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16 Fantastic Films About Witchcraft (Before Harry Potter)

14. The Pit And The Pendulum (1961)

In 16th century Spain, Francis visits his brother in law Nicholas to see what happened to his sister Elizabeth who is apparently dead. Nicholas and his sister Catherine inform Francis that she died from a rare blood disorder. They are cagey about the details so Nicholas says he will stay until he finds out the truth. He questions Dr Leon, the family physician, about Elizabeth's death and Leon tells him Elizabeth literally died of fright. Demanding to know where she died, Nicholas takes Francis to the torture chamber and tells him that she was obsessed with an instrument of torture called 'The Iron Maiden'. She locked herself in it and died. Francis refuses to believe this and consults with Catherine who tells him that they had a childhood of terror due to their father Sebastien - who happened to be a member of the Spanish Inquisition. Their mother was having it off with Sebastian's brother Bartolome and Sebastien caught them in flagrante delicto. Nicholas was hiding in the bedroom and saw his father kill the adulterous pair. The mother - Isabella - was in fact buried alive behind a wall and her vengeful spirit wanders thr corridors. A lot of spooky things go on - such as Elizabeth's harpsichord playing by itself in the middle of the night. Francis accuses Nicholas of staging these weird occurrences. Nicholas - to prove a point - opens up Elizabeth's tomb and finds a putrid corpse in a pose of abject terror. Nicholas now knows that he buried his wife alive. He goes berserk and hears Elizabeth's voice coming from her crypt. He goes down and lo and behold Elizabeth is alive and non mouldy. Nicholas falls down some steps and Elizabeth talks to him about her lover Dr Leon and how they have engineered this to take all his money. She thinks he is dead, but Nicholas is in fact alive and he gets up, turfs Dr Leon into a pit and swears to torture Elizabeth. Alerted by the cacophony, Francis goes to the basement where Nicholas has gone insane and thinks he is his father Sebastien Medina. He mistakes Francis for his brother Bartolome and ties him up with the infamous swinging pendulum coming ever closer to Francis' abdomen. Catherine and Maximilian, a servant, rescue Francis. Maximilian throws Nicholas into the pit. But what about Elizabeth? Where the heck is she? The Pit and the Pendulum really brings to life Spain from ye olden days. The costumes are fantastic and the film itself, is great fun. It is fabulous to see Vincent Price hamming it up in The Pit and the Pendulum as poor mentally scarred Nicholas who loses his marbles at the end of the film and assumes the identity of his Inquisitor father Sebastien - a man who must have had a fun time in his great big torture chamber torturing witches. Generally liked by the critics, director Roger Corman was the master of making low budget Edgar Allen Poe adaptations. Somehow, on a very low budget, he managed to make The Pit and the Pendulum look beautiful with some fantastic cinematography. The torture dungeon was extremely sadistic and sinister looking with all sorts of horrific devices. The scene at the end of the film in which Francis has the swinging pendulum moving closer and closer to his abdomen, is extremely suspenseful and well handled by Corman - generating maximum tension. And poor old Barbara Steele's character Elizabeth comes to a frightening end. Top class action from Roger Corman.
Contributor
Contributor

My first film watched was Carrie aged 2 on my dad's knee. Educated at The University of St Andrews and Trinity College Dublin. Fan of Arthouse, Exploitation, Horror, Euro Trash, Giallo, New French Extremism. Weaned at the bosom of a Russ Meyer starlet. The bleaker, artier or sleazier the better!