OK, sorry, I couldn't resist. Though this is a pretty grim movie at times, I can't hear the phrase "Spanish Inquisition" without going through the Monty Python routine. Once the movie starts, however, I am always so engrossed I forget about the sketch.
This movie had me hooked from the first scene the first time I saw it, but it has that rare quality of actually getting better with every viewing. As many have said, this is without a doubt Full Moon's all-time best. I'm a diehard Stuart Gordon fan, and if it wasn't for Re-Animator, I might say it was Gordon's best, too. By the way, the first scene is very grisly and cold-blooded, and you *know* it's gonna be a great movie when that happens even before the opening credits.
I'm really saddened that this movie didn't get more of a chance for wide release. I remember it being in the theater for maybe one week and then going to video, and the only reason I even knew it existed was from reading Fangoria. Look at the cast- while they aren't all considered "A-list", they are favs among horror and cult fans- Lance Henriksen (Millennium, Aliens) Tom Towles (Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer), Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator, From Beyond), Frances Bay (Blue Velvet), Oliver Reed... I think the other strike it has against it is that people see the title (maybe that's why it was changed in some versions, including the R-rated DVD that I rented, to The Inquisitor) and figure it's a travesty to even try to remake. Some friends wouldn't even give the movie a chance (to the point where they didn't even want to look at the box, they were so scornful) until I had to beg them to watch it- they thanked me after the first few scenes.
Don't get me wrong, the original is wonderful, and Vincent Price is, well, Vincent Price and in a class by himself. However, this movie has very little in common with Corman's other than the title, the fact that both movies are based on Poe's work, and that there's a scene towards the end where some unlucky b*stard tries to get free before the pendulum slices him in half. The similarities end there, however, and I don't think it's fair or accurate to call it a remake.
This version is actually set back in Spain during 1492, the REAL inquisition. Lance Henriksen, who can make his voice sound so quietly evil that Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter sounds harmless by comparison, stars as Torquemada. With the assistance of his underlings, he wants to rid the world of witchcraft and heresy, figuring the best way to do this is to torture and kill what seems like 99% of the population (historically, he was said to be responsible of over 100,000 executions). During one ugly public display involving Gordon's wife Carolyn Purdy-Gordon -other than Re-animator, she always seems to come to a horrible end in his movies) the young baker Antonio and his lovely wife Maria make the mistake of trying to intervene, so they assume she's a witch and toss her in the dungeon. In her cell, she's befriended by kindly Esmeralda. In one of the most clever twists, her cellmate turns out to be the one out of the tens of thousands accused who actually IS a witch. Maria's husband tries to save her and of course is immediately arrested as well. Unfortunately for Maria, ole Torq is horrified to find himself secretly attracted to her (he's a monk, and as Henriksen explains in the feauturette, has 'probably never gotten any in his life') and doesn't know how to deal with it. At first it seems like Maria might be able to use this to her advantage, but since Torq is so psychotically religious that he thinks any human emotions are the work of Satan, things just get more complicated and intense from there.
There are several references other than the Pendulum to Poe's work -clever ones, that fit in with the plot and are not just tossed in for the hell of it. Someone is walled up, even quoting the notorious line "For the love of God!" "Yes...for the love of God" is the grim reply. A cask of wine is revealed to be Amontillado. There's also subtle references to "The Premature Burial" and probably more I missed.
One of the elements that is actually kind of amusing in a horrible way is that you have absolutely NO chance against the evil forces in this movie, to the point where it is ludicrous. You're reasonably attractive? You're obviously trying to tempt men and must be a witch. You're ugly? That's also a sign of being a witch. You look normal? You're a witch disguised as a normal person! You try to fight back when they tear your clothes off to 'examine' you? You're not co-operating, you're a witch! You give up and co-operate? You're an evil whore! You have a mole or freckle anywhere on your body? That's the mark of the devil and you're a witch. Oh, you don't have any? Someone will pinch you and make a mark. Oh, the mark is starting to fade? You're using your evil powers to make it fade! You're just completely screwed no matter what. Also, if they haven't tortured you yet and you confess first to get it over with? Sorry, no such luck! You might just be trying to avoid torture, so confession doesn't officially count until you've been tortured for days-that is, if you don't die under torture ("Not another one!" a torturer complains in exasperation at one point).
The cast is amazing. There's not even near enough room to list all the great acting in this movie. Standouts are Henriksen, who not only portrays total evil all too convincingly but the inner struggle against his lust for Maria VS his 'holy duty'. Oliver Reed has less than 10 minutes of screen time as a heavy-drinking Cardinal who comes to visit Torquemada and try to get him to ease up on the mass killing a little, but trust me, you'll remember his scene long after the movie is over. Jeffrey Combs, as the scribe with the prince Valiant haircut and huge horn-rimmed Harry Potter glasses who seems to be the only one involved who is "just doing his job" and not getting off on it like all of Torquemada's other flunkies, steals every scene he's in. A less talented actor would have been forgettable in what could have been a boring part, but he makes the most of every second of his screen time. He also gets the some of the best and funniest lines ("How can they confess if they DON'T HAVE TONGUES??"), including the best in the movie along with the actress playing Esmeralda. She's wonderful, and one of the best and most memorable scenes of this, or any horror movie for that matter, involves her show-stopping revenge when she's burned at the stake. As she's being dragged up, Comb's character actually tells her apologetically: "I'm sorry that you weren't properly able to confess. There just wasn't enough time to torture you". Esmeralda: "Thanks anyway".
Not only am I running out of room to rave about how much I loved this movie, but I don't want to talk it up so much that I ruin it. Just watch, enjoy, and get the bejeezus scared out of you. Make sure you are not going to be interrupted for 90 minutes, because it is so riveting you do NOT want to have to turn it off even for a minute. Watch, and prepare to be impressed. Caution: this is NOT a movie for kids, or easily upset adults. The movie pulls NO punches in the graphic portrayal of extremely nasty tortures and executions. The movie is scary and disturbing enough; I try not to dwell to long on the fact that it is based on historical events. In the words of a character during a climactic moment that you won't forget for a long time..."Welcome to Hell!"