The Fall of the House of Usher
's success in 1960 spurred American International Pictures to quickly launch another production based on an Edgar Allan Poe story. While producer-director Roger Corman had hoped to next adapt "The Masque of the Red Death" (which wasn't produced until 1964), Pit and the Pendulum
(the onscreen title) became the second in AIP's long-running Poe series. Set in post-Inquisition Spain, the film stars John Kerr as a young Englishman who travels to the seaside castle of his brother-in-law (Vincent Price) to uncover the circumstances behind the death of his sister (a dubbed Barbara Steele). Price is tormented by memories of his mother's premature burial by his inquisitor father (also Price) and fears that this sadistic legacy has contributed to Steele's demise. Furthermore, he believes that Steele was also buried alive--a belief compounded by the mysterious destruction of her room, and the sound of her harpsichord playing in the night...
Structured almost identically to Usher, Richard Matheson's script fleshes out the brief original text with a fast-paced and twist-filled plot that never loses sight of the psychological themes of Poe's work. It also provides Price with the richest of his many AIP/Poe roles, a sympathetic, deeply emotional man who is unhinged by the sins of his father. Corman's direction is equally driven and fluid, and features some impressive quasi-psychedelic visuals in the tense climax. Also noteworthy is art director's Daniel Haller's impressive design of the title set piece. MGM's widescreen DVD features commentary by Corman, which focuses primarily on the film's technical aspects. Also included is the original trailer and a prologue (shot by Norma Rae producer Tamara Asseyev) featuring costar Luana Anders, which was added to fill out the film's 1968 television broadcast. --Paul Gaita