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Pit and the Pendulum, The (2006, Short)

The Pit and the Pendulum short review (click to see it bigger)Reviewed by Johnny Butane

Animation by Switch VFX

Directed by Marc Lougee


We’ve been following the inception of this short film, the first to be produced by master stop motion animator Ray Harryhausen, since it was first announced almost a year ago. It’s very weird to follow a project and report on it as much as we have, and the end result only clocks in at 7 minutes long; but man, what a 7 minutes it is!

The story is based on the Edgar Allan Poe tale of the same name, originally penned way back in 1842, about a man condemned to death during the Spanish Inquisition for reasons never made entirely clear. The short tells us through voiceover that it has something to do with his beliefs, but the end result is the same; he’s sentenced to death, though not told by what method, and finds out in a very uncomfortable way.

The animation here is old-school stop motion, reminiscent of the early works of Harryhausen, and conveys perfectly the darkness of the story. The prisoner at the tale’s center is the only real human character that’s shown animated, and I seriously doubt his resemblance to Poe was accidental. The judges who condemn him to death are shown only as cloaked beings, giving off a sense of just pure evil, fitting considering the punishment handed out to the prisoner.

For those not familiar with said punishment, the unnamed prisoner/narrator wakes up in a cell and immediatelty almost falls into a seemingly bottomless pit in the middle of his prison. After passing out from some strange liquid passed to him while asleep, he wakes up tied to a table, staring up at a slowly descending blade pendulum that will eventually find its way down and slice him in half. Using some meat left behind from a meal, he manages to get the rats in his cell (which are animated fantastically; it’s all about the subtleties here) to chew through his rope and free him just in time.

He believes he may have escaped his fate, but only long enough for the walls to literally start closing in around him, forcing him to try and jump the pit in his cell, though he barely manages to hold on before being saved by a guard. Seems the war he was a prisoner of ended just in time, no?

For a short like this you really need to see it to get the full impact of how well done it is, unlike a film where I can tell you about the performances of the lead or the camera work. Everything about The Pit and the Pendulum was so carefully laid out ahead of time, it’s difficult to explain how well the movie works. If I had any complaints, I would say it was too short, though they were only working with the material at hand. It felt like a great first film to showcase how well Poe’s dark works can be interpreted with the use of stop motion animation, making them just as effective, if not more so, than a live action retelling would be. (For another excellent example, check out Annabel Lee on The Edgar Allan Poe Collection – Volume 1 DVD [review here].)

All in all director Lougee and crew have done a great job with The Pit and the Pendulum, and I hope their current festival run garners them success. The film is already due to come out on a feature-laden DVD in a few months, which you can look for more details about right here on Dread Central very soon!

4 1/2 out of 5

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Johnny Butane