Greatest Film Scenes
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Pit and the Pendulum (1961)


Written by Tim Dirks

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Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

Legendary director Roger Corman's and AIP's low-budget Gothic horror films included a rash of Edgar Allan Poe film adaptations (or variations) - this one (the second of eight) was based on Edgar Allan Poe's 1842 short story; it was preceded by House of Usher (1960), and followed by Premature Burial (1962), Tales of Terror (1962), The Raven (1963), the Poe-titled poem but H. P. Lovecraft adapted The Haunted Palace (1963),The Masque of the Red Death (1964) and The Tomb of Ligeia (1964) - this effectively-scary and suspenseful film (with great atmospheric effects) was the most financially successful of all the AIP Poe films:

  • in mid-16th century Spain, Englishman Francis Barnard (John Kerr) arrived to visit the ominous castle of his brother-in-law Don Nicholas Medina (Vincent Price) to investigate the true reason for the mysterious disappearance (or death?) of his sister Elizabeth Medina (Barbara Steele), Nicholas' missing wife; there were no details of her "untimely" demise; Francis was shown where she had been interred in a stone wall of the castle's dungeon, and her bedroom where the obsessed Nicholas had preserved everything "exactly as she left it," including her portrait
Francis Barnard
(John Kerr)
Nicholas Medina
(Vincent Price)
(Luana Anders)
Dr. Charles Leon
(Antony Carbone)
  • the anguished, still-grieving Nicholas and his younger sister Catherine (Luana Anders) who was visiting from Barcelona, claimed that Elizabeth had died 3 months earlier from an illness - a rare blood disorder ("something in her blood"); however, after dinner that evening, the family's physician Dr. Charles Leon (Antony Carbone) had a different explanation or diagnosis - he stated that Elizabeth actually died of massive heart failure: ("Your sister's death was caused by failure of the heart, sir, due to total shock - literally, she died of fright"); her death was due to her increasing depression and pre-occupation with the castle's "odious atmosphere" and its dungeons built by Nicholas' "infamous" and depraved father Sebastian during the Inquisition
  • during a tour conducted by Nicholas that evening in a scene set in the castle's "blasphemous" dungeon "torture chamber" (with various instruments and apparatus' of pain and death, including the Rack and the Iron Maiden), Francis (and Catherine and Dr. Leon) were shown the location of Elizabeth's death; Nicholas told the incredulous story of how his "sensitive" wife was affected by the castle's "atmosphere"
  • in flashback (filmed in nightmarish, bluish-tinted monochrome), Nicholas recalled his "richly pleasurable" and wonderful life with Catherine, at one time painting her portrait to capture her beauty; but then her physical condition worsened and she became "haunted," obsessed and fixated by the "instruments of torture" - she gave a hideous scream, strapped herself into the cursed Iron Maiden torture device, whispered the name "Sebastian," and died in Nicholas' arms when he released her from the device's grasp
  • it was an unsatisfactory explanation for Francis, while guilt-ridden Nicholas insisted that he may have been responsible for his wife's death - due to his cursed ancestry
  • Nicholas' traumatic childhood was described by his sister Catherine - also seen in flashback; their father was a notorious agent of the Spanish Inquisition named Sebastian Medina (also Vincent Price); one day, young Nicholas (Larry Turner as youth) had disobediently entered the dungeon chamber where he witnessed Sebastian striking his brother Bartolome (Charles Victor) to death, while repeatedly screaming out: "Adulterer!"; afterwards, Sebastian also accused his own incestuous wife Isabella (Mary Menzies) of "vile debauchery with his brother" - and then tortured her to death for her "infidelity"; afterwards, Nicholas was forever haunted by the memory of that day - and his sister's recent death was now clearly driving him insane
  • strange occurrences began to happen in the atmospheric castle, possibly proof of Elizabeth's 'haunting' presence: her harpsichord was played by itself late at night, and one of her rings was left on the keyboard
  • Dr. Leon corrected the record for Catherine and Francis -- he claimed that Isabella had not been tortured to death, but had been entombed alive behind a brick wall: ("Your mother was walled up in her tomb while yet alive. From that day forth, the very thought of premature interment was enough to drive your brother into convulsions of horror"); the tormented and brooding Nicholas was fearing and conjecturing that Elizabeth had suffered the same fate because of what happened to his mother years earlier - and that it was his fault that Elizabeth had also been buried prematurely (and had been calling out to him); Dr. Leon stressed that Nicholas' fearful thoughts were unwarranted, but added that she still might be a vengeful ghost: "If Elizabeth Medina walks the corridors of this castle, it is her spirit, not her living self"
  • there were further signs of Elizabeth's presence in the castle; the maid Maria (Lynne Bernay) claimed that she was whispered to in her bedroom; shortly later, the room was found ransacked and her portrait was slashed; Francis became suspicious when he found a hidden passageway into the room from Nicholas' bedroom, and accused Nicholas of causing the disruptions from the grave; Nicholas questioned his own sanity: "Could I have kept that ring without knowing it? Play the harpsichord without knowing it? Destroy Elizabeth's room all without knowing it? My inner mind creating evidence of Elizabeth's vengeful return because that mind knows - BUT I DON'T KNOW?"
  • in a memorable sequence, to prove whether Elizabeth was still alive or not, Dr. Leon boldly suggested opening up Elizabeth's tomb-sarcophagus as "the only way of convincing Nicholas that he did not bury his wife alive...We will exhume Elizabeth" -- Nicholas suffered a flashback of watching his mother Isabella being buried alive, as they broke through the stone wall and discovered her decaying corpse in her sarcophagus, suggesting that her death was accidental; she had died screaming after failing to claw her way out of her sealed coffin; Nicholas was stunned and became hysterically suicidal: "True, true, it's true...I killed her...While we were up here mourning and she was alive, struggling to be free. I am responsible. If it were not so, she would not want to haunt me"; Dr. Leon strongly encouraged Nicholas to leave the castle, but he refused: "I can never leave. I must accept whatever vengeance Elizabeth chooses to inflict upon me"
Opening Up Elizabeth's Walled-Up Tomb and Sarcophagus/Coffin
Elizabeth's Ghastly Accidental 'Death'
  • that stormy night, the increasingly-mad Nicholas thought he heard the ghostly voice of his wife Elizabeth luring him and summoning him from her tomb through the cob-webbed passageway; in the dug-up tomb site, a bloody hand emerged from her opening coffin, and she rose very much alive; she followed him into the dungeon's torture chamber, where he tumbled down a flight of stairs
  • it was revealed, in the film's major plot twist, that Elizabeth had faked her death as part of a plot to drive him mad - with her lover Dr. Leon --- their conspiracy was to inherit Nicholas' wealth, fortune and castle by driving him insane and destroying his mind; as Nicholas was prostrate on the floor before her and semi-unconscious (after Dr. Leon arrived), Elizabeth gloated in the success of her evil deeds toward Nicholas: "Oh, my darling Nicholas, we've broken you at last....I've waited an eternity for this moment. There has to be time. And now my dear Nicholas, I have you exactly as I want you - helpless... Is it not ironical, my husband, your wife an adulteress, your mother an adulteress, your uncle an adulterer, your closest friend an adulterer - do you not find that amusing, dear Nicholas?"
The Evil Co-Conspirators - Kissing:
Elizabeth and Dr. Leon
Elizabeth to Nicholas: "I have you exactly as I want you - helpless"
Nicholas - Laughing Hysterically
Nicholas Assuming His Father's Identity as Torturer Sebastian
Francis (Assumed to Be Bartolome) Placed Under Swinging Pendulum
  • however, things took a turn when Nicholas revived, laughed hysterically, and convinced himself that he was his own father Sebastian - he assumed his father's identity and re-staged the murders of his faithless wife Isabella and his brother Bartolome; he grabbed Elizabeth (now functioning as the harlot Isabella) and threatened: "I'm going to torture you, Isabella!", and he gagged her body inside the Iron Maiden
  • Nicholas also overpowered Dr. Leon (now functioning as Bartolome) and was about to replay his murder, but as Dr. Leon fled, he fell to his death in the pendulum pit; when Francis entered the dungeon chamber, Nicholas conveniently misunderstood and thought he was Bartolome, and knocked him unconscious, to continue with his "ultimate device of torture"; Francis awoke bound and gagged on a stone slab beneath a gigantic, swinging pendulum with a razor-sharp steel blade edge, as Nicholas threatened: "Do you know where you are, Bartolome?...I will tell you where you are. You are about to enter Hell, Bartolome, HELL! The netherworld.The infernal regions, The Abode of the Damned, The place of torment. Pandemonium. Abbadon. Tophet. Gehenna. Naraka. THE PIT! And the pendulum. The razor edge of destiny. That's the condition of man. Bound on an island from which he can never have hope to escape surrounded by the waiting pit of hell. Subject to the inexorable pendulum of fate which must destroy him finally"; the platform with the stone slab was surrounded by the pit; every swing lowered the pendulum a little bit - closer and closer to Francis' helpless body [Note: Stock footage of the torture sequence was excerpted in the spy spoof Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1966).]
  • Catherine alerted the castle servant-butler named Maximillian (Patrick Westwood) and they entered the chamber - as she screamed out: "Maximilian, we must break into the torture chamber! Quickly!"; after a brief fight, Nicholas fell to his death when he was pushed into the pit - the same fate as Dr. Leon, and Francis was saved from being sliced by the torture device
  • in the film's short epilogue, while leaving the dungeon, Catherine vowed that the torture chamber room would be sealed and locked forever (the film's last line: "No one will ever enter this room again"); the last image was of a terror-stricken Elizabeth, still alive and forgotten about - and ironically imprisoned in the Iron Maiden box - about to die a second time!
  • the film ended with a title card - a quote from Edgar Allan Poe: "...the agony of my soul found vent in one loud, long, and final scream of despair" - - POE

The Ominous Seaside Medina Castle

Elizabeth's Burial Plate (1517-1546) in Stone Wall of Dungeon

Portraits of Nicholas' Father Sebastian (r) and His Uncle Bartolome (l)

Elizabeth's Portrait

Nicholas' Tour of Dungeon Area

View of Underground "Torture Chamber" Where Elizabeth Died

Nicholas' Flashback: Painting Elizabeth's Portrait

Flashback: Elizabeth's Death in Nicholas' Arms

Flashback: Young Nicholas Spying on His Father

Flashback: Sebastian's Murder of His Adulterous Brother Bartolome and His Incestuous Wife Isabella

Nicholas - Haunted by Elizabeth's Dead Spirit

Elizabeth's Slashed Portrait in Her Bedroom

Nicholas: "I must accept whatever vengeance Elizabeth chooses to inflict upon me"

Nicholas: Descending The Passageway to Elizabeth's Opened Tomb

Elizabeth's Bloody Hand Emerged From the Opening Coffin

Elizabeth - Resurrected!

Francis - Gagged on Slab and Below the Razor-Edged Pendulum

Nicholas' Death - Pushed Into the Pit

Elizabeth - Imprisoned in Iron Maiden


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