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The Razor Edge of Destiny
on 5 September 2017
Most reviewers have picked up many aspects of the film concerning Corman's techniques and how one can do much cinematically with very little. It is a class above Hammer with very striking electronic music from Les Baxter and some intriguing mixtures of colours spreading like marbling patterns across the screen. Combined with a tight Richard Matheson script, the visual and oral contributions contribute to the atmosphere of foreboding which permeates the whole piece.
The film is based on Poe's 'The Pit and the Pendulum' without the spectacle of the walls heating up and closing in on the victim. Mr.Matheson has contrived a story which contained the essential frightening spectacle of the pendulum gradually being lowered so that the victim could judge how long it would take to be sliced in half. The screen story concerns the arrival of Francis Bonnard at the Spanish Castle of the Medina family. His sister,Elizabeth had died there and he wants to find out the circumstances of her death. He is very strong minded about this. He is introduced to Dona Medina,Nicholas' troubled sister, and it is she who escorts him to the place where Elizabeth is interred, bricked in behind a wall. On the tour round the bowels of the castle,the party meets Nicholas Medina,whose frightened face appears when he opens the door. Nicholas says that his wife died of something in the blood and it is a while before Nicholas tells Bonnard that Elizabeth became obsessed with the infamous story of the torture chamber; she would go down into the dungeons and look at the devices which tore, ripped and gouged the victims to painful and horrible deaths. The gentle Dona tells him also that, when he was a young boy,he went down into the chamber where his father, Sebastian had forbidden him to go. What he saw then unhinged him when his father accused his wife Catherine of adultery with his brother,Bartholome. This resulted in such filial and matrimonial dedication that both were killed. Dona said that Nicholas saw his mother tortured to death.
Into the mix comes Dr.Leon, who certified Elizabeth's death. He seems to be in control. According to Leon, it was the atmosphere of the place which eventually caused Elizabeth's decline and death. Barnard is not impressed. He said 'My sister was a wilful woman who would not be subject to atmospheres..' Soon after, Nicholas' voyage into madness begins. His name is called out in the corridors, Elizabeth's old room is smashed to pieces.There is the sound of harpsichord music played by the 'dead' Elizabeth?.Barnard finds a secret passage which led to Nicholas'room. Whilst cleaning Elizabeth's old room, the servant Maria thought she heard the voice of her mistress telling her to leave the room. Barnard thinks that Nicholas obsession has led him to haunt himself. Was Elizabeth actually dead when she was interred? This was quite a common occurrence in Poe. Leon suggests that Elizabeth should be exhumed ; the wall is breached, the tomb is opened and the shock of a skeleton trying to lift up the coffin lid is revealed. 'True! True! 'Nicholas cried and immediately tries to commit suicide. After that, he sat moribund in his chair until he is disturbed by his name being called apparently by his late wife. He followed the voice to the dungeon for the revelation.
This revelation involved Barnard being subject to the death via the pendulum which really brought out the best in Vincent Price in his final delusion that he is his father and that Bonnard is Bartholome. The chilling sight of the apparently victorious Elizabeth smiling a wicked rouged smile followed up by the apparently-dead Nicholas smiling too to re-enact the scene of the past described by Dona. . It really was a terrific final scene which had the capacity to chill one to the marrow.
There are some plot holes but these are overcome by the very pace of the film. Everything is inevitable. The hooded statues will forever see the victims of the pendulum in Hell, Gehenna, Tofit, the regions of the damned - the Pit and the Pendulum, 'trapped upon an island from which there is no escape'. Mr. Matheson became very lyrical about torture and death.