The Pit and the Pendulum (1990)
Dir: Stuart Gordon
Star: Lance Henriksen, Jonathan Fuller, Rona De Ricci, Jeffrey Combs, Mark Margolis
Cert / Year: 18 - R / 1990
Format: DVD R2

The Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition (No-one Expects the Spanish Inquisition!) Torquemada (Lance Henriksen) the foremost practitioners of torture and violence, finds himself lusting after the wife of a local baker (Rona De Ricci) who stands up to him at an execution. Confused and stunned that a woman would stand up to him and that he was having impure thoughts, Torquemada arrests her for being a witch and takes her to his dungeons. Her husband Antonio the baker (Jonathon Fuller) attempts to rescue her from the clutches of the wicked Inquisition, whilst Torquemada struggles to accept his new feelings of lust and impose himself upon the girl, but nothing goes to plan......

The Pit and the Pendulum is loosely based on the classic Edgar Allan Poe story, as this tawdry tale and intellectually diminished representation of Poe's work is more about the Spanish Inquisition and their "feared" religious zealot leader Torquemada (played rather well by a bald Lance Henriksen in one of his more accomplished roles) than the real chilling story. To be brutally honest this film could just as easily be described as the team behind the cult hit Re-Animator having a bash at remaking the 1961 Roger Corman classic Pit and the Pendulum. Unlike the original, this seems to revel in the fact that it is a particularly gruesome adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's story which seriously lacks the subtlety of the Richard Matheson scripted original. The story has been reworked by regular "Full Moon Pictures" screenwriter Dennis Paoli and typically subjected to a generous amount of sensationalizing. This version lays on the cruelty and horror liberally, not to mention gore, dumb characterizations, some comedic performances in places and of course nudity, on the part of the leading lady Rona De Ricci, which admittedly isn't a particularly terrible or unpleasant inclusion, but does little to elevate this film above trashy schlock.

The film does provide an interesting take on the story, but the film sacrifices its real atmosphere and any real scope to scare the audience early on and loses itself in an excursion of dark humour and hopeless foolishness. Lance Henriksen is good as Torquemada, the sadistic masochist in charge of the Spanish Inquisition. He portrays a depraved religious zealot who maintains a vicious stranglehold on the local population with increasingly more wicked tortures, which are employed in addition to public executions to exert his hold of fear. All of which are employed to obtain "confessions" and amass great wealth for the church, not to mention allow certain members of the church and inquisition to indulge their depraved perversities.

You can easily tell that Stuart Gordon is behind such films as Re-Animator, as the style doesn't vary much from film to film and appears quite formulaic and atypical in this incarnation. After the opening scene, which features 20 lashes administered to a semi decayed corpse, you are highly likely to turn it off as it does seem quite ridiculous and is handled in a glib manner which appears a needless exercise in black humour and tells you immediately that this is not a serious or real horror film. The film degenerates from there really, except for a brief bread kneading scene there is insufficient to keep your undivided attention. Some of the direction is quite good in places but it mostly just lacks any real invention and relies on the gore or comedy horror factor to carry it through and bolster its shortcomings of which there are a few. The script is barely tolerable, nothing particularly stimulating or challenging, but after quite a few drinks it might get better, but by then you won't care. Despite it's shortcomings this is a strangely compelling and moderately entertaining watch, but no horror classic..... unlike it's predeccessor.

Some of the acting is passable, but some performances are quite dull and certainly nothing special. Leading lady Rona De Ricci does a reasonible job for her second and only acting feature, she is mildly annoying at times but her often exposed flesh gracing the screen naturally detracts somewhat from her actual "acting" inadequacies. Henriksen is always watchable and he manages to convey a pretty convincing tortured sexually inadequate, puritanical monk and generally vicious religious nut. He is unfortunately a victim of a poor script but makes the best of it by stealing every scene. A brief glimmer of hope when the superb Oliver Reed appears as a Cardinal.... but just as quickly dissappears again, leaving you feeling a little cheated to say the least seeing as he is one of the "named" stars. Cult star Jeffrey Combs crops up in yet another Stuart Gordon movie, but here he plays virtual sidekick to Henriksen as a thick rim spectacled, book and records keeper. Certainly not his best work but its ok. A good supporting performance by Frances Bay as the obligatory old witch in the dungeon, and she has quite a memorable performance, which culminates in a funny but needlessly gory burning at the stake, which again further detracts from the original story but will no doubt appeal to the gore fans.

This is unfortunately, one of those pointless little films which strives to be a remake but falls drastically short, it is sensationalised, trashy, historically inaccurate and rather badly staged overrall. It brings nothing new and does nothing for or with the story, that is of any intelligent consequence whatsoever. The actual pendulum was so bad that director Stuart Gordon cut the original finale scene and worked round it. The original pendulum was far better and worked quite effectively whereas this one is rather laughable and poorly thought out, and with this ending it does seem somewhat of an anti-climax. If you haven't seen the original version.... make sure you do and ignore this one as it wreaks mediocrity. Even though there are worse horror films out there, there are also far better.


A bizarre descent into Hell, from the creator of Re-Animator

Rating: 1 out of 5

Picture 4.3 Fullscreen Generally good quality fullscreen image
Audio Dolby 2.0 Stereo Not bad for a stereo track.
Features Unimpressive semi animated menu
Series of very "B" movie trailers
Verdict Not a particuarly good disc but there again this isn't a particuarly good film.

Rating: 0 out of 5

Reviewed by Logan Back Top Home