Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The Pit and the Pendulum (2007)

Ray Harryhausen Presents: The Pit and the Pendulum is a fantastically creative stop-animation short based on Edgar Allan Poe’s classic tale. It boasts a very dark, oppressive atmosphere that perfectly matches the tone of Poe’s story. This version of the story is presented as a short film, clocking in at less than 7 minutes.

Like Poe’s story, the film builds a palatable sense of dread with its suspenseful atmosphere. We follow the nameless lead character as he narrates his story for us. He is tried during the Spanish Inquisition by black robed judges and sentenced to the horrors of the infamous dungeons. Here he escapes his first planned death device, a dark, deep pit. Once his torturers notice that he has survived, they concoct another deadly demise for him. His meager portion of water is drugged, and when he awakes again, he is tied down and a sharp pendulum is swinging close above him. He escapes yet again, but the unrelenting inquisitors have fashioned another death trap that promises no easy escape…

This animated short really blew me away! Directed by Marc Lougee and adapted by Matt Taylor, it perfectly captures the despair of the main character’s plight and the decaying dungeon where most of the story takes place. It takes precious few artistic liberties with the story (having the main character wear a bucket over his head, including a red bird that flutters around the dungeon – both which add some nice visuals) and closely follows Poe’s original story.

The stop-motion animation, done by Switch VFX, is wonderful…it has an older, more traditional feel while still managing to retain its modern edge. The characters, from the black-robed inquisitors to the prisoner, are very expressive and emotive. The stop-animation gives the film a very surreal, delirious experience that fits perfectly with the seemingly hopeless account of the story. It’s easy to see why the great Ray Harryhausen would choose to back this production.

The atmosphere of the settings (the inquisition room, the dungeon) is kept very dark and foreboding, which, again, echoes the desperation of the prisoner’s situation. I loved how everything felt oppressive and heavy, from the dark visuals to the deep voice of the narrator. The score assists the growing dread in the film, playing eerily over the screams and moans of other prisoners in the dungeon.

The Pit and the Pendulum is part of a new series called Ray Harryhausen Presents. Harryhausen is the famous artist and animator probably most well-known for the creation of his fighting skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts (1963). He has worked on numerous stop-motion animation projects throughout his illustrious career and his contributions can be seen in many films from It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955) to Clash of the Titans (1981). He is continuing his legacy by nurturing young talent and releasing their work under his Ray Harryhausen Presents label. It is easy to see that The Pit and the Pendulum is a fantastic place to start.

This animated short boasts all the goodies us horror lover’s crave – a tense atmosphere, dark visuals and a horrifying premise. Whether you enjoy animated horror stories or not, The Pit and the Pendulum is definitely worth checking out.

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