In 1546, English gentleman Francis Barnard travels to Spain to investigate the sudden death of his sister, Elizabeth. He receives a cool welcome at the home of his brother-in-law, Nicholas Medina, and an off-hand explanation that Elizabeth died of “something in the blood.” The more Medina and his sister, Catherine, try to allay Barnard’s concerns about Elizabeth’s death, the more suspicious he becomes. He declares he will not leave brooding Castle Medina until he has gotten to the bottom of things. It’s an unfortunate choice of words, given the danger that lurks in the depths of the dungeon…
For this week’s edition of Saturdays with Vincent, we have a film for lovers of all things Gothic to revel in. As I watched, I listed all the motifs that we associate with the works of Edgar Allan Poe and the genre that blossomed from his work: a gloomy house overlooking the sea, a beautiful young woman dead too soon, her widower deranged with grief, a morbid fear of premature burial, people bricked up in walls while still alive, a musical instrument playing wildly in the night, a slashed portrait, secret passages, a midnight exhumation…on and on it went, hitting every note in the Poe song book. Which is pretty funny, since not one of these items makes an appearance in the original Poe story. The only connection between the two are the titular pit and pendulum, and they don’t come into play until the climax of the action.
Still, screenwriter Richard Matheson and director Roger Corman knew their Poe, and created a serviceable pastiche of his favorite themes for our entertainment. Oh sure, maybe it’s cheating to take a chunk of Usher, mix in a dollop of Amontillado, roll it in Raven and give it a liberal dusting of garden-variety haunted house mystery, then sell it with the Pendulum label. However, if you hadn’t read the story previously (or didn’t pull it out and read it right after watching the movie, as I did) you’d have no reason to suspect it wasn’t all direct from Poe’s pen to the screen. I was happy to give it the scant 80 minutes of my time it asked for, and in return, I got an appropriately dreary castle, sumptuous costumes, a plot of murder, betrayal, and madness, and of course, Vincent Price at his tormented best. It entertained me, so I will not complain. I’m quite sure that’s what Corman was counting on.
This review is for the Peril on the Screen challenge of RIP V.