Pit and the Pendulum, The (1961): Roger Corman’s Version of Edgar Allan Poe’s Story, Starring Vincent Price

One of Roger Corman’s better films, artistically, The Pit and the Pandulum is horror film in Panavision color, starring Vincent Price, Barbara Steele, John Kerr, and Luana Anders.

Richard Matheson’s script was loosely inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s 1842 short story of the same name.

Set in sixteenth-century Spain, the story concerns young Englishman who visits a forbidding castle to investigate his sister’s mysterious death.

After a series of horrific revelations, ghostly appearances and violent deaths, the youngster becomes strapped to the titular torture device by his lunatic brother-in-law during, in the film’s climactic sequence.

The Pit and the Pendulum
The Pit and the Pendulum (1961 film) poster.jpg

Original 1961 theatrical poster by Reynold Brown

The film was the second in the Poe-based movie series released by American International Pictures (AIP). The was Corman’s House of Usher, released the previous year.

Like that 1960 movie, The Pit features widescreen cinematography by ace lenser Floyd Crosby, sets designed by art director Daniel Haller, and score composed by Les Baxter.

A critical and box-office hit, Pit’s success convinced AIP and Corman to continue adapting Poe stories for another six films, five of which starring the incomparable Price.

The series ended in 1965 with the release of The Tomb of Ligeia.

The movie had strong influence on Italian horror thrillers, such as Mario Bava’s The Whip and the Body (1963) Dario Argento’s Deep Red (1975), and others.

One of Pit’s shock sequences is considered to be among the most important moments in post-1960 horror film.

The Setting:

In 1547 Spain, Englishman Francis Barnard (Kerr) visits the castle of his brother-in-law Nicholas Medina (Price) to investigate the mysterious disappearance of his sister Elizabeth (Steele).

Nicholas and his younger sister Catherine (Anders) offer vague explanation that Elizabeth died from a rare blood disorder six months earlier.

However, Nicholas is evasive when Francis asks for more specific details. Francis vows that he will not leave until he discovers the true circumstances surrounding his sister’s demise.

Made on a modest budget of  $300,000, the movie was a huge hit commercially in the U.S., earning over $2.5 million at the box-office, and in France (where success is measured by admissions).


Produced, directed by Roger Corman
Screenplay by Richard Matheson, based on “The Pit and the Pendulum” by Edgar Allan Poe
Cinematography Floyd Crosby
Edited by Anthony Carras
Music by Les Baxter

Production company: Alta Vista Productions

Distributed by American International Pictures (AIP)

Release date: August 12, 1961

Running time: 85 minutes
Budget: $300,000
Box office $2 million

204,570 admissions (France)