The Pit and the Pendulum

Stuart Gordon directs this adaptation of the famous Poe short and infuses the story with about a million volts of crazy. In other words, a typical Gordon effort.

During the Spanish Inquisition, a young beautiful woman named Maria makes the mistake of having human compassion. This leads to her being accused of witchery by the Grand Inquisitor (Lance Henriksen of Pumpkinhead) and subsequently cast into a dungeon. Her estranged husband (Jonathan Fuller) then decides to join the party and also ends up in the dungeon.

Lance falls into lust with beautiful Maria upon viewing her naked body whilst checking her for moles or other imperfections that would, of course, mean that she is a witch. This doesn’t sit well with the husband, who is able to escape an awful lot, only to be recaptured and then escape again. More on that later.

Loosely based on Poe’s poem would be an accurate, if not, overstated description. There are several references to the original story and another clever homage to the famous writer. A Cardinal (Oliver Reed) from the Pope’s office stops by to drink some Amontillado booze and make fun of the Grand Inquisitors haircut. I mean, let the Inquisitor know that torture was no longer allowed. This goes over about as well as expected. The visitor is walled up alive after a quick bit of masonry. Poe fans rejoice!

Maria meets and enchanting lady in the dungeon named Esmeralda. Esmeralda happens to be an actual witch. She notices that Maria also has special powers, which play heavily into the end of the film. The husband escapes certain death in the iconic pendulum scene by borrowing an idea from the original story (hint: rats) and then is off to save his wife.

It isn’t nearly as good as the Re-Animator films which Gordon will always be compared to, but still remains a fun watch. The blending of horror and comedy is a tough art form to succeed at. I felt this film fell short in this area. The comic relief guy wasn’t funny or even amusing and seemed out of place in such a drab environment.

Oh well, at least the witch was able to use her exploding bones to kill a hangman. Worth a watch for that scene alone.

Snore Factor: ZZ

IMDB 1991

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