pendulum   Shock Endings mini logo 130 shock endings Roger Corman has always been a versatile film-maker and a very productive one at it too. He can also be considered a pioneer of genre movies for more than one reason, and one could be that he was already shocking audiences at the end of a movie since the early sixties.

(Spoilers!)

Click play to listen to Catherine’s final line & the score accompanying the shock-shot

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THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM from 1961 does probably not contain the first shock ending ever to be realized, but it sure is one to remember. So far, this film is one of my favorite Corman/Poe/Price collaborations. Roger Corman and writer Richard Matheson took the liberty of mixing elements from different Edgar Allan Poe stories together, and the end result is one tense little gothic shocker. The whole plot is woven around the mystery surrounding the death of Nicholas Medina’s (Vincent Price) wife Elizabeth (played by the ravishing Barbara Steele). Elizabeth’s brother, Francis (John Kerr) travels to Medina’s castle to learn more about her death.

At first, Nicholas Medina, son of a notorious barbaric Spanish inquisitor, plays the role of a suspect, but ultimately becomes the victim of a murderous complot conducted by Elizabeth (who faked her own death) and her lover, Doctor Leon (Antony Carbone). But things do not end there and take a twisted turn into the macabre, as Nicholas becomes instantly insane by this shocking discovery. There’s a fight in the torture-dungeon (which is, of course, the main attraction of the movie). Elizabeth is captured by Medina and he exclaims he’s going to torture her, having her die an agonizing death. His words still linger as the camera pans to an iron maiden (a medieval, man-sized torture device with pins inside in which the victim gets locked up). We never actually see Medina put Elizabeth into the iron maiden, but we do see him close it. Corman has Price focussing his attention back on Carbone. The adulturous doctor gets killed in the pit, and Medina finds a new victim, Francis, who just arrived to the rescue a little too late. Here’s were Corman cleverly inserts a timelapse, as he cuts to the marvelous pendulum-sequence, the movie’s climactic final act of terror. The viewer forgets about Elizabeth, and just presumes she died from impalement in the iron maiden.

After the tenseful climax, with Vincent Price ultimately biting dust in the pit, our three survivors -- Maximillian, Francis and Catherine (Medina’s sister) -- walk out, up the stairs to the dungeon’s exit. Now we’re reaching the final shot of the movie. When they’re about to walk through the massive steel door, Catherine pauses, saying: “No-one will ever enter this room again…” And when the locks behind the doors fall into place, the camera swiftly swoops to the right (there’s one more cut, disguised by the fast camera movement), all the way to the other side of the torture chamber of horrors, focussing on the iron maiden. And inside, there’s Barbara Steele. Bound and gagged and very much alive…

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To extend the shock-effect, Corman had a black frame closing in on Steele‘s eyes, filled with despair and fear. Then the frame freezes and a soft pink haze illuminates it while violins screech.

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A true horror classic with an adequate ending.

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