Starring Lance Henriksen, Rona De Ricci, Jonathan Fuller, Stephen Lee, Frances Bay, Jeffrey Combs, Oliver Reed
Directed by Stuart Gordon
Expectations: Low. For whatever reason, my enjoyment of the previous Stuart Gordon films didn’t pump me up for this at all. I just had this overwhelming sense that it would be stupid for some reason.
Wow! It’s a state of shock and awe over here at the Silver household, as I am floored at the level of sheer awesome on display in The Pit and the Pendulum. I went into this film thinking absolutely nothing about it. I’ve enjoyed every Stuart Gordon film I’ve seen so far, but I’d never heard anyone talk about this one, so I suppose subconsciously I assumed it was shit. That couldn’t be further from the truth though as The Pit and the Pendulum is one of the most engrossing, tense movies to ever come out of Full Moon Entertainment.
This wildly fun intro set me up for a fun romp through the Spanish Inquisition, but after the credits it takes a slight turn. Gordon introduces us to our main heroes, the husband and wife bakers, Antonio (Jonathan Fuller) and Maria (Rona De Ricci). It is their struggles and pain that makes up the emotional weight of the film. The bakers set out into the town square to sell their bread one day. A couple of rotten kids steal some bread and knock them over, so Antonio and Maria give chase. Before they get very far though, they are stampeded by a crowd of people. Antonio and Maria are forced to go with the flow of traffic and end up in the town square where the church is holding a witch burning. Maria cannot contain her contempt for the act and voices her disapproval. She is beaten, labeled as a witch and arrested. Jonathan is knocked out in the process, and when he awakes hours later, he starts his quest to free his loving wife.
The acting throughout is good and definitely a step above most Charles Band productions and B-movies in general for that matter. Lance Henriksen is wonderfully over-the-top in a role that requires nothing less. He plays Torquemada as a mad, power-hungry zealot who impresses scene after scene. Portraying self-mutilation long before The Da Vinci Code was a poorly written best seller, Henriksen sears his character into your brain folds, leaving indelible marks that may never be cured or erased. Consider the scene when he removes a spiked self-mutilation belt from his torso, revealing deep bloody sores, and asks a servant to whip him as he kneels before a painting of the virgin Mary. During the whipping, the painting transforms into Maria, clothed as the religious figure, perfectly illustrating the tortured, twisted thought process of Torquemada.
The more I think about it, the better this film gets. Perfectly paced and edited, The Pit and the Pendulum is an excellent film filled with most everything you’d expect from a Stuart Gordon movie set during the Spanish Inquisition. Along with Tromeo and Juliet, this is an absolutely fantastic B-movie adaptation of a classic work. It’s not as faithful as the Troma picture, but it pays off just as much. Calling it a great B-movie adaptation is selling the film short though. It’s a damn good adaptation for any level of movie and shouldn’t be overlooked by mainstreamers. Give it a chance!
Come back on Monday when Uncle Jasper oozes into the first review of the Shaw Bros. Horror week with a review of Danny Lee in The Oily Maniac!