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Roger von Marienberg (Lex Barker) and Baroness Lilian von Brabant
(Karin Dor) head to the catle of Count Regula (Christopher Lee), he to
find out about his own past, she is promised a big inheritance. They are
accompanied by her maid Babette (Christiane Rücker) and Father Fabian
(Vladimir Medar), who eventually turns out not to be a priest at all but a
But even the way to the castle does seem a tad disquieting: the
inhabitants of the neighbouring village deny even the existence of a
castle (don't villagers always do that ?), and Count Regula is said to
have died 35 years ago, torn apart by four horses before the eyes of an
angry mob (he is said to have killed 12 virgins you know ... well, didn't
aristocrats all in those days ?). Then the way of our heroes leads through
a forest where the hangman seems to have done overtime, so riddled is the
forest with hanged corpses in various states of decay. Eventually too,
their coachman (Dieter Eppler) dies from a heart attack caused by instant
shock. And finally in the castle, our heroes find themselves not guests
You see, Count Regula has found the secret of eternal life, but needed
13 virgins to attain that. Unfortunately he only got 12, and his
thirteenth victim, Baroness von Brabant's mum blew the whistle to the
authorities (headed by von Marienberg's father), which caused Regula to be
But Regula's servant Anathol (Carl Lange) has found a way to restore
his master to life long enough to sacrifice the 13th victim, the Baroness.
At first it seems too that Regula will succeed, Fabian and Babette are
soon enough lured away from the main proceedings, and Roger von Marienberg
is tied down to fe floor, with the famous pendulum swinging over him,
closing in for the kill by the second. And the Baroness herself is
threatened with death in a snakepit until she is scared shitless (because
you know, Regula's virgins have to be scared shitless for his immortality
thing to work) ... but somehow, Roger escapes the pendulum, gets hold of a
crucifix and enters Regula's lab when he's just about to extract blood
from the Baroness ... and the crucifix does not only destroy Regula's
experiment and end his life for good, but - in best horrorfilm tradition -
also tear down his castle ...
Only Roger and the Baroness and Fabian and Babette survive.
To get something clear up front, except for the famous pendulum and a
pit, this film has nothing whatsoever to do with Edgar Allan Poe (but to
be quite honest, Roger Corman's The Pit and the Pendulum from 1961
was hardly any more faithful to its source), and the story of Die
Schlangengrube und das Pendel is stupid as hell, little more than a
succession of pulp horror clichés ... yet the film is great.
Director Harald Reinl, who has previously proven himself as a first
class genre craftman with his Westerns and crime pictures, shows a very
secure hand at handling horror atmosphere and bringing unsettling images
(like the forest riddled with dead men) to life, and thus he proves that a
horror film does not have to follow reason as such but can live on the
logic of a nightmare ... and so he created simply a great film, a
masterpiece of horor (a genre that he unfortunately would never return to)
and possibly the director's best.