October 25, 2016 This Week in Horror Movie History – The Pit (1981)
This week in Horror movie history, back on October 23rd of 1981, Canadian Horror movie The Pit was released in theaters. Also called Teddy, it was made on an estimated $1 million CAD budget, and directed by, in his only directing credit, the late Lew Lehman. Starring a case of relative unknown child actors and actresses, the bizarre coming of age premise made little splash, but has since gained a cult following by those in the know, making The Pit a film that still peeks curiosity.
Jamie (Sammy Snyders: Huckleberry Finn and His Friends series, The Last Chase 1981) is a peculiar 12-year-old. He tries to make friends with the kids in the community, but for some reason, he just cannot get it right, guy or girl. His mom (Laura Press: The Reagans 2003, Behind the Red Door 2003) and his new live-in babysitter, Sandy (Jeannie Elias: Dennis the Menace series, Over the Hedge 2006) do not understand. The only one that understands him is his friend Teddy, who he confides in, and gets advice from. Also, there is the pit, where Jamie has some other “friends” he calls Tra-la-logs; yet, people think they are the strange boy’s imaginary friends…until people go missing.
Written by Ian A. Stuart, Stuart had directed major stage plays such as Murder In The Cathedral, Hadrian VII, and Royal Hunt Of The Sun. Going on to produce 135 different films and television programs, The Pit was one of two features he wrote the screenplay for. In a 2007 interview with badmovies.org, he stated, “I wrote the script after two experiences triggered the idea. First, a friend who is now the world’s leading ventriloquist told me about communicating with psychotic children through the use of a ventriloquist dummy (they would communicate with the dummy and ignore his presence as if he wasn’t in the room) and another friend, a child psychiatrist told me about a little boy who would draw nasty little fantasy creatures he thought he could command. He would send them after people he didn’t like or who mistreated him and when the little creatures ostensibly eliminated these people, they would cease to exist as far as he was concerned. They could be physically in the same room and no longer had any reality. He refused to recognize their existence.”
Taking the directorial gig, Lehman changed Stuart’s script by aging Jamie from eight or nine to twelve, as well as making the Tra-la-logs real as opposed to being in Jamie’s head. Furthermore, Lehman watered down Stuart’s much darker script. When production started, the crew scouted Wisconsin for most of the shoot and the Ontario, Canada forests for the pit interiors. Then, Lehman had to put together his cast, and most of the cast were Canadian actors that had done a handful of TV shows for the most part. In addition, Sonja Smite made her feature film debut as Mrs. Lynde, this is before going on to star in 1983’s Videodrome and the popular Canadian television series Street Legal. As for the trogs, they were realized by man in suit with the suits going through some iterations before their look was finalized.
The plot of The Pit would be considered paint by numbers by today’s audiences with kid gets bullied, kid gets revenge, people come up missing. However, looking deeper, there is some real planning and thought by Jamie to get rid of his bullies or the people he perceived to do him wrong. Then, there is the veiled moral of the story that is a bit jarring. Another thing that is interesting is the way Rik Morden edited the beginning to start with a sequence that happens in the third act, and have the movie wrap around to the finish.
As for the film’s content, that was another thing to handle with Jamie coming into puberty, he had a hyper-sexualized fascination with the nude female body, which caused his impulses to do things normal society frowns upon, and makes him more of an outcast in addition to maybe exhibiting some autistic tendencies. Interestingly enough, with nudity involved, Lehman’s wife prohibited him from shooting said nude scenes, so Stuart was tapped to do them except the skinny dipping scene, because Lehman’s daughter was in it.
Not the huge moneymaker, The Pit has found second life on DVD, first upon a Drive In Horror Double Feature DVD with 1989’s Hellgate via Anchor Bay, and more recently, a standalone DVD release in October of 2016. Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB sites rated it with a 40% audience approval and a 6.0/10 respectively. Also, references in subsequent films have raised its status among little known Horror cult gems. For example, 1982’s Creepshow segment, “The Crate,” is a direct take on The Pit, while 1988’s Child’s Play uses the talking doll bit. This all said, the movie has a mention in just about every Horror documentary. As long as there is a taste for nostalgia, The Pit will capture prey for years to come.