Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

Pit and the Pendulum (1961), produced and directed by Roger Corman.

Investigating the mysterious death of his sister, a young man encounters hereditary madness in the in-laws, their private torture chamber, and a haunting by the maybe-dead, maybe not.

It's been so long since I last saw this that all I remembered was the shocking opening of the tomb (Doctor: "I swear I thought that she was dead!"), and the ironic sadism of the final image. The Blu-ray has a rarely-seen prelude of the surviving sister in an insane asylum. I'm not sure how it was supposed to link up.

It is natural to assume that Vincent Price, deranged by the morbid suspicion that he buried his wife prematurely, is unconsciously haunting himself. But no! They offer that half way through, but it is not so simple: we have some nice twists in this one.

In those days the movies talked about torture but did not show it, and we dreaded what was not shown. It worked more in the imagination.

We are somewhat deflated at the outset by the dress-up costumes and the evident cheapness and quickness of the production. The modern haircuts on the men are particularly unfortunate. But after a time we forget about that, and the castle interiors are actually rather good. Corman says that as the Poe cycle continued they accumulated reusable sets and other gear, so the productions became richer looking.

Richard Matheson screenplay. Poe's story only loosely inspired the final act.

The score is rather fine for this sort of picture.

Available on Blu-ray. The director provides a reflective, low-key commentary track. It is not exactly fact-filled, but has some good background: