With one week free to run rampant on Full Moon Entertainment’s new instant streaming site, the only logical thing to do is lock the door, turn off the lights, hide under the sheets, and binge on whatever gorefest, frightfest, creepshow or otherwise horror, cult, scifi or fantasy schlock one can cram in.
With Edgar Allen Poe being the grandfather of modern horror and H.P. Lovecraft his immediate successor and subsequent father of the same, the two share the homely space of being necessarily known to those who haunt the genre. Yet despite this heraldry, the two find themselves in a position of certain scrutiny. Poe, with his verbose linguistic style, romantic prose and minimal plot events makes adaptation difficult at best, and Lovecraft, almost by name alone, comes with whole host of (oftentimes deserved) condemnation that it is problematic to bring him any closer to the pop culture surface. He seems best acquinated with being the back-burner that bubbles much of the steam we see in our contemporary frights. Stuart Gordon, Jeffry Combs and their troupe are one of the few to successfully translate Howard onto the screen (the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society being the other notable example), yet did so by embracing the outlandish quality of his tales. Luckily, Gordon did not stop solely at Lovecraft, but must have known that genre guru Lance Henriksen surely must have been enough to bring Poe’s infamous Pit and the Pendulum to life on the silver screen.
Writer Dennis Paoli is not as strong this time along, perhaps exhausted his golden talents for the earlier Gordon works or, more likely, less suited to writing dialogue set in 1492. The eye rolling at best exchanges that occur in the slapstick precredit scene feel like period actors in between stage scenes playing with the props no longer being used. Too often it seems as if the actors forget what year the film they are staring in takes place – they slip in and it more times than can be counted. ‘Señors’ and ‘señoritas’ are tossed out at random to remind audience and across alike that we are supposed to be in Spain.
Fortunately no one in the company has lost their knack from sudden tonal shifts of whimsical frights deeply unsettling sexual horror. One moment bakers are fondling breasts and the next witches are being stripped, prodded and sexually harassed in all manner of Gordon Troupe perversity. While certainly not on par with a severed head performing cunnilingus in a hospital morgue, the sentiment remains the same.
“The Pit and the Pendulum” makes use of more than on Poe story, shoving in scenes haphazardly to fill in time and prolong the inevitable. It seems to take miles before the title torture device is made manifest, and by the time we even get there it seems irrelevant and mostly forgotten. In fact, for a film that enforces its position as all about the Spanish Inquisition has little inquisitive torturing in it. The few moments of violence are wiggly cut away from or ignored altogether, a drastic change from the Gordon Troupe we all know and love so much. The climatic sequence ends too quickly and is filled with more swashbuckling swordplay and ridiculous mechanical constructions than one would ever need from such a film.
“The Pit and the Pendulum” hold little of the spirit, magic and ‘oomph’ from the Gordon Troupe’s True Trilogy of Terror (“Re-Animator”, “From Beyond” & “Dagon”). It feels forced and contrite – a film that was made because, hell, why haven’t we made it yet? A huge missed opportunity for the G. Troupe, lackluster even with the performance of Henriksen.
While the literary The Pit and the Pendulum has the notoriety behind it to almost sell itself, The Lurking Fear, despite its quality of scares, is far from the list of well known Lovecraftian works. In many ways, the story lends itself much in the ways of ‘seen-horror’ – often the true plight of attempting to adapt Lovecraft in any visual artist medium. Regrettably, it seems much of what Full Moon was making in the early ’90s had lost the spark from the decade prior.
While maintaining the notion of blood ties slowly but surely pulling one down into the dark abyss of madness, the familial ties are tenuous at best. Too much misplaced emphasis is placed at mismatched intervals rather than simply embrace the decent FX of the film from beginning to end. An altogether atrocious voiceover from the wrongfully imprisoned hero attempts to fill in the gaps that no one cares about rather than just let the monsters eat the children like the audience hopes for, but instead it keeps the ties that bind too tight that the story becomes constricted as a result. So few of the characters have any redeeming qualities that it already makes it difficult to cheer for them. Luckily there is Jeffrey Combs’ beard to distract our fancies.
Both “The Pit and the Pendulum” and “Lurking Fear” have a massive religious crutch that drags them along like a club foot. The former almost drowns you in it, overplaying the importance of it to the story that it completely becomes irrelevant, whereas the latter shoves it in when necessary in an attempt to make more dynamic characters, but is ultimately a tragic flaw all of its own. The saving grace here is the creature effects and makeup, a truly unsettling and effective combination for much of the film. Here, the spirit of unease is captured and held with a fierce grip, and the look of the cursed Martense is encapsulated as closely as one would expect from a film adaptation.
Much is done right in “Lurking Fear”, but so much time is wasted in between the few moments of genuine fright. If only those frights took a few more cast members along with each subsequent scene.
It would appear that in both circumstances, the point of the original story was missed or, perhaps more likely, ignored and done away with entirely in favor of something far from greater quality. Luckily, at least one of them knows not to overstep its boundaries on time.