While watching Roger Corman’s The Pit and the Pendulum, it occurred to me that these movies have improved with age. The series of American International Pictures’ Corman Poe productions do manage to capture a mood. One of the reasons, I suppose, is that Vincent Price was an able, often underrated, stage performer. No, these aren’t like modern movies. They’re clearly fictional and the backdrops are pretty obviously fake and it always seems to be thunder-storming outside. They are going for a mood, and for those who watch films for the feelings they generate, this can work. Although based—very loosely—on Edgar Allan Poe, The Pit and the Pendulum was screen-written by Richard Matheson, an able novelist in his own regard.
The Poe story hinges on the terror of the slowly descending pendulum and it has been used and reused in various guises over the years in everything from horror films to James Bond movies. Corman’s Poe movies often set trends. For example, in the backstory to Pit and the Pendulum, Nicholas’ (Price) father was a member of the Inquisition. He kept a personal torture chamber in his basement—well, he lived in a castle, after all. One of the victims of his father was Nicholas’ mother, an event the young Nicholas witnessed. A very similar scenario, with even some similar shots, occurs in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow. I’m sure it must occur elsewhere as well, but in making a narrative of the story, this is my own unprofessional observation.
Yes, Corman is often over the top. His films know they’re for entertainment purposes. He’s not above camp and gimmicks. The strange juxtaposition, in my own case, is that movies are meaningful. Ninety-minutes to a couple of hours relieved from the constantly pressing demands of work and trying to maintain some sort of social life. (And yard work.) In ancient times, I suspect, myths served a similar purpose. They still do. Our myths have become more Technicolor over the years and have evolved from celluloid to pixels. Their function has also evolved from escapism to a location of meaning. On a recent weekend on my own I ended up watching five movies, feeling guilty between times for not painting the porch or doing that plastering that’s requiring attention in the attic. The movies, however, give meaning to these other more mundane tasks such as work or housekeeping. They’re not literally true, I know, but we need not disparage Roger Corman for stating the obvious. Myths entertain as well as inform.