If you've ever seen any of Full Moon's other horror films then you might have some idea of what to expect from this tacky low-budget oddity. THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM is definitely at the "good" end of their movies, although that isn't saying a lot considering that DOLLMAN and SHRIEK are at the other. The main trouble with this film is that, for me, it feels oddly disjointed and doesn't really go anywhere. While a number of the individual scenes in themselves are quite inventive and enjoyable, as a whole it lacks focus and plotting.
Filmed at the castle which Charles Band owned in Italy (not that you would know it, seeing as most of the scenes take place inside), thanks to some excessive gore and bloodiness this film just manages to scrape by. A varied and interesting cast also do their best to make things work, especially Lance Henriksen who has an over-the-top role as the Grand Inquisitor. Henriksen plays probably the oddest character of his career (check out his bald, ringed hairdo or the corset he wears which has blades on the inside... ouch!) and has a ball playing a thoroughly evil, selfish, ruthless, and tormented man, a real force to be reckoned with. Although the two young leads seem to have been miscast (especially in the case of De Ricci, who is fairly unconvincing) the supporting actors are what help to make this entertaining. Popping up are Jeffrey Combs, Tom Towles, and, most surprisingly of all, Oliver Reed as the cardinal who finds himself getting walled up!
Many of the torture scenes are explicit in this film, although not as gritty as in the brief period of witch finding movies they had in the late '60s/early '70s. Tongues are snipped out, people are stretched on the rack, thrown into iron maidens, strangled, burnt, you name it, the usual. The film is worth watching for two inventive, incredible scenes alone. The first is the opening, which sees the bonkers Henriksen exhume a dusty old skeleton, try it for its crimes, and then sentence it to twenty lashes - as a result of with, the skeleton disintegrates! To add insult to injury, the bones are then ground up in a pestle and mortar and used to fill an hourglass - there's something you wouldn't wish on a departed loved one!
The second, frankly hilarious and off-beat scene sees a witch being burnt alive for her crimes. Yet, she manages to swallow a few handfuls of gunpowder beforehand and promptly explodes when the flames reach her! I also greatly enjoyed the excessive ending of this movie. I see many people complaining because the actual pit and the pendulum of the title are obviously cheaply-made and not on screen for very long, but you can't have everything! The ending is packed with outrageous twists and turns which don't disappoint. These scenes help to make THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM a fun movie to watch. It may not hold a torch to the 1961 version that Corman made, but the gooey gore and the cult cast make this one worthwhile for horror fans.