The Pit and the Pendulum (1991)

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Released 5-May-2010

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Horror Featurette-Behind The Scenes
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated R
Year Of Production 1991
Running Time 92:50
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Stuart Gordon
Full Moon Pictures
Beyond Home Entertainment
Starring Lance Henriksen
Stephen Lee
William J. Norris
Mark Margolis
Carolyn Purdy-Gordon
Barbara Bocci
Benito Stefanelli
Jeffrey Combs
Tom Towles
Rona De Ricci
Case Amaray-Opaque
RPI $14.95 Music Richard Band

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

     Spain 1492. The Inquisition is in full swing, torturing and burning at the stake those who are adjudged heretics; judged solely by Grand Inquisitor Torquemada (Lance Henriksen). When lovely yet innocent baker’s wife Maria (Rona De Ricci) tries to stop a young boy being flogged, she is arrested as a witch. She is stripped, humiliated and tortured in an attempt to make her confess; but her goodness and her beauty awakes in Torquemada a lustful desire for her that he can neither understand nor control. When her husband Antonio (Jonathan Fuller) attempts a rescue he too is captured. The innocent Maria is then given a choice: she can submit to Torquemada’s sexual desires on the promise of freedom for her husband or condemn them both to torture and death. As Antonio faces the pendulum and the pit, Torquemada imposes a horror on Maria that will have terrible consequences.

     Stuart Gordon (Re-animator) in The Pit and the Pendulum has fashioned an effective horror love story, with healthy doses of very black humour. The opening scene tells you all you need to know about the tone of the film. In front of his horrified family, the bones of Count Molina are dis-interned, then charged and found guilty of heresy. The sentence is confiscation of his property (to the Church of course) and his bones are to receive 20 lashes. The bones are strung up and in the course of the 20 lashes the skeleton disintegrates, bones flying across the room. After which the bones are collected, ground into a powder to use in an hour glass and the Countess Molina condemned and burnt at the stake. All this in the first 5 minutes.

     For what it intends, The Pit and the Pendulum is quite successful, thanks in no small measure to the authentic looking set (the film was made on location in Giove Castle, Italy) and an impressive turn from Lance Henriksen as Torquemada. He is a vile man, brutal, violent and cruel, but in his love for Maria Henriksen gives us a man who is in pain, unable to cope with sexual feelings he cannot control. The pain he orders for others is juxtaposed with the physical and emotional pain he inflicts upon himself. But his nail shirt, and the floggings he orders for himself, cannot ease his soul. He is, quite simply, a monster but if we cannot like him, or accept what he does, Henriksen makes him a tormented soul we can understand only too well. Rona De Ricci as Maria cannot match Henriksen’s acting ability, but she is very vulnerable and stunningly beautiful enough to tempt any male and so makes Torquemada’s desire for her and his anguish perfectly understandable. The black humour is mostly left to the trio of Stephen Lee (Gomez, the head torturer), William J. Norris (Dr. Huesos) and Jeffrey Combs (Francisco, the clerk) who do a good job. Perhaps the weakest link is Jonathan Fuller as Maria’s baker husband, who just doesn’t convince.

     There have been other film versions based on the Edgar Allan Poe short story The Pit and the Pendulum, most notably Roger Corman’s version staring Vincent Price in 1961. This version from Stuart Gordon is very watchable; it is an effective horror love story, with healthy doses of very black humour and an impressive performance from Lance Henriksen as the monstrous yet tormented Chief Inquisitor Torquemada.

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Transfer Quality


     The Pit and the Pendulum is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and is not 16x9 enhanced. I cannot with certainty say what the original ratio was, but the film does not look cropped, and no other version on DVD I can find has a different ratio. So the 1.33:1 is probably original.

     The video presentation is not the best, but nor is it poor enough to spoil one’s enjoyment of the film. In many scenes sharpness is not great, and especially in movement it is quite hazy. Still shots, and some close-ups, such as Henriksen’s craggy face, are good. Luckily, blacks are solid (given the amount of darkness in the film) and shadow detail, while by no means perfect, is reasonable. The colour palate is muted but natural; in keeping with the medieval setting, clothes are mostly dull browns and yellows. Skin tones are also natural, just as well as there is a fair bit of Rona De Ricci’s skin on show.

     There are a number film artefacts, such as dirt, a scratch (17:44) and some blocking (46:31). There are also instances where the film jumps as if it has lost a frame (4:20; 55:41) but these are distracting only for a moment..

     Lip synchronisation is fine.

     There are no subtitles

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     The only audio choice is English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono at 192 Kbps. It is surround encoded but very little occurs in the surrounds. Dialogue is clear and understandable, and the sound effects are adequate if dull; for example, the sound of the canons is distinctly low key. However, it is adequate and gets the job done. There is no sub woofer use.

     The music by Richard Band is a mixture of choral and orchestral works that adds effective support to the film’s visuals.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Original Trailer (2:32)

Behind the Scenes (12:49)

     Rather lightweight, with one of those “very important” sounding voice over narrations. Those interviewed, briefly, are Stuart Gordon (Director), Bob Clark (Special Effects Makeup) and cast members Lance Henrikson, Rona De Ricci, Jonathan Fuller, Francis Bay, William J. Norris, Jeffery Combs and Stephen Lee. The most interesting is Jonathan Fuller (the husband), who gives some good information about working with rats, including the fact they like peanut butter.

Bloopers (1:47)

     Mildly interesting – worth a look once.


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R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     As far as I can find, the Region 1 release has similar video, in NTSC and without extras. A Region 2 German release is also 1.33:1 with a trailer and a “Making Of “ (reported at 13:43 minutes). There seems no reason to go beyond the Region 4.


     Based on the Edgar Allan Poe short story, this version of The Pit and the Pendulum is an effective horror love story, with healthy doses of very black humour and an impressive performance from Lance Henriksen as the monstrous yet tormented Chief Inquisitor Torquemada. The video and audio are adequate; minimal extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S350, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 42inch Hi-Def LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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