The Pit (Kino Lorber, R)

The cover is a brilliant work of nightmare fuel. The movie itself is awful, just awful.

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The Pit is about a troubled 12-year-old boy named Jamie Benjamin (Sammy Snyders) who, goaded by his possessed teddy bear, decides to lead his tormentors into the woods where a pit containing prehistoric “Tra-la-logs” (carnivorous trolls of some sort) awaits them. Meanwhile, Jamie’s parents go on a business trip, leaving him in the care of a babysitter who is also studying child development, Sandy (Jeannie Elias). His obsession with her grows at an unhealthy rate, and it soon puts her in danger.

I was motivated to watch and review this film from seeing the cover. I instantly recognized it as the cover of a film that scared me to pieces as a young kid when I saw it in a video store. Depicting a creepy drawing of Jamie (with a sinister, wooden expression) and the glowing eyes of his evil teddy bear, the cover is a brilliant work of nightmare fuel. The movie itself is awful, just awful.

It fails in some of the same ways as Astro Zombies, but still has the benefit of being competently shot and edited. The root of this film’s terribleness is the direction and acting, and possibly the script. Director Lew Lehman changed the original story significantly, leading screenwriter Ian A. Stuart dissatisfied with the end result. This factoid leads me to believe the ridiculousness of the story and uneven tone are the handiwork of a director with an incoherent vision.

Jeannie Elias gives a completely average performance as the babysitter and still manages to be the standout. While Sammy Snyders’ acting in The Pit is the most often mentioned by its small, cult following as one of the film’s good qualities, it’s so cloying and goofy that I wouldn’t really call it “good,” though I respect his commitment. His character is pretty consistent throughout, and while hammy, Synders never seems like he’s faltering due to lack of confidence. It’s just the type of acting that belongs in an after-school special or a Campbell Soup commercial, not a serious narrative film.

But is it fair to call this film serious? Certain aspects can be attributed to oblivious filmmaking. This is evident in the acting (a low-budget Canadian horror film isn’t likely to pull in the greatest talent) and the writing in some respects. What confuses me is that Ian A. Stuart’s original draft (which would later turn out a novelization) is considered much darker and realistic. The actual lines are the screenwriter’s job, though, so who can account for the dialogue that often sounds as if it were written by an alien? Unskillful tonal shifts I can easily blame the director for, who is confirmed to have tried to inject much of the film with more humor and made much of the horrors that were meant to be in Jamie’s head actually happen in real life. Then again, without much of the horrors occurring in reality, what is supposed to happen in the story? Jamie sitting in his room and freaking himself out? I wonder what this movie was supposed to be, and how it got to be what it is?

I’ve never been that great a fan of so-bad-it’s-good movies, unless it’s truly, mind-bendingly terrible, and if there’s an interesting story behind it. The Pit has all the elements necessary for ironic enjoyment, so if that’s your thing, give it a watch. As for me, I just find it to be garbage, but whose garbage is what I want to know. | Nic Champion

Kino Lorber is releasing The Pit along with several other horror films for the month of October. This release comes with a commentary by Canuxploitation.com’s Paul Corupe and film historian Jason Pichonsky. Interviews with actors Sammy Snyder and Jeannie Elias, as well as composer Victor Davies and screenwriter Ian A. Stuart, are featured as well.

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