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Pendulum of Death

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"Down steadily down it crept. [...] To the right to the left far and wide with the shriek of a damned spirit!"

Judge Thatcher: What's that thing?
Dr. Vollin: A knife.
Judge Thatcher: What's it doing?
Dr. Vollin: Descending.
Judge Thatcher: What're you trying to do to me?
Dr. Vollin: Torture you.

A classic Death Trap, tracing its origins to Edgar Allan Poe's The Pit and the Pendulum. The hero is strapped to a table beneath a huge, curved blade mounted on a pendulum. When activated, the pendulum descends slightly with each swing, gradually getting closer to the hero. Will they escape or be rescued in time?

Compare Smashing Hallway Traps of Doom.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Marvel Anime: Wolverine: Pendulums of Death are among the various traps found on Hell Road. Logan and Yukio almost fall victim to them when navigating the road, and getting stuck in wet cement.
  • In the Skypiea Arc of One Piece, the first obstacle encountered by Luffy, Usopp and Sanji as they navigate the Cloud River in Upper Yard is a series of huge scythe-like pendulums swingin back and forth across the river.
  • Used twice in Yaiba as part of a Death Course, first in Ryuujin's labyrinth test, then on the bridge leading to the Oda Nobunaga's tournament grounds on Yoroi Island. In the latter's case, it's part of a test to gauge the strength of the partecipants. In the former's case, they force the heroes to go forward to hide the fact that the exit of the Labyrinth is the entrance itself.

    Card Games 

    Comic Books 
  • She-Cat is subjected to this in Femforce #98, in a story titled "The Cat and the Pendulum".
  • Green Arrow: The Clock King straps Green Arrow beneath one in an attempt to force him to divulge the access codes to Queen Industries accounts in the "Sins of the Mother" arc.
  • Rulah, Jungle Goddess: In "The Thirsty Stone" (Zoot Comics #12), evil witch doctor Potmas attempts to fulfill an ancient prophecy by sacrificing a yellow haired woman to become all-powerful in the jungle. He captures blonde Bold Explorer Mildred Maxim and straps her to the eponymous "thirsty stone": a stone altar beneath a swinging stone knife that drops lower on every swing.
  • Sensation Comics: Don Enrago tries to kill Wonder Woman and Marcia, one of the Holliday Girls, by strapping them to a table under a slowly lowering swinging blade. Wonder Woman quickly escapes and rescues Marcia.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Deathstalker II: Duel of the Titans: Sultana captures Deathstalker and straps him to a table where a giant pendulum swings closer and closer to his private parts.
  • Dungeons & Dragons (2000): A series of these is the first trap in the Antius Guild Maze Ridley must traverse. Rather than try to dart between them, he hops on top of them and jumps from blade to blade as they swing close to each other.
  • Fu Manchu uses this as a Death Trap in Chapter 4 of the Film Serial Drums of Fu Manchu. The chapter is titled "Pendulum of Doom".
  • Elvira's Haunted Hills shows Elvira herself beneath a swinging blade, though oddly positioned to be severed lengthwise, not crosswise. Mustn't harm the boobs, after all.
  • The 1965 spy-spoof Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine homages/parodies the Creator/Corman version of The Pit and the Pendulum (see below), with returning star Vincent Price's eponymous Mad Scientist having the same setup in his headquarters. Evidently some footage was reused as well.
  • Ghoulies II: The ghoulies use the pendulum in the horror house at the carnival to murder a teenager.
  • Looney Tunes: Back in Action: In the films climax, the Chairman's Death Trap for DJ's father includes one of these on top of a Train of Death, crates of TNT, and a 2-ton anvil. However, he decides that the Pendulum is overkill and orders Wile E. Coyote to remove it.
  • Czech Surrealist Jan Svankmajer directed a 15-minute live action short film called The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope, based on "The Pit and the Pendulum" and the short story "A Torture by Hope" by Villiers de l'Isle-Adam. It is a fairly faithful adaptation of both stories, featuring a unique first-person camera perspective and segments produced in Svankmajer's trademark stop-motion and cut-out animation. It also shows some of the mechanisms behind the pendulum's operation.
  • There have been multiple film adaptations of the Trope Maker, each interpreting Poe's story differently:
    • Roger Corman's 1961 version of The Pit and the Pendulum has little to do with its namesake outside of utilizing the trope toward its finale. The film centers around a sixteenth century Englishman visiting his brother-in-law's castle to investigate the death of his sister.
    • The 1991 version keeps many aspects of Poe's story, but adds in a romance and supernatural elements.
    • The 2009 version directed by David DeCoteau also bears little resemblance to the original story but utilizes the large swinging pendulum in the penultimate scene. The film follows a group of university students who visit a hypnotherapy institute lorded over by a sinister hypnotist who wants to use the students to experiment with the possibility of breaking the pain threshold.
  • In The Raven (1935), Dr. Vollin has Bateman drag Judge Thatcher out of his bed, and strap him into a slab that's beneath a pendulum blade that slowly swings down on his chest.
  • The 2012 horror/mystery film The Raven, starring John Cusack in the role of Edgar Allan Poe, contains multiple reenactments of Poe's horror stories. Included is a scene where the "Pit and the Pendulum" scenario is recreated and successfully kills its victim.
  • Saw V: Seth Baxter wakes up in a room, chained to a table, with two vices on either side of it. Above him, is a large, bladed pendulum that begins to swing after his tape is completed. Seth has to push buttons in the back of the vices that will crush his hands in order to stop the Pendulum from reaching his body, as his hands are the "tools" that caused harm to others. In sixty seconds, the pendulum will cut him in half if he doesn't succeed. Seth inserts his hands into the vices, but quickly pulls them out in fear. Trying again, he succeeds in crushing his hands and the Pendulum ceases swinging for a few moments, but after a short pause, the Pendulum reactivates and descends far enough to begin cutting into his abdomen, and eventually slices him in half, confirming that the trap was inescapable.
  • In The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism (a.k.a. The Blood Demon, The Snake Pit and the Pendulum and Castle of the Walking Dead), Roger is imprisoned in a pit beneath a descending pendulum after being captured by Count Regula (Christopher Lee) and then attempting to escape.
  • The Uncanny: In 1936, in Hollywood, the actor Valentine De'ath replaces the blade of a fake pendulum to kill his actress wife, and give his young mistress and aspiring actress a chance. The cat of his wife avenges her.


    Live-Action TV 
  • This formed the challenge for an episode of the horror reality show 13: Fear is Real. In the game "Slice and Dice", the first contestant to untie themselves before the swinging pendulum chops them in half is saved from death.
  • Dark Shadows: In episodes 795 and 796 ("The Pits" and "Death and Taxes") Aristede straps Quentin to a table beneath a slowly descending swinging axe blade as he attempts to extort the Legendary Hand of Count Petofi from Angelique.
  • I Dream of Jeannie: In "Have You Ever Had A Genie Hate You?", a magic potion causes Jeannie to hate Tony. After putting him through various tortures, in the end, both Tony and Roger find themselves under a swinging pendulum about to slice their throats.
  • MacGyver (1985): The Cliffhanger at the end of the first part of the two-part "Legend of the Holy Rose" has Mac strapped beneath a descending blade on a pendulum in a torture chamber exhibit.
  • Night Gallery: In "A Question of Fear", Colonel Mallory lies down on a bed in a supposedly haunted house. Steel restraints suddenly emerge and cover his chest, locking him in. Then a swinging razor-sharp swinging pendulum descends, moving closer and closer to his neck. Just short of slicing his throat, the pendulum stops. The next morning the restraints and pendulum are gone.
  • The Wild Wild West: In "The Night of the Deadly Blossom", Jim West and Japanese agent Ishuda are captured by the villain Barclay. In an effort to get Ishuda to talk, Barclay has West strapped to a table beneath a slowly descending pendulum blade.
  • An episode of The Wizard had Simon, Tillie and a Guest-Star Party Member explore a Temple of Doom to return a cursed dagger. At some point the guest star is caught in such a trap, and is rescued seconds before the pendulum reaches where his neck was.

  • Referenced in "The Poet and the Pendulum" by Nightwish:
    Be still, my son
    You're home
    Oh when did you become so cold?
    The blade will keep on descending
    All you need is to feel my love
  • A whole album called Shadow of the Raven by Nox Arcana is devoted to Edgar Allen Poe. One of the tracks is "The Pit and the Pendulum", and in addition to the music, there is a steady whooshing noise to portray the pendulum's presence.
  • The Symphony X song "King of Terrors" is essentially a musical retelling and summary of "The Pit and the Pendulum". Its second verse tackles this trope:
    Awake again - paralyzed
    I'm shackled to this altar
    sacrificed to their God
    'Inch by Inch and Line by Line'
    The Blade - descending lost in time
    The fiends of Doom they call my name
    I slip away...into black I fade away

    Video Games 
  • This is the threat of the Scissor Twins urging you to go forward in Clock Tower 3. They're holding Alyssa's friend Dennis in this situation. At one point, the pendulum stops swinging and drops straight on him.Good thing it's just a dummy.
  • A common breed of trap in later Deception games.
  • One deathtrap in Dragon's Lair requires Dirk the Daring to traverse a passageway where three of these swinging blades await to One-Hit Kill Dirk, who must Press X to Not Die to dodge these blades.
  • Final Fantasy VII has an enemy fought in the Shinra Mansion that has the top half of a man, the bottom half of a bladed pendulum and attacks by swinging at your party from a chain. If you're lucky enough, you can knock it off the chain making it helpless for a few turns.
  • An entire corridor of Pendulums of Death stands in Hype's way in the Lost City in Hype: The Time Quest. Made worse by arrow traps situated in between them.
  • Phantasmagoria: In the past, Marie conspired with her lover, Gaston, to kill her bluebeard husband Carno by sabotaging the equipment for his most infamous and dangerous escapology trick, in which Carno dons a burning hood and escapes from bonds on a throne equipped with an overhead pendulous axe. The sabotage leaves Carno horribly burned and disfigured, but he survives and viciously attacks Marie and Gaston. After killing Marie by beheading her with the same pendulous throne, Carno is killed by Gaston just before he succumbs to his own wounds. In the present, Don (who is possessed by a demon) captures Adrienne and straps her into the pendulous throne, but she distracts him long enough to free herself from the throne and trigger the pendulum, which impales and kills Don.
  • Quake II has a variant in the torture chamber level: a prisoner is lashed to the wall and has a giant cross-thing slowly lowered to crush him.
  • Resident Evil 4 has these at a certain point of the game for the player to easily dodge. In case they get hit anyway, Leon is sent crashing into a wall and falls into a pit.
  • These appear in Sonic Heroes in Hang Castle. As is fitting for the setting, they're mere set dressing.
  • This is how Lord Blackthorne executes one of your companions if you get caught in Ultima V.
  • In the torture chambers of the Nali Castle in Unreal, you find one of these, though with no victims strapped to the slab.

    Visual Novels 

  • A swinging blade is one of the many traps Agatha's group contends with in Girl Genius when leaving the Incorruptible Library to track down Professor Zardeliv and Prende's Lantern.
  • In Champions of Far'aus, the last room in the House of insanity Skye and Karla have to go through has one. It isn't much of a problem for long, as Karla summons Kara, a corporeal spirit who weighs one ton, on top of the blade so it stops moving.

    Western Animation 
  • In an episode of Beetlejuice riffing on numerous Edgar Allan Poe stories, BJ finds himself in four-point restraints under a descending razor pendulum, which cuts through his tie and lapels just before a commercial break.
  • One episode of Disney Television's Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers titled "A Lad In His Lamp" had the villain's henchman Mole attain possession of a magic lamp, complete with obedient genie. When the Rangers attempt to confiscate the lamp, Fat Cat roars at Mole to "wish for something, you ninny!" The next instant shows the captured Rangers affixed beneath an oscillating blade, watching its slow descent. In a Pet the Dog moment, Fat Cat declares, "Why, Mole, you surprise me."
  • On The Flintstones episode "Dr. Sinister", Fred and Barney are caught in a situation like this one. Fred asks Barney what James Bondrock would do in such a situation. Barney remembers him using the pendulum to cut his hand bonds - which he does and it works!
  • In the Justice League Unlimited episode "The Ties That Bind," when Granny Goodness captures Oberon, she places him in a deathtrap with three three large blades swinging back and forth above him and slowly descending.
  • The Perils of Penelope Pitstop: In "London Town Treachery", the Hooded Claw captures Penelope and attempts to kill her using a pendulum that swings lower and lower.
  • Ruby Spears Super Man: Theme Serial Killer Bonechill kidnaps the Daily Planet staff and leaves them in Poe-themed death traps to distract Superman. Perry White almost gets sliced open by a swinging pendulum.
  • In The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! episode "The Adventures of Sherlock Mario", the gang (Mario, Luigi, Toad and Princess Toadstool) are captured by "Professor Koopiarty", Bowser's Sherlock Holmes-themed alter ego for the episode. They get tied up and subject to this, Koopiarty taunting them with "In a few moments, you'll be sliced salami!" as he starts the blade.
  • Totally Spies!: In Episode 23, "Do You Believe in Magic?", the Villain, an evil Stage Magician, uses one of these as a Death Trap to dispose of the spies. The spies escape by using one of their gadgets to rotate the table they have been chained to 90 degrees, so they can get the swinging blade to cut through their shackles.