The Pit (1981)
The Pit (1981)

Genre: Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 36 min.

Release Date: October 23rd, 1981 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Lew Lehman Actors: Sammy Snyders, Jeannie Elias, Sonja Smits, Laura Hollingsworth, John Auten, Laura Press, Paul Grisham, Wendy Schmidt, Andrea Swartz, Edith Bedker, Lillian Graham

 


 

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t all starts one Halloween night in Deep Water Gorge, where 12-year-old Jamie Benjamin (Sammy Snyders) plots revenge against older bully Freddy Phelps (and his goading girlfriend Christina), who punched him on the school playground. Jamie lures the unsuspecting fellow student into the woods for some valuable treasure, before pushing him into a deep pit nearby. And that unearthly hollow contains a particularly shocking secret. This opening bit is actually a sequence that plays again chronologically later on, as this introduction is something of an eccentrically-edited teaser for the coming thrills. It’s even interrupted by a flashback, which doesn’t occur until several more scenes into the picture – marking it as a most unusual flashback to the future.

The next day, Jamie stays after school to write “I will not bring adult books to class” on the chalkboard, after he’s caught with a library book entitled Creative Nude Photography. Jamie’s unfortunate strangeness is a combination of uncomfortable adolescence and a failure to fit in; he’s ridiculed by classmates, scrutinized by teachers, and even heckled by old ladies on the sidewalk. His only friends are a pet frog and a creepy teddy bear. The neighborhood labels him as a nutcase and generally wishes for him to leave; his father isn’t around much and his mother (Laura Press) is a bit smothering; and his obsession with his new babysitter Sandy O’Reilly (Jeannie Elias), who just happens to be a knockout, doesn’t help matters.

“Mrs. Lynde just doesn’t understand me.” If only Jamie’s problems were merely girls and bullies. The whole town thinks he’s a lost cause, while his stuffed companion talks to him at night, prompting him to spy on his undressed housekeeper or to reveal the details of the troll-like creatures inhabiting the forested pit. The primary concept is rather amusing, as it combines the woes of growing up (a theme often mixed with horror) with literal manifestations of evil; it’s a coming-of-age tale and a monster movie combined.

While the construction leaves a little to be desired, and the acting ranges from wooden to decent, Snyders is quite appropriate as the eerie youngster (he’s also in an age range that modern filmmakers wouldn’t be brave enough to tackle, in the event that a newer film with comparable concepts gets made). He’s convincingly odd and plays it with relish. To the film’s credit, the majority of the cast (save for the police) approaches the material with the utmost sincerity, imparting some gravity to the goofiness of a possessed toy, a gratuitously uncovered breast, or Sandy giving a preteen a sponge-bath.

Despite all of the unintentionally humorous moments, made more laughable by bad dialogue and playful music, the escalation of Jamie’s tomfoolery into extortion-based voyeurism – and finally murder – is nicely paced and entirely believable. But the execution, primarily when it comes to Jamie’s luring tactics, is far from credible. In fact, it’s almost as if “The Pit” is self-aware of its comedic undertones. And after a certain point, the plot goes off in a tangent, completely forgetting its purpose and themes, shifting away from Jamie’s perspective so drastically that he’s no longer the focus. Nevertheless, though the gore is minimal and the scares almost nonexistent, the story has enough potential to inspire a bigger-budgeted remake (or a rip-off) if nothing else.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10