The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

85 mins | Horror | 23 August 1961

Director:

Roger Corman

Producer:

Roger Corman

Cinematographer:

Floyd Crosby

Editor:

Anthony Carras

Production Designer:

Daniel Haller

Production Company:

Alta Vista Productions
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HISTORY

An article in the 28 Sep 1958 NYT noted the recent popularity of horror films and stated that Twentieth Century Fox planned to adapt three Edgar Allan Poe short stories, including “The Pit and the Pendulum” (1839). Nearly two years later, the 4 Aug 1960 LAT announced that filmmaker Roger Corman would make a screen version of “The Pit and the Pendulum,” as a follow-up to his recent box-office success, The Fall of the House of Usher (1960, see entry), which was an American International Pictures (AIP) release based on the 1839 Poe story of the same name. Fox’s project received no mention in the LAT item, which suggests the competing project may have been dropped or placed in turnaround by that time.
       Corman re-teamed with screenwriter Richard Matheson and actor Vincent Price, both of whom had collaborated on The Fall of the House of Usher. Although the 2 Aug 1960 DV noted Corman’s plans to produce and distribute the picture through his company, The Filmgroup, Inc., the 11 Apr 1960 DV had previously listed The Pit and the Pendulum as part of AIP’s production slate, and the 14 Oct 1960 DV again listed AIP as the financier and distributor.
       Shooting was originally scheduled to take place in Italy; however, in fall 1960, AIP announced a shift in its production model from mostly overseas filming to U.S.-based productions. Principal photography ultimately took place at California Studios in Hollywood, CA, beginning on 4 Jan 1961, as announced in that day’s DV. Although no exact budget was cited in ... More Less

An article in the 28 Sep 1958 NYT noted the recent popularity of horror films and stated that Twentieth Century Fox planned to adapt three Edgar Allan Poe short stories, including “The Pit and the Pendulum” (1839). Nearly two years later, the 4 Aug 1960 LAT announced that filmmaker Roger Corman would make a screen version of “The Pit and the Pendulum,” as a follow-up to his recent box-office success, The Fall of the House of Usher (1960, see entry), which was an American International Pictures (AIP) release based on the 1839 Poe story of the same name. Fox’s project received no mention in the LAT item, which suggests the competing project may have been dropped or placed in turnaround by that time.
       Corman re-teamed with screenwriter Richard Matheson and actor Vincent Price, both of whom had collaborated on The Fall of the House of Usher. Although the 2 Aug 1960 DV noted Corman’s plans to produce and distribute the picture through his company, The Filmgroup, Inc., the 11 Apr 1960 DV had previously listed The Pit and the Pendulum as part of AIP’s production slate, and the 14 Oct 1960 DV again listed AIP as the financier and distributor.
       Shooting was originally scheduled to take place in Italy; however, in fall 1960, AIP announced a shift in its production model from mostly overseas filming to U.S.-based productions. Principal photography ultimately took place at California Studios in Hollywood, CA, beginning on 4 Jan 1961, as announced in that day’s DV. Although no exact budget was cited in the 4 Aug 1960 LAT, it was noted that AIP was moving away from low-budget fare and focusing on films that cost $500,000 or more, at that time.
       The film was ready for release by mid-Jun 1961, according to a 23 Jun 1961 DV item. It opened on 23 Aug 1961 at the Palace Theatre in New York City, and the following week, a premiere event took place at Chicago, IL’s Roosevelt Theatre, as noted in a 25 Aug 1961 DV brief. For the occasion, a “giant pendulum” was hung from the marquee, and was set to swing during the last fifteen minutes of the picture to make sure no one was allowed into the theater at that time.
       Despite mixed reviews, the film became a box-office success. By early 1962, it was poised to surpass The Fall of the House of Usher’s $1.2 cumulative million domestic gross, according to the 28 Feb 1962 Var. Based on those earnings, Corman continued to produce and direct adaptations of Poe’s work, including Premature Burial and Tales of Terror (1962, see entries), and The Masque of the Red Death (1964, see entry). More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
11 Apr 1960
p. 1, 4.
Daily Variety
2 Aug 1960
p. 2.
Daily Variety
27 Sep 1960
p. 4.
Daily Variety
14 Oct 1960
p. 1, 4.
Daily Variety
5 Dec 1960
p. 5.
Daily Variety
4 Jan 1961
p. 3.
Daily Variety
13 Jan 1961
p. 6.
Daily Variety
23 Jan 1961
p. 4.
Daily Variety
8 Aug 1961
p. 3.
Daily Variety
25 Aug 1961
p. 4.
Daily Variety
9 Jan 1962
p. 1, 4.
Los Angeles Times
4 Aug 1960
Section A, p. 11.
Los Angeles Times
24 Mar 1961
Section B, p. 11.
Los Angeles Times
29 Sep 1961
Section A, p. 13.
New York Times
28 Sep 1958.
---
New York Times
20 Aug 1961.
---
New York Times
24 Aug 1961
p. 25.
Variety
28 Feb 1962
p. 7.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus coordinator
SOUND
Sd ed
Music ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Scenic eff
Photog eff
Photog eff
MAKEUP
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Unit mgr
Prod asst
Scr supv
Constr coordinator
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the short story "The Pit and the Pendulum" in The Gift by Edgar Allan Poe (Philadelphia, 1839).
DETAILS
Release Date:
23 August 1961
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 23 August 1961 at the Palace Theatre
Chicago premiere: 29 August 1961 at the Roosevelt Theatre
Los Angeles opening: 27 September 1961
Production Date:
began 4 January 1961
Copyright Claimant:
Alta Vista Productions
Copyright Date:
5 August 1961
Copyright Number:
LP21143
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Pathé Color
Widescreen/ratio
Cinemascope
Duration(in mins):
85
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In sixteenth-century Spain, Francis Bernard journeys to the foreboding castle of Nicholas Medina, the husband of Francis's recently deceased sister, Elizabeth. Francis is told that his sister, although very much in love with Nicholas, had become increasingly depressed by the gloomy atmosphere of the castle and had spent most of her time in the dungeons built by Nicholas's father during the Inquisition. One night, after locking herself inside an iron box in the torture chamber, she died of fright. The explanation fails to satisfy Francis, and he decides to remain for a few days. Gradually it becomes apparent that Nicholas is obsessed with the thought that he may have buried his wife alive, a fate that befell his adulterous mother. One night, Nicholas hears a woman's voice calling his name, and he follows it to the burial room where Elizabeth, very much alive, rises from her coffin. She is joined by Dr. Leon, Nicholas's closest friend, and, as Nicholas's mind snaps, the two lovers gloat over their plot to drive him mad and inherit his wealth. The crazed Nicholas suddenly assumes his father's identity, battles with Dr. Leon, who falls to his death in the pendulum pit, and locks his unfaithful wife in the iron box. Francis enters the chamber and is seized by the insane Nicholas and lashed to a table under a swinging, razor-sharp pendulum. But before the blade reaches him, he is rescued by Nicholas's sister, Catherine, and the butler, Maximillian. In the struggle, Nicholas meets the same fate as Dr. Leon, when he falls into the pit. Catherine decides to seal up the torture chamber forever--unaware that imprisoned in the iron box is the terror-stricken ... +


In sixteenth-century Spain, Francis Bernard journeys to the foreboding castle of Nicholas Medina, the husband of Francis's recently deceased sister, Elizabeth. Francis is told that his sister, although very much in love with Nicholas, had become increasingly depressed by the gloomy atmosphere of the castle and had spent most of her time in the dungeons built by Nicholas's father during the Inquisition. One night, after locking herself inside an iron box in the torture chamber, she died of fright. The explanation fails to satisfy Francis, and he decides to remain for a few days. Gradually it becomes apparent that Nicholas is obsessed with the thought that he may have buried his wife alive, a fate that befell his adulterous mother. One night, Nicholas hears a woman's voice calling his name, and he follows it to the burial room where Elizabeth, very much alive, rises from her coffin. She is joined by Dr. Leon, Nicholas's closest friend, and, as Nicholas's mind snaps, the two lovers gloat over their plot to drive him mad and inherit his wealth. The crazed Nicholas suddenly assumes his father's identity, battles with Dr. Leon, who falls to his death in the pendulum pit, and locks his unfaithful wife in the iron box. Francis enters the chamber and is seized by the insane Nicholas and lashed to a table under a swinging, razor-sharp pendulum. But before the blade reaches him, he is rescued by Nicholas's sister, Catherine, and the butler, Maximillian. In the struggle, Nicholas meets the same fate as Dr. Leon, when he falls into the pit. Catherine decides to seal up the torture chamber forever--unaware that imprisoned in the iron box is the terror-stricken Elizabeth. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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