Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mr. Poe!

Jan. 19 is the birthday of one of America's greatest writers, Edgar Allan Poe. In celebration, here's a review of a great movie based on one of his most famous stories.

Pit and the Pendulum (aka "The Inquisitor") (1991)
Starring: Rona De Ricci, Lance Henriksen, Jonathan Fuller, Mark Margolis, Frances Bay, Jeffrey Combs, Stephen Lee, and William J. Norris
Director: Stuart Gordon
Producer: Charles Band
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

When the beauty of a pure-hearted baker's wife (De Ricci) stirs passion in the dark heart and twisted body of the fanatical leader of the Spanish Inquisition Torquemada (Henriksen), he decrees that she must be a witch and orders her imprisoned and tortured. When her husband attempts to rescue her from Torquemada's dungeon, he too is imprisoned... and chosen to be the first victim of the Inquisition's latest torture instrument--the Pit & the Pendulum.

"The Pit and the Pendulum" is the best movie from a Charles Band company that I've seen. Filmed on location in a real southern European fortress, featuring great sets, excellent period costumes, and a suspenseful script with spectacular dialogue delivered by actors who are all giving some of greatest performances of their careers, it should be counted among the great horror movies of all time. It definitely does not deserve the obscurity it has slipped into.

There isn't a bad performance in the entire film, but . Lance Henriksen is partciularly remarkable as Torquemada, playing him more as a person who is insane rather than evil--the evil ones are those around him, as they're not motivated by insanity and religious fervor but for the most part merely sadistic and powerhungry, Rona De Ricci is also great in the role of Maria, especially in a scene toward the end of the movie that I can't mention, because it would spoil some major plot developments. She does such a great job in this film that I feel it's a tremendous shame she only appeared in it and one other film.

"Pit and the Pendulum" is, like so many other movies based of Poe's writings, is far from an exact adaptation of the story it is based on. Further, the filmmakers threw in references to other Poe works, such as such as "The Cask of Amontillado" and "The Fall of the House of Usher". However, it's one of the adaptations that best captures the mood of Poe's writings, and it sports numerous plot developments that you won't see coming.

This is a scary and exciting movie that I recommend highly.

Click here to read the original story, as well as other tales by Poe, at my Classic Fiction Archive.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Which house? Witchouse!

Witchouse (1999)
Starring: Matt Raferty, Monica Serene Garnic, and Ashley McKinney
Director: Jack Reed
Producers: Charles Band, Kirk Edward Hansen and Vlad Paunescu
Rating: One of Ten Stars

I probably should have know better than to bother with a film that can't spell it's own title in a sensible fashion. How is "Witchouse" to be pronouned anyway? What does it mean?

Is it "Witch Ouse"? "Wit Chouse"? Or could no one at Full Moon Productions or Castel Films properly spell "Witch House"? (Maybe Castel Films, the company co-producing the picture, is actually Castle Films?)

"Witchouse" is the tale of the final night on Earth an unlikable group of college-age teens (who run the cliche gamut from stoner dude and rocker chick, to oversexed jock and cheerleader, to the shy dork who rises to the challenge and unexpectedly to eventually save the day. They have been invited to a party at the home of their strange high school friend Elizabeth. Turns out, she is the decendent of a witch who was burned at the stake by the ancestors of her guests, and that she has decided it's time for revenge and a little demon summoning.

Everything that follows is as predictable as a paint-by-numbers picture of dogs playing poker, made worse by bad acting and an even worse script. (What's truly shocking is that this awful movie spawned at least three sequels!)

"Witchouse" wishes it was "Demons " or "April Fool's Day," but the script, the actors, and the special effects are so bad that it is closer in nature to "The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave" or "Plan Nine From Outer Space."

There is really nothing here to recommend this film for anything but use as a doorstop.