The Chronicles of Horror Movie Night: THE PIT (1981)
***After starting in Washington D.C. nine years ago Horror Movie Night has expanded to include chapters in Austin, Dallas and Chicago. GATW’s own Brian Kelley is the originator and programmer of this illustrious weekly Wednesday night tradition which features a “classic” horror film. Each week I will be reviewing/commenting on the past week’s selection so do your best to find the film, most of which have not made it past VHS, and follow along. Better yet, start your own chapter!***
Oh no, Canada has invaded HMN! This isn’t the first Canadian film this year (see BLUE MONKEY) and they are always aboot something fun and entertaining. Of course, I kid. We Americans like to pick on Canada like a sibling, but I can assure you that it’s all in good fun. Well, at least as far as I’m concerned. This week our neighbors to the north give us a very important film with THE PIT. It’s a deep philosophical tale about a boy acting out his troubled feelings of jealousy and anger in dark – who am I kidding? It’s a movie about a big hole in the ground.
People might pick on young Jamie (Sammy Snyders) for being a tad weird and he may be troubled as well, but he has a secret. In the woods about a mile away from his house, there’s a deep pit that houses a handful of ape-like creatures with glowing eyes. He’s the only one who knows of the place and the creatures’ existence. Soon he spills the beans to the college-age babysitter, Sandy O’Reilly (Jeannie Elias), watching him while his parents are away. He loves her, so he figures sharing this with her can bring the two of them closer together. It is his special place. He tries feeding the beings chocolate but soon figures out they crave raw meat. With no money to buy them food he makes the decision to feed them the bad people in his town.
Jamie: “They’re not people that’s for sure. They got yellow eyes, little tiny ones, and they’re all hunched up. I read about them in a book, or something like them. I think they’re trolls or tra-la-logs.”
This is a film with a very slow build. No deaths until just under the hour mark. In fact, if it weren’t for the few shots of bare breasts you could definitely rate this PG-13, maybe even PG. I don’t remember a lot, if any, swearing and the few bloody parts are fairly tame. I’ve seen the same on prime time network TV. So this isn’t the movie to watch for the gore. Maybe for a little skin.
The good news is it’s never boring. While building up to the last third of the film your brain is kept occupied by the varying odd exploits of Jamie. Snyder's performance as the devious twelve year old is pretty strong. Other than making a squinted facial expression that seems like he’s taking a dump a lot of the time, he delivers some pretty creepy and funny moments throughout. He buys large quantities of meat, stares at naked women, talks to his best friend/teddy bear named Teddy (natch), watches people while they sleep, tries to catch chickens, and stares at naked women. A few different plot summaries, including those printed on the box of some copies of the film, say that Jamie is autistic, but they never comment on it in the film. In fact there is a scene where Sandy is washing him in the bathtub (!) and he mentions that his mother does that a lot. She tries repeatedly to get him clean saying he’s dirty all the time. Weird hints at parental abuse to some degree, maybe from her being wildly overprotective as she mentions at the top of the film, but after the brief scene it’s never mentioned again.
Once the film does get up to speed, with Jamie feeding his friends in the pit the body count starts to fly. In those final 40 or so minutes more than ten people become breakfast, lunch and dinner. All of the deaths are fairly similar and just show the victims falling in the pit screaming. They are all rather stupid victims like a young girl around Jamie’s age named Abergail who just runs forward and falls into this huge hole in the ground as if she couldn’t see it. Can you say “natural selection”?
The creatures themselves are called by many different names during the flick – trolls, troglodytes, tra-la-logs, trogs. They all are referring to the same basic thing, a prehistoric version of man. Maybe the missing link. Their design is quite cool. They resemble a gorilla with more vicious faces and eyes that glow a yellow/orange hue. Matted, dreadlocked hair covers their bodies and they have sharp claws on their hands. For as much as they are in the movie, they aren’t really shown a lot. Then again, the effect their appearance has would probably be lessened if they were given more screentime. They would most likely end up looking like the guys in cheap monster suits that they are.
Sandy: “Jamie, what are you doing in here?”
Jamie: “I was just watching you sleep!”
There are a few “what the hell” moments in the film. But really, would it be a HMN movie without them? For one, Jamie has a terrarium that he visits a few times in the film, and talks about even more, where he has a couple of frogs in the same compartment as a snake. Maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about but I would think the snake would make a meal out of his hopping habitat mates. He seems to like the frogs so I would think he wouldn’t want that to happen, but then again he does end up feeding an old woman in a wheelchair to the trogs. The biggest confusing bit has to do with the part-time bad influence, full-time stuffed animal, Teddy. All through the movie when he “talks” to Jamie, it’s in Jamie’s voice, just a little more sinister. You get the feeling that it’s all in the boy’s head, but one scene shows Teddy’s head turn on its own, while in the room alone. He is never seen moving alone again, the whole idea abandoned. This should be a clue for more loose ends. The movie is full of them and that is quite a downer.
Evidently there is a big difference in the movie that was released and what screenwriter Ian A. Stuart wrote. Director Lew Lehman decided to take the easy way out according to Stuart. In the original script the trogs are all in Jamie’s head. The horror aspect is punched up and full of creepy mental terror, but Lehman watered it down to more of a basic monster movie. Author John Gault did a novelization of the film, called TEDDY, that’s now out-of-print but it supposedly follows the original script a little closer. Evidently there’s a moment where twelve-year-old Jamie even tries to rape his college-aged crush. Yikes! It would certainly give a little more insight to the weird sexual tones in the film.
There are some very weird tonal shifts from creepy to campy that keep it from being effective in a scary way, but definitely makes it a lot more fun. Jamie’s spree to feed the trogs all of the bad people is quite funny, and his attempt to lure chickens and a cow is just as humorous. As with everything else in THE PIT, there is a little set-up near the end that never really goes anywhere. They give a lot of information about things that make little sense or difference but thing we need to know, like why Jamie is suddenly going to live with his grandparents, is not explained. But the trade-off is a fun end tag that goes to a freeze frame for the credits to roll over. Classic.
Not the zaniest, bloodiest of best that HMN has to offer, but this is a film you won’t soon forget. This kid is nuts and the creatures provide some fun of their own.
Until next time – what the hell kind of name is Abergail?
Body Count: 11
Best Kill: They are all kind of the same, but the old woman in the wheelchair was great
Trog Count: 4
Times Jamie Spies on Naked Women: 4
First Blood: 1:12:59 out of 1:36:26
Coming soon to Horror Movie Night (Chronicles are posted one week after screening):
-4/6/11: ONE DARK NIGHT (1983)
-4/13/11: SCARED TO DEATH (1981)
-4/20/11: NIGHT OF THE DEMON (1980)
-4/27/11: TICKS (1993)