SUMMARY: An adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’ and Auguste Villiers de l’Isle-Adam’s ‘A Torture by Hope’.
WHY IT’S HERE: Jan Svankmajer’s ‘The Pit, the Pendulum and Hope’ is one of the best Poe adaptations ever put on film, for the simple reason that it successfully replicates the terror of the original story by placing the viewer squarely in the place of the torture victim. Filming from a point of view shot throughout, Svankmajer forces us to empathise closely with the protagonist as we watch the razor-sharp pendulum descend towards us or feel the walls closing in, pushing us towards the terrible pit. With his usual deft combination of live action and stop motion animation, Svankmajer summons up the murky world of the prison brilliantly. But rather than end the story with the upbeat deus ex machina that Poe ends with, Svankmajer instead segues into an adaptation of Auguste Villiers de l’Isle-Adam’s ‘A Torture by Hope’, a short story which readily lends itself to meshing with Poe’s, in which a prisoner finds himself afforded a chance of escape by a door left open. The dark denouement is far more in keeping with the tone of Svankmajer’s film than if he had stuck with Poe’s original climax. Enjoyment of ‘The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope’ is greatly enhanced by reading both the source texts first, for while it takes away any element of surprise it also helps greatly to understand what is going on in the sometimes frantic images on screen.