The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

Watch It With Mike and Scott

The success of House of Usher surprised American International execs, so they wanted to strike while the iron was hot and get another Poe-related adaptation on the market, right away. Roger Corman wasted no time re-enlisting Vincent Price for The Pit and the Pendulum, with a script by Richard Matheson.

But, could they duplicate the success of the first film?  Let’s take a look!

Synopsis of The Pit and the Pendulum

The plot is relatively sparse, with most of the film dedicated to the moody setting and backstory. A young man travels to a castle in Spain to find out exactly how his sister died.  Unsettling revelations and eerie visions lead to the truth of the matter, and the hero of the story ends up being the victim lying prone under the swish of the slowly lowering pendulum blade, under the hand of his now insane brother-in-law (played by Vincent Price).  The climactic sequence ends with the villains getting their just desserts as the pit is sealed off forever.

Things We Loved in The Pit and the Pendulum

Vincent Price (as usual) even when he’s hamming it up, which he did to a greater degree in this movie with his wild insane eyes.

The set design was great, especially the cobwebby passages under the castle. The pendulum was glorious and badass and whoa, IRON MAIDEN!

The monochrome wash used for the bad memory flashback scenes was well done, especially with the skewed and distorted camera shots.

Great moment: Elizabeth’s panic stricken eyes right before the fade to black, as Catherine says they are going to seal up the tomb forever.

It’s easy to overlook the reveal of Elizabeth rising from her coffin to haunt an unhinged Nicholas, which was a real screamer moment in 1961.  It feels tame now, but this moment left a mark on moviegoers!

We do wonder, though, if Elizabeth wasn’t really dead, then who the heck was that buried alive in her coffin??

Things We Didn’t Love in The Pit and the Pendulum

Well how about this: A guy travels a long way to get to a foggy dilapidated castle in search of answers about a loved one and finds Vincent Price and his sister.  Gloomy old house + moody characters doing their best to avoid the reveal we all know is coming.  Hmm…where have we seen this before?

The Pit and the Pendulum is almost 2 hours long and generally doesn’t feel like it needs that much time, so it ends up feeling slow and under paced.

Once again, Vincent Price’s incomparable talent is stifled by the lack of talent around him.  Barbara Steele has a great look, but her few lines are actually dubbed, due to her accent being incompatible with the material.

Our Rating of The Pit and the Pendulum

Scott gives it a thumbs up – definitely worth seeing.  There’s enough interesting content here to enjoy.

Mike feels otherwise with an indecisive sideways thumb – it was ok but don’t go out of your way to see it.

As far as the success of the project went, it was both a critical and commercial success, doing even better than House of Usher!  It was this film that made American International decide to have Roger Corman commit to making ongoing Poe adaptations.

What did you think? Let us know your thoughts and observations about the Pit and the Pendulum in the comments.

For our next Watch It! we’re moving to the third of Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe movies: The Premature Burial (1962).  This is the one film in the Corman/Poe cycle that did not feature Vincent Price, Corman instead going with Ray Milland for the feature role. Watch it by Monday, 9/15 and look for our next column.

About C. Scott Lovejoy

C. Scott Lovejoy (@back2past) Scott may appear grouchy, but he's actually pretty cuddly and makes sure Back to the Past marches ever forward in the quest to bring you the best pop culture finds! Currently lurking somewhere around Crusader in the Stanton system.


  1. This was one of my all time favorite Saturday scary movies.

  2. Great review!
    Haven’t seen it since I was a teen or a kid on Sir Graves Ghastly! But generally I’d watch anything with Vincent Price. Corman was a hoot, one of the greatest low-budget producers ever, and very well respected now.

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