“If Elizabeth Medina walks the corridors of this castle, it is her spirit not her living cell.”
Francis Barnard (John Kerr) travels from London to Spain and unexpectedly shows up at the castle of Nicholas Medina (Vincent Price). He received word from Nicholas that his wife and Francis’s sister Elizabeth Medina (Barbara Steele) had died. With no explanation as to the cause of her death. Francis has come for answers.
He is received by Nicholas' sister Catherine Medina (Luana Anders). She invites Francis in. Nicholas tells Francis that Elizabeth died from a blood disorder. Francis is suspicious. Catherine invites Nicholas to have dinner with her and Nicholas. After dinner Dr. Charles Leon (Anthony Carbone) arrives at the castle. He contradicts Nicholas’s story of Elizabeth’s death. He states that it was her heart that gave out. His tale is far worse. He says Elizabeth became obsessed with the torture tools that are in the cellar of the castle. The tale of the castle is then related to Francis.
During the Spanish Inquisition Nicholas’s father Sebastian (Vincent Price) used the torture implements in the dungeon to torture people. When Nicholas was a child he witnessed his father torture his mother and uncle as adulterers. Between that memory and the death of his wife Nicholas has been in a fragile state. But strange things have been happening in the castle. Whispering, a harpsichord playing late at night. Elizabeth’s room trashed. Is it Nicholas that has been doing all these things, is it Elizabeth's ghost or is Elizabeth really alive?
For answers Elizabeth’s tomb is opened. Inside her casket is her body, nails broken. Clawed hands in an image of terror. Elizabeth was buried alive. If Elizabeth is dead, who has been whispering and playing the harpsichord?
After the great success of “The Fall of the House of Usher” AIP and Roger Corman decided that another movie tied to Poe was in order. “The Pit and the Pendulum” is the second of the AIP-Corman-Poe series. The movie was released in 1961. It was produced and directed by Roger and again written by Richard Matheson. Vincent Price is once again the main actor. Price’s flair for the over-dramatic is once again in evidence. In other words, he makes a great crazy person.
The Poe tale is a short story and Corman needed a full movie so an elaborate narrative was needed to get to the main course, the pit. This resulted in the second movie being farther removed from Poe’s original story than “Usher” ever was. It doesn’t matter, what Matheson wrote and Corman directed is quite good.
The pendulum in the movie is made from wood with a rubber blade. John Kerr was nervous about the prop so to show that it was safe Roger stood in for Kerr while the scene was being set up. To increase the sense of pendulum swing being deadly Roger took out every other frame during editing. This made the blade to appear moving twice as fast.