Horror Movie Review: The Pit and the Pendulum (1991)

“I swear by all the saints I’m not a witch!”

The Pit and the Pendulum (released on DVD in the United States as The Inquisitor) is a 1991 American horror film directed by Stuart Gordon and based on a short story by Edgar Allan Poe.

In 1492 Spain, Grand Inquisitor Torquemada (Lance Henriksen) leads a bloody reign of terror. While out trying to sell their wares (bread), Maria (Rona De Ricci) and her husband Antonio (Jonathan Fuller) are caught in a large crowd of people. The crowd is for that day’s public execution, which Maria heavily opposes. Unfortunately, they are forced to stay and watch the horror on display. Maria eventually speaks out and pleads for mercy. Torquemada witnesses this and Maria is arrested.

Torquemada is tempted by Maria’s beauty, and atones through self-torture. Confused by these new desires, he accuses Maria of witchcraft and orders that she be tortured until she confesses. During Maria’s interrogation, Torquemada cannot stop himself from staring at her naked body; he orders that she be imprisoned.

Maria is befriended by fellow prisoner Esmerelda (Frances Bay), a confessed witch. Together they struggle to save themselves from the sinister Torquemada. Esmerelda is indeed a true witch though and begins to show Maria a place within herself where she can hone her inner power.

Antonio breaks into the castle to rescue his innocent wife. He pays the man who disposes of corpses to let him hide underneath his cart. He betrays him though and Antonio is imprisoned for his actions. Torquemada – after proposing to Maria that she become his wife in exchange for her husband’s freedom – decides to test a new torture device, the Pit and the Pendulum, on him instead.

Will they ever escape the madness of the Inquisition? Watch and find out.

The perfect word to describe this movie is “hammy”. It’s over theatrical as hell, but the movie warrants that. Considering what’s happening it deserves to be a little over the top. Despite that though, Torquemada (Lance Henriksen) – ridiculous hair and all – is downright evil and fascinating to watch. The Pit and the Pendulum also features some black comedy, to cut through the tragedy. Even though my humour can be a little dark (so some of this movie was funny to me unintentionally), I know certain moments were supposed to be funny simply because they mostly featured Jeffrey Combs.

The opening of the film is quite something and it had me wondering if the rest of the runtime could ever live up to that. I think it did. The soundtrack is dramatic as hell and Rona De Ricci’s performance is perfect. Which leaves me wondering why this is one of the only two roles she ever did. Perhaps she felt she couldn’t ever put more than she put into this movie…

Despite filming in Italy, I have to say a negative for me is the sets, props and costumes very much looked like a theatre production. In fact, I feel this could translate very easily into one.

Over all, The Pit and the Pendulum is a fever dream of a movie. It’s theatrical, dark, dramatic and humorous at times. It’s one of those early 90’s late 80’s films that just could never exist in any other time-period.

Extra photo because Jeffrey Combs’ wig is funny.

The Pit and the pendulum
  • The Final Score - 7/10
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