Pit and the Pendulum is an elaboration of the short Poe classic about blood-letting in 16th- century Spain. The result is a physically stylish, imaginatively photographed horror film which, though needlessly corny in many spots, adds up to good exploitation.
The main problem is that Poe furnished scriptwriter Richard Matheson with only one scene – the spine-tingling climax – and Matheson has been hard put to come up with a comparably effective build-up to these last 10 or so minutes. He has removed the tale one generation beyond the time of the Spanish Inquisition (for reasons best known to himself) and contrived a plot involving an ill-fated nobleman slowly losing his mind because he thinks he accidentally buried his wife alive, just like his father did some years before – on purpose.
Actually Matheson’s plotting isn’t at all bad, but he has rendered it in some fruity dialog. If audiences don’t titter, it’s only because veteran star Vincent Price can chew scenery while keeping his tongue in his cheek.
While Matheson’s script takes a good deal of time, including three extended flashbacks, to get to the denouement, it’s almost worth it. The last portion of the film builds with genuine excitement to a reverse twist ending that might well have pleased Poe himself.