Ray Harryhausen is going stronger than ever. The man is a legend among animators with his astounding work in the field of stop motion animation. If you don't believe me, just take a look at his resume. His accomplishments include Jason and the Argonauts, 20 Million Miles to Earth, and Clash of the Titans. There is no denying the advancements he has made. Now he is working to spotlight other artists using the "Ray Harryhausen Presents" tag. The first title to benefit from Harryhausen's involvement is The Pit and the Pendulum, a short based on the Edgar Allan Poe story of the same name. This deliciously creepy animation was directed by Marc Lougee and written by Matt Taylor. It delivers on all counts.
Stop motion animation has been a part of film for a long time. Early examples include Georges Méliès' A Trip to the Moon (which was immortalized in The Smashing Pumpkin's video for "Tonight, Tonight") and, more famously, King Kong in 1932. It was that film about the big ape that would inspire a young Harryhausen to create his enduring works which would go on to influence the next generation of animators, including Henry Selick, whose lush work has reached the big screen in the form of The Nightmare Before Christmas. Another man whose work is inspired by Harryhausen is The Pit and the Pendulum's director, Marc Lougee.
This film may run a mere seven minutes, but in that short time frame he is able to capture the essence of the Poe tale and create a memorable film that will haunt the back of your mind well after it is over. This is no jokey take on the material, don't be expecting Puphedz: The Tattle-Tale Heart! This is a moody piece with plenty of atmosphere and mood to spare.
The Pit and the Pendulum is narrated by the anonymous victim. He is dragged before black-robed inquisitors on trumped up charges. Once he is found guilty, he is taken into the dungeons where death surely awaits him. He awakens with his head locked in a metal helmet (an inspired addition to the original story); in the room is the pit of the title. When he survives that, his captors drug him and he is moved to the next room; this room contains the pendulum. Now, this is a short, and I cannot give away everything, but you are probably already familiar with the details anyway. This is definitely Poe, just stripped down to its essence.
Stop motion has a strange other-worldly feel to it, what with the exaggerated movements and decidedly unrealistic look of the figures. Lougee has used the style to great effect here, with the cadaver-like wax faces, the nice use of light and shadow, and the stylized movements. Another aspect that really drove everything home was the music and sound design by Philip Stranger. The music adds just the right touch of eeriness and dread.
Bottom line. This a fantastic short. In its brief runtime it has condensed the Poe story to its bare minimum, and has done so in singular style. Marc Lougee continues the grand tradition of stop motion animation and displays a high level of skill that makes me look forward to what he has up his sleeve next.
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