Arrow Video has announced the UK Blu-ray and Blu-ray Steelbook release of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum, the 1961 follow-up to The Fall of the House of Usher, once again directed by Roger Corman and starring Vincent Price alongside Barbara Steele and Luana Anders.
On release, the film became an instant hit with both critics and audiences alike. The plaudits ranged from "a physically stylish, imaginatively photographed horror film" (Variety) to "a thoroughly creepy sequence of horrors" (New Yorker) and – perhaps most tellingly – "a class suspense-horror film of the calibre of the excellent ones done by Hammer" (Hollywood Reporter).
Certainly Corman succeeded in crafting one of the most arresting openings in any Gothic horror film, balancing it at the end with a wildly extravagant finale and bolstering the body of the picture with eerily tinted flashbacks and a creepily effective tomb-rising for Steele. Introducing the action, rivulets of luridly coloured paints bleed into each other to the accompaniment of composer Les Baxter’s sombre atonalities, suggesting nothing so much as the interbreeding blood vessels of the mind.
A horse-drawn carriage pulls up on a deserted beach. A sombre figure dismounts and gazes up towards his destination – a foreboding cliff-top castle perched high above the crashing waves. Thus the perfect Gothic scene is set for The Pit and the Pendulum, the second of Roger Corman’s celebrated Edgar Allan Poe adaptations once again starring the ever-reliable Vincent Price (The Fall of the House of Usher, Theatre of Blood) alongside the bewitching Barbara Steele (Black Sunday).
Having learned of the sudden death of his sister Elizabeth (Steele), Francis Barnard (John Kerr) sets out to the castle of his brother-in-law, Nicholas Medina (Price), to uncover the cause of her untimely demise. A distraught, grief-stricken Nicholas can offer only the vaguest explanations as to Elizabeth’s death – at first citing “something in her blood”, but later asserting that she quite literally "died of fright". What sort of unspeakable horrors are buried within the walls of this castle that could cause one’s heart to stop so? With Francis determined to get to the bottom of this mystery, the terrible truth will not stay buried for long.
Right from its brooding kaleidoscopic opening titles, The Pit and Pendulum draws you into its world of cobwebs, secret passageways and dusty suits of armour. All the necessary elements are present and correct and, along with one of Vincent Price’s most tortured performances, make The Pit and the Pendulum every inch the Gothic masterpiece.
In the words of screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, "The Pit and the Pendulum had a big influence on Italian horror films. Everybody borrowed from it.” To take just three examples, two of them scripted by Gastaldi – the conspicuously diseased family dynamic of Riccardo Freda’s L’orribile segreto del Dr. Hichcock [The Horrible Dr. Hitchcock] (1962), Christopher Lee thundering on horseback through sunset-dappled surf at the beginning of Mario Bava’s La frusta e il corpo [The Whip and the Body] (1963) and the protracted, candlelit corridor wanderings featured in Antonio Margheriti’s Danza macabre [Castle of Blood] (1964).
Featuring a bumper crop of bonus features such as two audio commentaries with director-producer Roger Corman and critic Tim Lucas, the disc will also feature the new documentary Behind the Swinging Blade which focuses on the making of The Pit and the Pendulum and features Roger Corman, star Barbara Steele, Vincent Price’s daughter Victoria Price and more. Alongside this new documentary, the special features will also include An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe with Vincent Price in which Price reads a selection of Poe’s classic stories before a live audience, including The Tell-Tale Heart, The Sphinx, The Cask of Amontillado and The Pit and the Pendulum. Other extra features include an added TV Sequence which was shot in 1968 to pad out the film for the longer TV time slot, this scene features star Luana Anders, who was the only available cast member at the time.
The Pit and the Pendulum will make its UK Blu-ray debut on 19th May 2014 from Arrow Video as both regular and Limited Edition Steelbook editions, at the RRP of £24.99 for the Amaray packaging, £29.99 for the Steelbook.
Featuring a High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the feature, transferred from original film elements by MGM, original uncompressed mono PCM audio, and optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing, the release will have the following extras:
Optional isolated music and effects track
Audio commentary with director and producer Roger Corman
Audio commentary by critic Tim Lucas
Behind the Swinging Blade – A new documentary on the making of The Pit and the Pendulum featuring Roger Corman, star Barbara Steele, Vincent Price’s daughter Victoria Price and more!
Added TV Sequence – Shot in 1968 to pad out the film for the longer TV time slot, this scene features star Luana Anders
An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe with Vincent Price [52 mins] – Price reads a selection of Poe’s classic stories before a live audience, including The Tell-Tale Heart, The Sphinx, The Cask of Amontillado and The Pit and the Pendulum (with optional English SDH)
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx [Amaray release only]
Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Gothic Horror author Jonathan Rigby, illustrated with original archive stills and posters