Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Pit And The Pendulum (1991)

This Charles Band production is actually a compendium of Edgar Allan Poe’s greatest hits, including a premature burial, the entombment of a man behind a brick wall, and the titular pit and pendulum. Set during the Spanish Inquisition (yes, everyone speaks English with Anglo-American accents), Full Moon’s production of THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM is a rich, violent, darkly funny horror picture with a standout performance by Lance Henriksen (ALIENS) as Torquemada, a power-mad inquisitor first seen flogging the brittle bones of a long-dead corpse accused of heresy. As a tale of a middle-aged white man in power using religion as an excuse to bring harm to the poor and the downtrodden, the film by director Stuart Gordon (RE-ANIMATOR) retains its timely message decades after it was released.

The self-flagellating Torquemada captures the beautiful Maria (Rona de Ricci), whom he accuses of witchcraft after she attempts to interfere with a public torture of a little boy. While his minions examine her nude body for signs of Satan’s invasion, Torquemada becomes enthralled and places her in a cell with an old witch (Frances Bay), where he can be near her. Meanwhile, Maria’s baker husband, Antonio (Jonathan Fuller), plots a rescue attempt that provides the film some fun swashbuckling action, but ultimately lands him strapped beneath the titular pendulum.

Torquemada, as portrayed with the intensity of a supernova by Henriksen, walks on broken glass, wears a spiked girdle, and demands to be flogged by flunky Mendoza (Mark Margolis), whose crucifixion wounds Torquemada fingers with sadistic pleasure. Tom Towles (HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER) is another of Torquemada’s torturers, Jeffrey Combs (FROM BEYOND) wears Roddy McDowall’s old Bookworm duds, and a sweaty Oliver Reed (THE BROOD) stops by as a Cardinal with a shaky Italian accent and a taste for amontillado. Gordon and screenwriter Dennis Paoli (CASTLE FREAK) leaven the grue and brutality with humor without tipping into camp.

Filmed economically at Band’s castle in Giove, Italy, THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM ranks among the best of the producer’s Full Moon output, as do the other films Gordon directed for him. While splashing plenty of violence and nudity across the screen, Gordon’s intelligent approach threatens to divert the film away from exploitation territory. Henriksen, his head shaven except for two strips on the sides and a Charlie Brown cowlick, glowers admirably in creating one of his best villains.


Felicity Walker said...

Hi, Marty. I found your blog via Glorious Trash. As an SCTV fan I love the title, and as a B-movie fan I look forward to reading your reviews!

Marty McKee said...

Awww, thanks, Felicity!