Color, 1990, 97 mins.
Directed by Stuart Gordon
Starring Lance Henrikson, Rona De Ricci, Jonathan Fuller, Jeffrey Combs, Tom Towles, Frances Bay, Oliver Reed
88 Films (Blu-ray) (UK R0 HD) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Full Moon (Blu-ray & DVD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Apart from the torture device of the title, this outlandish shocker from director Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator) bears no resemblance to Roger Corman's beloved 1961 Vincent Price vehicle or the brief Edgar Allan Poe story. Injecting his usual blend of black comedy and startling violence, Gordon managed to produce a seemingly impossible miracle: a great straight-to-video feature and, even more amazingly, the best release to date from the highly erratic Full Moon studio. During the Spanish Inquisition, naive baker's wife Maria (De Ricci) protests the religious persecution committed during a public ceremony. Maria is seized as a witch, much to the distress of her husband, Antonio (Castle Freak's Fuller). The grand inquisitor, Torquemada (Henrikson), becomes smitten with Maria but channels his emotions into violence and hatred, with the poor girl suffering a heinous array of tortures. Maria's cell mate, a helpful witch named Esmeralda (Bay), teaches her some magic secrets to deal with her persecutors and even doles out a little poetic justice herself, but it's up to Antonio to infiltrate the castle and allow Maria the chance to face down Torquemada face to face.
Unabashedly theatrical and sporting a cast picked to please the fans, Pit simply deserves more than the obscurity guaranteed by its direct to video fate. Though all video versions have claimed an R rating for the film, the gore and nudity level goes way past what the MPAA would even remotely deem acceptable, particularly the suspenseful and blood-soaked climax which borrows amusingly from Jan Svankmajer's short film, "The Pit, the Pendulum and Hope." Henrikson chews the scenery from his first moments on screen, while genre vets like Jeffrey Combs (the Re-Animator himself), Oliver Reed, and Tom Towles (Otis in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) add amusing shadings to their supporting roles. Gordon's wife, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, even turns up at the beginning as the wife of a man whose skeleton is whipped(!) for heresy. The production values are also substantially better than your average Full Moon production, with that photogenic Italian castle (recycled in Meridian, among many others) and some elaborate art design making this a feast for the eyes. Finally, Richard Band contributes one of his best scores, a rich mixture of choir and electronics.
The Amazing Fantasy/Full Moon DVD is basically the same in every respect as the earlier Paramount laserdisc, though the open matte transfer is a bit crisper and more colorful. The Videozone segment (26m2s) is easily Full Moon's best, with some great behind the scenes interviews and one of the funniest blooper reels you'll ever see. The basic surround audio mostly relies on Band's score and a few judicious sound effects like explosions for directional effects. One nice extra bonus is the film's trailer, presumably created for a nonexistent theatrical release. Full Moon's subsequent Blu-ray ports over the same extras but botches the transfer, taking a 1.66:1 HD scan and squishing it to 1.78:1 so the actors' faces are all distractingly flattened out; it's essentially unwatchable. Much better is the subsequent 88 Films Blu-ray, which is correctly framed and restores the original proportions while including all of the preexisting extras as well. The Blu-ray editions also add "Behind The Pit and the Pendulum: The Inquisition of Stuart Gordon" (8m24s), with the late director reminiscing about his time on the film, the impact of his theatrical roots, working with his wife, and lots more.