The Pit and the Pendulum is another really good example of Dark Romanticism by Edgar Allen Poe. Among other things, it has frightful scenarios and a lot of suspense. Like most other Dark Romantic works, it has torment, although it is a little bit unique in having literal torture in it. Another characteristic of Romanticism in the short story is the exotic setting.
Dark Romanticism style writing tends to focus on the darker side of human nature according to Christine Kruger (the all knowing master of absolutly everything to do with Dark Romanticism, which is admittedly really not much). This is very much present in The Pit and the Pendulum. There really are not many thoughts more disturbing than those of holy men become tormentors and executioners, but human nature would have us go to extremes such as this to try keeping people that threaten to change things from being able to do so. That is the reason for the plot of Poe's short story, and definitely makes one look a little bit more cynically on humanity.
There is also a strong element of emotional suffering in Dark Romanticism. The protagonist of Poe's story has to watch his death slowly descend upon him, waving back and forth on its way down. The protagonist becomes frenzied as it gets closer, and even starts laughing at one point (Poe 270). His emotional distress is so great it sounds a though he might have even loses his wits for a while.
The exotic is really something of an ever present characteristic of Romanticism. It seems that almost every Romantic work has at least a touch of it somewhere. Spain during the inqusition is fairly exotic, and death via pendulum and collapsing walls are up there as well. The exotic elements of The Pit and the Pendulum are historic, which is a bit unique for Romanticism, as most exotic things and happenings have something to do with fairy tales.
Psycologically the important thing about the death planned for the protagonist is the time he has to spend thinking about it. He had hours to think about the slow pain, the ways he could have escaped, and all of the things he will never get to do because he is about to be sliced in half by a deadly pendulum. That is pretty much all that it takes to unnerve a person. Having nothing to do but think your fate over for a few hours, being able to take absolutly no action to speed it or prevent it is really terrible when given thought.
An interesting point of view proposed by Charles May is that the reason everything seems so terrifying to the protagonist is because he keeps falling in and out of dreams. Like when he is being carried down into the dungeon, he cannot quite decide if the descent was a dream or a memory (Poe 264). May suggests that some parts of the protagonist's story are nightmares whose memory is mistaken a memory of real events.
Krueger, Christine, ed. "Romanticism." Encyclopedia of British Writers,
19th Century, vol. 1. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2002. Bloom's Literary
Reference Online. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 16 Jan. 2012.
May, Charles E. "Alternate Realms of Reality." In Edgar Allan Poe: A Study of Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1991, pp. 96–97. Quoted as "Dreams and Reality in the Story" in Harold Bloom, ed. Edgar Allan Poe, Bloom's Major Short Story Writers. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishing, 1998. (Updated 2007.) Bloom's Literary Reference Online. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 18 Jan. 2012. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?ItemID=WE54&SID=5&iPin= BMSSEP39&SingleRecord=True.
Poe, Edgar. "The Pit and the Pendulum." Comp. Jeffrey D. Wilhelm, Ph.D. and Douglas Fisher, Ph.D. Glencoe Literature. American Literature ed. Columbus: McGraw-Hill Companies, 2009. 97-99. Print.