Written and directed by Dennis Paoli and Stuart Gordon, the team responsible for the audacious RE-ANIMATOR, THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM takes Edgar Allan Poe's brief story as a starting off point around which to weave a story of madness, lust, religious obsession and the ennobling power of
As the Inquisition terrorizes the city of Toledo, Antonio (Jonathan Fuller), a baker, and his pious and beautiful wife Maria (Rona DeRicci) try to live decent and inconspicuous lives. Antonio persuades Maria to help him sell their bread at the auto-da-fe, where she is horrified by the cruelty and
barbarism she sees. Maria impulsively intercedes when she sees a child--whose mother is being burned as a witch--being beaten by soldiers. For her trouble, Antonio is beaten and left for dead, and she is arrested as a witch by Torquemada (Lance Henriksen), the Grand Inquisitor. Overwhelmed by
Maria's beauty and evident purity, the repressed and unbalanced Torquemada convinces himself she has bewitched him. Maria is tortured, as is Antonio when he tries to save her. Maria is befriended by her cellmate, Esmeralda (Francis Bay), an old woman who confesses that she is indeed a witch--a
healer, a midwife and a clairvoyant.
An emissary from Rome (Oliver Reed) arrives to tell Torquemada that the Pope has demanded the cessation of the autos-da-fe and the torture of suspected heretics; Torquemada has him bricked up in a dungeon. Torn by lust and religious mania, and tormented by the awareness that Maria is a woman of
great piety and innocence, Torquemada promises her he'll let Antonio go free if she sleeps with him, then cuts out her tongue after she tearfully agrees. Esmeralda plunges the wounded Maria into a death-like hypnotic sleep, hoping the girl's body will be carried outside where she can escape when
she awakes. But Torquemada has Maria placed in a marble casket, as befits a saint, and orders Esmeralda burned at the stake. She curses him as she is dying, and Maria wakes in her marble tomb. Torquemada has Antonio tortured with his newest creation, the pendulum, but Antonio escapes and rescues
Maria. Torquemada dies in a pit full of sharpened stakes, and Maria and Antonio free the other victims of the Inquisition and escape.
THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM went into production at the height of a mini-boom in Edgar Allan Poe films: other produced titles include Larry Brand's THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH and George Romero and Dario Argento's TWO EVIL EYES, based on "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" and "The Black Cat".
Unlike Roger Corman's studio-bound THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, Gordon's version evokes a genuine sense of historical period. Shot in an Italian castle, it benefits from a certain authenticity of location and from two excellent performances: the vastly underrated Lance Henriksen (NEAR DARK, ALIENS)
as Torquemada and newcomer Rona De Ricci as the virtuous Maria. Henriksen's sepulchral voice and gaunt figure help tremendously in his evocation of a religious ascetic succumbing to madness; the contrast between Henriksen and Oliver Reed, as an Italian cardinal who appreciates the pleasures of the
flesh, is particularly apt.
The cast also includes cult favorites Jeffrey Combs (RE-ANIMATOR) and Tom Towles (HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER). THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM's script is unusually literate, and its sense of humor is appropriately dark. (Violence, sexual situations, nudity.)
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: R
- Review: Written and directed by Dennis Paoli and Stuart Gordon, the team responsible for the audacious RE-ANIMATOR, THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM takes Edgar Allan Poe's brief story as a starting off point around which to weave a story of madness, lust, religious obses… (more)