Constructing the Life-Sucking Machine in The Princess Bride

Inside Criterion / Sneak Peeks — Nov 1, 2018


“You survived the Fire Swamp, so you must be very brave, but no one withstands the Machine,” an assistant to the wicked Count Rugen (Christopher Guest) warns our hero, Westley (Cary Elwes), in Rob Reiner’s beloved bedtime story The Princess Bride. And in fact, the captured Westley does soon find himself at the mercy of the torture device known as the Pit of Despair—an infernally lurching contraption of wooden planks, sluice gates, whirling gears, and suction cups that gradually pull the life force out of those strapped into it.

As art director Richard Holland says in this clip from a supplement on our packed new edition of The Princess Bride, the iconic invention actually had its origins in another movie entirely. Holland explains that while he was working on the 1983 film Never Say Never Again, he conceived of a gear-operated apparatus that would put James Bond in a very tight spot indeed. The set was constructed but ultimately scrapped, leaving Holland free to adapt the playfully diabolical concept a few years later for Reiner’s film. Watch to the end of the video to find out the surprising part of the machine—of which Holland and his crew built a fully working version—that simply refused to work.