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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Dead Pit
The Dead Pit
Code Red // Unrated // June 17, 2008
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Bill Gibron | posted October 29, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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The Product:
For those of us old enough to remember the local video store, certain images remain iconic. Who will ever forget the full size Leatherface standee, power tool poised to invite you to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II. Or how about the lame ass cover art for Dario Argento's Profondo Rosso - renamed Deep Red: The Hatchet Murders and festooned with an image of the film's devil doll, it's broken face fractured. Perhaps the most ephemeral was the pitch black picture of zombies rising from the ground ala The Dead Pit. From the disturbing visuals, no one would ever guess that this was a simple slasher film upended by a Lucio Fulci inspired unnecessary unleashing of the living dead. Director Brett Leonard certainly understood the basics of Greed decade dread. Too bad then that this exasperating experience does little more than muddle around aimlessly before finally unleashing the undead.

The Plot:
When asylum doctor Gerald Swan discovers that his associate, Dr. Ramzi, is performing horrendous experiments on the patients, he hopes to silence him once and for all. Destroying his basement lair and sealing him up inside, he assumes he's seen the last of the insane scientist. But when an amnesiac named "Jane Doe" shows up several years later, weird things start happening. Nurses go missing and otherwise docile inmates become dangerous. With the help of fellow patient Christian Meyers, Jane hopes to unlock her past and escape the sinister snake pit. When an earthquake reopens Ramzi's tomb, the zombified doc has his sights set on getting revenge - and no one at the hospital is safe.

The DVD:
The Dead Pit is so indicative of the '80s you keep waiting for Joe Piscopo to show up and do an impersonation of Ronald Reagan halfway through it. It's a fright film drenched in electric hot primary colors, overdone monster make-up, and enough pre-boob job breasts to keep the adolescent demo nice and "attentive" for the entire 100 minute running time. Somewhere inside all this undead inmates taking over the asylum scariness is a decent idea for a thriller. Renny Harlin would work some wicked institutional macabre magic when he helmed Prison in 1989, and numerous drive-in efforts (like Warlock Moon) took advantage of the haunted loony bin - or other hospital like retreat - to deliver some shivers. So The Dead Pit is not so far off in its leanings. But first time director Brett Leonard is obviously still involved in some on the job training when it comes to pacing, and the copious gore can't quite make up for a plot that's rather slapdash and incoherent. In fact, the era is so poorly represented it may want to consider suing.

At first, we think we're getting another mad doctor delight. Dr. Colin Ramzi may look like a bleached out swimwear model (this represents lead Danny Gochnauer's only significant screen credit) but when he's tricked out in zombie mode - complete with long yellow fingernails - he cuts quite an unsettling swath. And Jeremy Slate does a decent job as haunted psychiatrist Gerald Swan. He even gets to play both sides of the scenario - heroic and F/X victim. If there is a missing link in this trio of terror types, it's lame last girl Cherly Lawson. Her Jane Doe chews up so much scenery that we wonder if the production was insured for such structural damage, and her wardrobe seems to consist almost exclusively of midriff bearing baby-t's and flashy French cut panties. As she stumbles around the location, screeching her stunted heart out, we're not sure if we want to root for her or wish her dead. Oddly enough, in this bifurcated fright flick, we get a chance to do both.

Leonard does show some promise, especially when it comes to mood and atmosphere. Granted, he goes way overboard on the Snake Pit squeals inside the funny farm (don't these doctors EVER sedate anyone???) and makes every night scene look like a backdrop setting for some hackneyed Halloween Horror Night. And his odd angles and lunatic lens choices do add up to something akin to visual vertigo. Yet we can see the man who would go on to make Lawnmower Man, Virtuosity, and that gross out glutton freak show Feed. At over an hour and forty minutes, Dead Pit is over-padded by half, and the zombie scenes seem to go on and on and on and on without the ample arterial spray that should accompany them. Fans who've already dismissed this review as the unsound ravings of a middle aged mental midget will absolutely adore its rebirth on the digital format. Others may want to be warned away from this Greed decade dullness. The Dead Pit could have been a classic. Instead, it's a mixed-up overlong mess.

The Video:
Offered in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation, the transfer quality of The Dead Pit is actually very good. When you consider its lo-fi roots, and how most '80s movies come across as neon nightmares, the image here is very nice. There is a little softness in the source, but that's to be expected, especially with Ms. Lawson in so many varying states of dress (and undress).

The Audio:
Sadly, there is only a boring old Mono mix offered here, given the old Dolby Digital polish, naturally. Leonard loves to use random sound effects to amplify the angst, but the lack of a multichannel choice renders their ambience rather limited.

The Extras:
Code Red does a nice job with this DVD, fleshing out the added content with an excellent array of extras. The main bonus is a full length audio commentary with Leonard, Everett, and Slate. It's refreshing, funny, and highly nostalgic. We get lots of production anecdotes, and some wicked backstage gossip as well. In addition, Lawson joins the other three for onscreen interviews that really flesh out our understanding of the film, Add in some trailers, and you have a clear, concise look at a less than exciting fright flick.

Final Thoughts:
Sometimes, the come-on is all a horror film has to offer. Think back on all the z-grade schlock you had to suffer through thanks to the intriguing VHS box or disturbing DVD cover art. Most macabre can't live up to its horror hype, and The Dead Pit definitely fits that description. Sure, there's some juicy gore and a befitting fright night atmosphere, but that's about it. The rest of the film feels drawn out and dull. For the sake of all the scary movie fans out there, a rating of Rent It will be offered. It's better than simply dismissing it outright. The first time it hit home video, the marketers of The Dead Pit 3D employed relief covers where the eyes of the lead zombie flashed red with inset LED lights. One imagines that today, no amount of technological tweaks could save this slight screamscape from itself.

Want more Gibron Goodness? Come to Bill's TINSEL TORN REBORN Blog (Updated Frequently) and Enjoy! Click Here

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