Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Lorielle New, Stephen Hansen, Danielle Demski, Tom Sandoval, Amy Paffrath, Bart Voitila
Directed by David DeCoteau
Distributed by E1 Entertainment
At long last Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum gets the homoerotic updating it has long needed. I know back when I read Poe’s classic tale in high school or watched any of the past movie adaptations, I have always thought how much better this story would be if it had buff males Greco-Roman wrestling in their underwear and lesbian make-out sessions. Finally, it’s time has come.
This film adaptation of The Pit and the Pendulum may be attributed to Edgar Allan Poe, but in reality this is David DeCoteau’s loose adaptation of the short story, and by “loose” I mean there is a pendulum involved and that’s about it. No Spanish Inquisition. Not even a pit.
Instead a crazy female hypnotherapist capable of hypnotizing someone in mere seconds by simply waving a pocket watch in his or her face preys on the fears and desires of test subjects and then strangles them to death as part of her homicidal obsession to rid humanity of debilitating emotions, while also further tormenting her loon of a brother she keeps imprisoned elsewhere in the estate. Tying into Poe’s short story is the repeated image of a bladed pendulum shown swinging throughout the film, and the finale on the front lawn involves a potential victim strapped down as such a pendulum worthy of a local Halloween haunted house attraction threatens to gut them.
So, yeah, I hesitate to attribute much of any of this film to Poe. I don’t get why DeCoteau has yet to adapt The Tell-Tale Heart since that is clearly his favorite of Poe’s writing judging by his continued use of the sound of a pounding heartbeat as a substitute for generating genuine suspense.
To be fair, the sound of that heartbeat, the ticking and chimes of the house’s myriad of clocks, and other creaking noises could have contributed to a creepy atmosphere had this brightly lit film actually had any atmosphere or anything else that could be construed as creepy working in its favor.
A group of good-looking young twenty-somethings arrives at a brick mansion, having answered a newspaper ad for hypnotherapy test subjects researching pain and fear in hopes of increasing their own performance skills. All of them in one form or another engage in activities that require them to overcome physical pain or fear: amateur wrestlers, bungee-jumper, high diver, tornado chaser, and such. One is a local who tells the others the story of how this place used to be an asylum run by a mad doctor named Dr. Divay, who was reported to have conducted cruel experiments on the patients. They are greeted by the proprietor of the place, Dr. JB Divay, the daughter of that mad scientist.
I don’t know about you, but when I volunteer to be a human lab rat and I find out the place in which I am to take part in these experiments was once an insane asylum run by a guy notorious for being a cruel madman and the person that will be conducting these experiments on me is the daughter of that mad doctor, who immediately gives off vibes of being several McNuggets short of a Happy Meal in her own right and welcomes me to her family estate with a speech about how misunderstood her father actually was, that is my cue to get the hell out of there. I think most people would react that way. These characters do not react with such trepidation because they are dumb. Everything about this name-only version of Poe’s classic short story is dumb (and talky).
On the positive side, unlike DeCoteau’s latest sequel to The Brotherhood I reviewed a few weeks back, The Pit and the Pendulum plays like an actual movie. Not a very good movie, mind you, but a real movie with an actual plot and character that actually has a modicum of enjoyment going for it. That enjoyment stems from the campy performance of Lorielle New as Dr. Divay, just a bullwhip away from “She-Wolf of the SS” status at times, and a few spurts of most likely unintended kookiness amid the monotonous scenes of stiff actors standing or sitting around spouting mountains of bland exposition waiting for their turn to get hypnotized and then murdered in the least interesting manner possible.
If it’s a film version of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum you’re interested in, I’d suggest the 1961 version starring Vincent Price. That version does not have a near 10-minute sequence of two half-naked muscled-up young men homoerotically wrestling as a topless dominatrix watches on from the sidelines, but then Roger Corman never made horror movies for the here! network.
1 1/2 out of 5
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