The Pit and the Pendulum (1991)

03/26/2020 05:49

Film: The Pit and the Pendulum

Year: 1991

Director: Stuart Gordon

Writer: Dennis Paoli

Starring: Lance Henriksen, Stephen Lee and William Norris



This was a film I actually remember seeing the trailer for growing up. I had seen a lot of Full Moon films and this would have been advertised on some of them. I also believe I have a DVD of trailers from them when I bought a box-set in college. The synopsis for this film is set in the time of the Spanish Inquisition; the head inquisitor falls for a beautiful woman, imprisoning her and her husband.

We start this off inside of the castle from what I gather to be in Toledo, Spain in 1492. Torquemada (Lance Henriksen) is having a corpse uncovered as he believes the person has committed heresy. Helping him is his record keeper, Francisco (Jeffrey Combs), henchman Gomez (Stephen Lee), Dr. Huesos (William Norris), an enforcer Mendoza (Mark Margolis) and the member of the military Don Carlos (Tom Towles). The body of the man is then lashed 20 times by Mendoza and the bones are grounded up. They’re put into an hourglass with the Contessa D’Alba Molina (Carolyn Purdy-Gordon) and her son, Barbara Bocci, taken to cells.

We then shift to a young couple. They are madly in love, but are struggling to make ends meet with their bakery. There is Maria (Rona De Ricci) and Antonio (Jonathan Fuller). They head out to sell their bread they’ve made, but when a couple of kids steal from Antonio causing him to give chase. He falls in the procession and as he tries to collect his bread, he and Maria are sucked into a crowd of people to see the public execution of the Contessa. They try to leave, but a guard asks if they’re heretics and they’re forced to stay.

The event is quite upsetting and Maria begs Antonio to stop it. He tells her that he can’t and she finally has enough. She takes the hand of Torquemada and begs him for mercy. There are a few quick flashes of images and he accuses her of being a witch. She is taken into custody. Antonio tries to prevent this, but he’s knocked unconscious.

She is imprisoned with a real witch, Esmeralda (Frances Bay) who confirms this information. The truth of the matter is that Maria has sparked impure thoughts within Torquemada and it gets even worse when she is stripped nude for Francisco, Dr. Huesos and Don Carlos to look for the devils mark. Her beauty is the reason she is being accused. Things take a turn as well when Antonio pays to be snuck in the castle and is taken prisoner as well. The only confessions these madmen accept is through torture and it is something that secretly gain pleasure from.

Now I don’t think I’ve ever read the story by Edgar Allan Poe, but I’m definitely intrigued to now that I’ve seen the film. The film though does have a lot of feeling of Victor Hugo’s ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’, especially in that Torquemada blames Maria for falling for her. He claims that she is a witch and that she has put a spell on him. This is really an interesting look at toxic masculinity in that he isn’t taking ownership for his own actions.

Going from this, there is the issue of religion here. Now if you’ve read any of my reviews, you probably know that I’m an atheist. I think that religion is an excuse for people and they use it as a crutch to do the right thing. I will never look down on someone for being religious, but it isn’t for me. My biggest issue with religion is explored here. Torquemada and his crew are using as a means to an end. I believe they use it against the Contessa to get her money. They also don’t believe that the confessions count unless it is done under torture, even though the pope is against this. I do think some of cronies definitely enjoy torturing these people. It is also intriguing that the people of the city are complacent to the torture going on, because it is the church. It doesn’t help that they drove out the Moors so they looked to them for safety, but also out of fear.

The witch hunts that happened in our world are something that are really sad. Esmeralda is a considered a witch because she is a midwife. She does admit to being one, but the smallest things could be taken in the wrong context. There is a mark that is on Maria, which is there because of Don Carlos. It is terrifying that things can be interpreted in a way that would get you locked up and probably killed.

I do have to say that the pacing of the film is good. We jump right into an odd torture scene and then there’s the event the next day that puts Maria in the dungeon. The crazy thing is that it is just a mix-up she is at the event in the first place. The tension continues to build and a lot of that is how graphic they go on screen. It gets even better when Torquemada starts to question himself and having physical ailments he takes as God punishing him. I did like how the film ends as well.

The acting of the movie really helps a lot as well. Henrisksen is great as the villainous Grand Inquisitor. He is such a dirtbag and cannot take responsibility for his own actions. It is quite scary and depraved the route that he goes. Lee was fine, but I did think he was a bit miscast. He brings too much comedy to the role. I thought it was interesting to see Margolis in this. I know him from Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. His performance is good and his character has an interesting back-story. Combs is great per usual. His delivery of his lines and the subtle comedy there works. I found Ricci to be quite attractive and I loved to see her struggle in this. She conveys so much emotion that I felt bad for her and her ordeal. I don’t blame her for what happens in the end. We also see her nude, which is never a bad thing. Fuller was fine in this role. I also enjoyed the cameos by Towles and even Oliver Reed. The rest of the cast rounded out the film for what was needed.

Something I was leery about where the effects of the film. Knowing this was Full Moon, I wasn’t sure if we were going to get the good effects that we saw in more of the earlier works or not. Being that this is directed by Stuart Gordon that is probably why. The effects definitely had me cringing. The use of the medieval torture devices was great. I was a big fan of that and some of them definitely made me cringe. The blood was a bit too red at times, but it does feel almost like a throwback to the 1970’s. I also think the film was shot very well and I liked this was film in a real castle in Italy. That did add some character for me.

The last thing to cover was the soundtrack of the film. I liked the opening theme of the film. It definitely felt like the era this is taking place and got me tense to what we were going to see. I do feel that the composer, Richard Band, might have taken other songs he’s used for other films and just recycled them here. I can’t confirm this, but I still did like the selections. They fit the film and I would actually listen to the score if I can find it while writing.

Now with that said, this film does explore some interesting concepts that I like. The first thing is religion and how evil people use it to their own ends. The Spanish Inquisition was one of the scarier times in recorded human history. The film has me intrigued to check out the story from Poe this is based on. I thought the pacing of the film was good; it builds tension to a satisfying climax. The acting also good and I really felt for these characters while Torquemada and his crew are horrible human beings. Effects for the film were pretty realistic across the board and the use of practical effects is good to see. The soundtrack of the film I’m not entirely sure is original, but it still fit for what they needed. If you are into films of religious zealots who use their beliefs for their own depraved needs, I would give this one a viewing. It isn’t the most graphic film, but it does have some violence for sure. I found this to be a good film overall.


My Rating: 8 out of 10