The Pit and the Pendulum is was 1961 horror film directed by Roger Corman, starring Vincent Price, Barabara Steele, John Kerr, and Lunana Anders. The screenplay by Richard Matheson was based on Edgar Allan Poe's short story of the same name.
An Englishman investigates the disappearance of his sister at the strange castle of her husband, the son of a cruel inquisition agent.
In 1547 Spain, Englishman Francis Barnard (John Kerr) visits the castle of his brother-in-law Nicholas Medina (Vincent Price) to investigate the mysterious silence of his sister Elizabeth (Barbara Steele). Nicholas and his younger sister Catherine (Luana Anders) offer a vague explanation that Elizabeth died from a rare blood disorder six months earlier; Nicholas is evasive when Francis asks for specific details about the disease. Francis vows that he will not leave until he discovers the true circumstances surrounding his sister's death.
During dinner with the family physician, Dr. Leon (Antony Carbone), Francis again asks about his sister's death. Dr. Leon tells him that his sister died of massive heart failure, literally "dying of fright". Francis demands to be shown where Elizabeth died. Nicholas takes him to the castle's torture chamber. Nicholas reveals that Elizabeth, under the influence of the castle's "heavy atmosphere", became obsessed with the chamber's torture devices. After becoming progressively unbalanced, one day she locked herself into an iron maiden, and died after whispering the name "Sebastian". Francis refuses to believe Nicholas's story.
Francis tells Catherine that Nicholas appears to feel "definite guilt" regarding Elizabeth's death. In response, Catherine talks about Nicholas's traumatic childhood. Their father was Sebastian Medina, a notorious agent of the Spanish Inquisition. When Nicholas was a small child, he was exploring the forbidden torture chamber when his father (also played by Price) entered the room with his mother Isabella and Sebastian's brother, Bartolome. Hiding in a corner, Nicholas watched in horror as his father repeatedly hit Bartolome with a red-hot poker, screaming "Adulterer!" at him. After murdering Bartolome, Sebastian began torturing his wife slowly to death in front of Nicholas.
Catherine and Francis are later informed by Dr. Leon that Isabella in fact was not tortured to death, rather she was entombed behind a brick wall while still alive. Dr. Leon explains, "The very thought of premature interment is enough to send your brother into convulsions of horror." Nicholas fears that Elizabeth may have been interred prematurely. The doctor tells Nicholas that "if Elizabeth Medina walks the corridors of this castle, it is her spirit, not her living self."
Nicholas believes that his late wife's vengeful ghost is haunting the castle. Elizabeth's room is the source of a loud commotion, and it is found ransacked and her portrait slashed. Her beloved harpsichord plays in the middle of the night. One of Elizabeth's rings is found on the keyboard. Francis accuses Nicholas of planting the evidence of Elizabeth's "haunting" as an elaborate hoax. Nicholas insists that his wife's tomb be opened. They discover Elizabeth's putrefied corpse frozen in a position that suggests that she died screaming after failing to claw her way out of her sarcophagus. Nicholas faints.
That night, Nicholas – now on the verge of insanity – hears Elizabeth calling him. He follows her ghostly voice down to her tomb. Elizabeth rises from her coffin and pursues Nicholas into the torture chamber, where he falls down a flight of stairs. As Elizabeth gloats over her husband's unconscious body, she is met by her lover and accomplice, Dr. Leon. They had plotted to drive Nicholas mad so that she could inherit his fortune and the castle.
Leon confirms that Nicholas "is gone", his mind destroyed by terror. Elizabeth taunts her insensate husband. Nicholas begins laughing hysterically while his wife and the doctor recoil in horror. Believing himself to be Sebastian, he replays the events of his mother and uncle's murders. Nicholas seizes Elizabeth, repeats his father's promise to Isabella to torture her, and gags and places her in an iron maiden. He overpowers Dr. Leon, believing him to be Bartolome, and Leon falls to his death in the pit while trying to escape.
Francis, having heard Elizabeth's screams, enters the dungeon. Nicholas also confuses Francis for Bartolome, and knocks him unconscious. He straps him to a stone slab located directly beneath a huge razor-sharp pendulum. The pendulum is attached to a clockwork apparatus that causes it to descend fractions of an inch after each swing, ever closer to Francis's torso. Catherine arrives just in time with Maximillian, one of the servants. After a brief struggle with Maximillian, Nicholas falls to his death in the pit. Francis is removed from the torture device. As they leave the torture dungeon, Catherine vows that no one will ever enter that room again. They slam and lock the door shut; the last horrifying scene shows that Elizabeth is still alive, trapped in the iron maiden.
- Vincent Price as Nicolas Medina
- John Kerr as Francis Barnard
- Barbara Steele as Elizabeth Barnard Medina
- Luana Anders as Catherine Medina
- Anthony Carbone as Dr. Charles Leon