What do you get when you mix a short story from Edgar Allan Poe with a Nunsploitation movie about an abusive religious Spanish torture-master? In this case, you get a cinematic mess that ran anything like clockwork so let's take an intricate jeweler's look at the little cogs and mainsprings that made this machination wind down before it should have.
It didn't start out bad. Lance Henriksen played the part of Grand Inquisitor Torquemada, a devil in cleric's clothing who maims and kills hundreds in the name of the lord. So far, so good. Mr. Henriksen is insanely convincing as a crazy, power-drunk heathen, especially in the opening scene when he orders a long-deceased body exhumed just so he can order it whipped (to pieces) in a garish public display, all so the bones can then be later ground into sand for his hour glass (I always wondered what was inside those). But the impact of over-the-top cruelty against nothing and no one fades just as quickly for the home viewer as they do for a simple baker named Antonio and his wife Maria, a doomed duo who make the mistake of interceding on behalf of an innocent small boy they see being whipped for no good reason. Torquemade doesn't like anyone interfering with his garish displays of power and implied righteousness, so Maria is accused of witchcraft then arrested at once, while Antonio gets conked on the head with a sword hilt and is left to die on the cobblestone street. From there this film is a mad mess, as it cannot decide whether it wants to be a sexploitation film, an early attempt at torture porn, or a heartwarming love story where the affections of two young lovers forge a stronger bond than any torture-master could break with mere blacksmith tools.
Being a Poe fan, myself, I wanted to reserve judgment on this one until I saw the trademark scene with the giant pit and the razor sharp pendulum flying to and fro above a prone helpless victim. This is where the film fell apart for me, because the methodical sound of the pendulum clicking and falling, bringing the death by degrees of the Poe story, was barely evident in this adaption. Moreover, if anything, the pendulum seemed to remain at the same height for (the exact same) numerous shots even as the sound told you it simply must be falling. Additionally, unlike the original story which had only one actual instance, the swinging pendulum and its surrounding death chamber become the scene to a great sword battle toward the end of this film, with the first thing being cut apart being the viewer’s suspension of disbelief. Trap doors slide noiselessly (mechanically) above a motley assortment of bones and spikes in a scene that looks EXACTLY like “The Pit” stage from the first Mortal Kombat video game (if not probably acting as the inspiration for it as this film actually came first). Additionally, as the battle ensues, hidden propane fire jets soon appear out of nowhere until the entire scene resembles a stage from a KISS concert instead of a proper medieval chamber of horrors. One hidden perk however; this film contains the best scene from a different Poe story as part of its subtext, and I started laughing to myself the moment a visiting Bishop told Grand Master Torquemada his name was Amontillado, especially when he was given a tour of the wine cellar soon after. Still, this was an adaptation of a literary classic that was poorer than Poe in life. Roger Corman and Vincent Price did this better in their version from 1961, but if you have been reading all of this and all you REALLY want to see is Maria repeatedly strip searched for a variety of trumped up, unholy reasons by a deranged monk who had never been with a woman before, maybe this "pit" of a film is enough to put the swing in your "pendulum".
Much as in the case of CASTLE FREAK before it, this film comes from an era where Full Moon was partnered with Paramount and the production values are almost unrivaled as compared to most of their more recent offerings.
Extras Include a Behind the Pit & The Pendulum “The Inquisition of Stuart Gordon” featurette, the original Pit & The Pendulum Videozone (making of), a rare blooper reel and The usual collection of trailers.