Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Pit and the Pendulum


Me and two or three other guys used to borrow my father’s 1953 Hudson and go to dusk-to-dawn shows at the Don drive-in in Port Arthur, Texas. One or two of us would get in the trunk (it was a big trunk) and we would watch four or even five usually trashy movies until the sun came up. We saw the previews of this movie, and we thought it was way cool! That pendulum, swinging back and forth, that guy spread-eagled on the stone altar … well, it just didn’t get any better than that.

So we bought our two tickets, popped the trunk at the back of the drive-in lot and let Jan and Calvin out, and settled down with our big sacks of home-popped corn. And we waited. And waited, and waited. Where’s the ever-lovin’ pit? Where’s the furshlugginer pendulum? What we got for seventy minutes was twenty gallons of sprayed-on phony cobwebs (by actual count) and Vincent Price hamming it up as only he could. Not that we were really upset. We had invented Mystery Science Theater 3000 about twenty-five years early, and spent most of our time laughing and making jokes about how horrible the movies were.

But when the pit and the pendulum finally appeared, they were everything they had been cracked up to be. We stopped joking and tried to pull our bellies in tight, just like the poor schmuck in the movie. And this film has one of the most horrifying final shots I can remember. I mean, we were shocked and blindsided … and satisfied, too, because the one bad person we had forgotten about was going to get poetic justice. Can’t say more than that.

This was actually a fairly good example from the American International schlock factory. It even got some good reviews at the time. It had almost nothing to do with the Edgar Allen Poe short story, but who cares? Richard Matheson wrote a pretty good script, and the inimitable Roger Corman did a nice job of directing, all shot in fifteen days. It was very colorful and moody, with some simple effects shots that were surprisingly effective. And guess what? One of the men responsible for the good look was cinematographer Floyd Crosby, winner of one of the first Academy Awards, which I was able to pick up and admire at the home of our friend David Crosby, Floyd’s son!