Pit and the Pendulum (Roger Corman / U.S., 1961):

Sludgy ink is splashed onto the lenses, then a matte painting conjures up a castle by the edge of the sea -- abstract and Gothic, the two splattering styles which Roger Corman contrasts and climactically blurs across the screen. Poe supplies the canvas, with skulking intimations out of Bergman's The Magician and L'Année Dernière à Marienbad: John Kerr arrives at the estate demanding to know about the death of his sister, Luana Anders guides him through the candlelit underground halls, a quick dolly towards one of the wooden doors (complemented with a curt aural halt) gives you Vincent Price, the bereft husband. Barbara Steele is the late wife, seen through bluish amber in flashbacks until emerging as a grimacing corpse walled behind a ton of bricks; it was the "malignant atmosphere" that drove the maiden to death, Price says, yet he himself is the "spawn of a depraved mind," the basement stocked with daddy's Inquisition mementos. Harpsichord tinkling teases at midnight, a woman's voice calls through the cobwebs; supernatural vengeance or a man's dissolving conscience, yet when the morbid pull of the iron maiden in the torture chamber is so strong, how can Price tell the difference? It is through the rigorous circularity that Corman reveals the harsh severity of the moralist, as an arm reaches from inside a coffin and, instead of sealing off the drama, reopens the cycle of unfaithfulness and death. The supernatural is mocked, yet a resurrection takes place -- insanity breathes life into the betrayed protagonist, who turns to his toys to gleefully dole out punishment. Kerr is strapped to a table as the carving blade, Price's prize apparatus, swings across the Panavision screen toward his torso; the titular duo calls out for lustrous Freudian hysteria, and Corman delivers it with psychedelic montage and rousing distortion before sauntering away with an image straight out of Clouzot, a withering punchline. With Anthony Carbone, Patrick Westwood, and Lynette Bernay.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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