Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Pit (1981)

Young Jamie (Sammy Snyders) is a problem child. While he is highly intelligent (or so the script says, his actions speak a different language), he has not the best people skills and his sexual awakening turns in a direction experts would describe as "creepy". One is tempted to call him "future serial killer Jamie" right from the beginning.

It certainly doesn't help that everyone he meets during the course of the film treats him incredibly badly for no discernible reason at all, even those people who should know better. His only friend is his talking teddy bear Teddy. For reasons the film never bothers to explain we don't just hear Teddy talking with Jamie's voice, but also see it moving when Jamie is not around, so it is not just the projection of unconscious desires it seems to be.

Jamie's parents are planning on going away somewhere for quite some time (yes, I love precision, I really do), so they hire psychology student Sandy O'Reilly (Jeannie Elias, now doing a lot of voice acting) for a combined babysitting/housekeeping stint. Sandy is specialized on "exceptional children", and at first she seems to have some success at getting through to the boy, even though the crush he develops on her isn't all that helpful, and - not surprisingly - rather creepy.

But Jamie has a secret. If you can call something someone is willing to tell anyone who is not trying to punch him in the face a secret. He has found a pit in the woods. In this pit lives a group of shaggy grey-haired monster suits identified as troglodytes. Because they are his friends (that is, aren't actively mean to him), Jamie decides to feed them. Turns out the charming guys only eat raw meat. For some time, the boy feeds them with meat he buys from the local butcher with money he steals from Sandy, but when the girl gets wise to the trick, he needs some other food source. Teddy suggests to just throw all those mean people who plague Jamie into the pit.

One would probably think that a twelve year old boy would have some difficulty with the realization of this plan, but in The Pit's world there are no opticians and therefore a lot of people are just unable to see a freaking large pit directly in front of them before it is too late.

The Pit starts out perfectly nice, with decent, very late 70s looking photography, and seems to promise to be one of the weird psychological horror pictures the 70s and early 80s were full of.

The longer the film goes on, though, the more obvious it becomes that its director Lew Lehman just doesn't have the slightest idea what sort of movie he is trying to make. A psychological horror film about a disturbed child? Nope, it's just too stupid for that. A monster movie? No, too shy about the monsters. A Bugs Bunny cartoon? Well, only in the middle when Jamie feeds his friends. A completely random mess full of ideas nobody bothered to think through? Yes, that's more like it!

The plot sputters, starts, rolls on for a moment, only to drift into a completely different direction, without a care for narrative structure or common sense; I'd call it dadaist if I'd think I could get away with it. Up until the middle of the film, you could possibly think all this is going somewhere, but as soon as the sheriff takes control of the plot (such as it is) and Jamie disappears until the wtf ending (only seeing is believing), you realize that you are in the hands of filmmakers who produced their script by rolling the dice on a modified D&D first edition encounter generation table. Which is kinda awesome, now that I think about it.

Equally awesome is Sammy Snyders' acting. I am willing to cut child actors some slack, but Snyders here gives one of the most annoying performances imaginable, mugging like a Hollywood comic trying to act dramatic, with a line delivery like chalk on a blackboard. It's fabulous, but it hurts so bad.

I think I might have already mentioned that sense and The Pit parted ways a very, very long time ago, but let me restate it: holy shit, this could nearly have been made in Italy.

If you read that as the compliment it is meant to be, you should probably spend some time with The Pit. It's a truly perfect piece of silly nonsense from start to finish, additional proof of my theory that two wrongs do in fact make one right.


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