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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Pit (Blu-ray)
The Pit (Blu-ray)
Kino // R // October 18, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted October 14, 2016 | E-mail the Author
Awwww, those poor tralalogs down in the pit...!

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Those fuzzy little guys have gotta be hungry. What do you reckon they eat, Teddy? Candy bars?

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Nah. Beef?

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Getting closer. Oooh! I know!

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The Pit is the most gloriously strange movie I've experienced in a long, long time...and this is coming from a guy who just last week reviewed a flick in which Harry Potter's farting corpse is ridden like a jet ski off a desert island.

See? You swing around on one little tree wearing nothing but a Superman cape and a smile, and all of a sudden, you're an outcast. Nobody likes Jamie (Sammy Snyders). The kids in the sleepy little Wisconsin town of Beaver Dam tease and bully him relentlessly, and the adults just sort of shake their heads and sigh whenever he walks into a room. Now that he's getting to be around that age, Jamie's somehow gotten even creepier, doing oddball things like pasting a photo of the librarian's head onto a nude model, then giving it to her. He delights in watching the frogs in his terrarium gobble up insects. His only pal in the world is Teddy, his kinda ratty looking stuffed teddy bear. But...hey! While his parents are off in Seattle trying to find 'em all a new place to call home, maybe Jamie can make friends with his new babysitter. Sandy (Jeannie Elias) is up for the challenge. This psychology student is putting herself through college by looking after...err, special children, and sure enough, Jamie takes to her instantly. Like, hi-nice-to-meet-you-now-I'm-gonna-slink-under-the-dining-room-table-and-look-up-your-skirt instantly. Who can blame the kid for having a crush, though? Kind-hearted. Beautiful. Rocking that Adrienne Barbeau 'do. Jamie leers at Sandy as she sleeps. He scrawls love notes in crimson red on the bathroom mirror while she's showering. He somehow convinces Sandy to give him a bath, which is a pretty baller move for a twelve year old, I gotta say.

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That's why you don't get your tips on romance from a stuffed animal, and...well, that's not all Teddy tells Jamie to do. Deep in the woods back behind his house, Jamie had stumbled onto a massive pit. Lurking inside are hunchbacked, furry, fanged creatures he calls tralalogs. Since Jamie's the only one who knows about them, he feels a certain responsibility to take care of 'em, just like the snake and frogs in his terrarium. It takes some trial and error, yeah, but he eventually figures out that these beasts are carnivores. Teddy reminds Jamie who's chock full of meat: every last bastard in Beaver Dam who's mistreated him.

So, yeah, a creepy kid's teddy bear convinces him to systematically lure his neighbors into a pit to be devoured by prehistoric trolls. That itself is a bonkers premise, and The Pit takes it to even loopier extremes. Jamie has a heart-to-heart with a cow. He blackmails a librarian into stripping, he not-that-covertly snaps Polaroids with her tits out, and, through Teddy, he pervs "I'm going to look at these a lot!" Jamie doesn't even have to push his prey into the pit most of the time. The sons of bitches who've wronged him tend to just waltz right into it, which never fails to crack me up. Since Teddy's voice sounds like Jamie through a reverb pedal, the implication is that it's all in the kid's schizophrenic noggin, but then there's one moment where the bear's head spins around to leer at Sandy. Jamie's not even in the scene, and nothing like that ever happens with Teddy again. The murders are played for laughs, to the point that they're even backed by zany, whimsical cues in the score. Things eventually take a turn, and a flick that's been all but bloodless up to that point suddenly gets extremely gory and gruesome. Jamie and Teddy all but disappear from the last couple reels, with The Pit transmogrifying into a half-assed police procedural. Sergeant MacNally (J.R. Zimmerman), doing an Oirish brogue straight outta Batman's Chief O'Hara, shrugs off the spate of mysterious disappearances. Eh, they're all just missing. Don't worry; they'll turn up! This makes way for my favorite line of dialogue in the flick: "Sergeant? We have another missing person, only this time, he's not missing: he's dead!" There's a really elaborate frame-up. Jamie's parents are off house hunting in Seattle for what seems like months, it sure doesn't seem like they're on the verge of moving when they get back, and there's no real explanation for the state of things with Jamie when he finally pops up again for a pretty respectable twist ending.

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It's not just the surreally strange things that happen in The Pit that have cemented its status as a cult classic. It never really lands on a consistent tone, bounding back and forth between a psychological drama/thriller, straight-up comedy, and visceral horror. I can't tell if I'm reading too much into the movie or if it really is implied that Jamie's mother may have been molesting him, which would make its whimsical sense of humor that much more jarring. It was helmed by a first-time director, shot by a first-time cinematographer, and cut together by a first-time editor, and...oof, does that inexperience show, even in the clumsily crafted kill that opens the film. While The Pit doesn't succeed in the sense of...y'know, succeeding, it's endearingly ridiculous and terrible, putting almost the entirety of the so-bad-it's-good crowd to shame. It's such a rarely rivaled experience that Kino Lorber isn't just bringing The Pit to Blu-ray; it's getting a revival in theaters coast-to-coast as well. I totally see why. Highly Recommended.

The Pit wasn't just spiffed up to look really nice on your HDTV. Kino Lorber Repertory is wheeling it out to theaters, so it's been remastered with something close enough to the white glove treatment. Small nicks and flecks of dust rear their head quite a bit but are readily shrugged off, never managing to get in the way. Even though the contrast looks like it's been dialed up a touch too high, the colors in this presentation can be unbelievably gorgeous. Admittedly, quite a few day exteriors are more dominated by cool greens and blues than I would've expected. Dunno how close that comes to the way The Pit looked when it first made the rounds in theaters thirty-five years ago, but for whatever it's worth, this ensures that bright reds and the like really pop. I can't get over how crisp and overflowing with detail this new 2K scan is. Gawk at the texture of Sandy's coat, for instance:

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There's a very fine sheen of grain on display here, and while it's more pronounced than I would've expected, it's rendered reasonably well just the same. Upon close inspection, there are instances when the grain starts to artifact, though that's hardly a chronic problem. Look at the blue sky breaking up here or the shadow beneath the framed collage-thingie in Jamie's bedroom, for instance. In motion and at a normal viewing distance, the authoring of this disc absolutely looks nice enough to my eyes. Those with particularly large displays or projection rigs may have a different reaction. Aside from all that, the framing sometimes does strike me as a bit tight. If this presentation had been letterboxed to the usual 1.85:1, even those very faint bars would've masked the tails of certain letters in the opening credits.

All those "but"s, "although"s, and "however"s up there might be painting the wrong picture. Sure, there are eccentricities I could poke and prod at, but I really am very impressed with this presentation overall. With a movie this off-the-rails, who's gonna be thrown off by a few visual quirks anyway?

The Pit is unleashed at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and arrives on a dual layer Blu-ray disc.

Sure, sure, there was a little grousing about the way The Pit looks, but as for the way it sounds...? Straight up rave review. Presented in two-channel mono, The Pit's 16-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack really is outstanding. The film's dialogue is astonishingly clean and clear, completely trumping what I expected to hear walking in. I couldn't spot any intrusive hiss or background noise either, although I did hear a couple of minor pops at one point. There's a conversation in front of a water fountain that sounds awfully hissy, but I guess that's either the way the fountain was captured during production or a really clunky attempt at Foley work afterwards. Some of the effects can be a little shrill, particularly a late sequence with a cop goofing around on an electric wheelchair, but that sort of thing is not even close to being a persistent headache. I'm impressed with the track's dynamic range, especially when it comes to those bass clarinets in the score.

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Nicely done all around, with the caveat that, commentary aside, there are no other audio options: not even captions for the deaf or hard of hearing.

  • Interviews (44 min.; HD): The Pit piles on four newly-conducted interviews with folks on both sides of the camera. Clocking in at sixteen minutes, the lengthiest of the bunch is a conversation with star Sammy Snyders. He speaks about inhabiting a dark, disturbed character so far removed from his iconic performance of Tom Sawyer, that being his age in a movie with that amount of female nudity wasn't as big a deal as you might think, what a joy it was to film in the very excited town of Beaver Dam, and why he stepped away from acting after this. Snyders mentions that Sandy was initially played by another actress, although she didn't seem as if she could stand toe-to-toe with Jamie as she should. That unnamed actress was recast by Jeanne Elias, who also scores a very charming interview on this disc. Among the highlights are pointing out how ridiculous (and the wrong kind of wretch-inducing!) the initial troglodyte costumes looked and how the funny way she runs required some quick thinking to work around.

    The Pit is far removed from the film that screenwriter Ian A. Stewart wrote, and he doesn't mince words about how his badly his vision was butchered. The story demands that someone eight or nine years old be in the lead; director Lew Lehman didn't even look at any of the young actors that had been lined up, instead casting a fourteen-year-old that completely upends the dynamic between Jamie and Sandy. He envisioned an ending that would've cast The Pit in an entirely different light, and none of that ever made it onto the screen. It's revealed that he directed the handful of scenes with nudity since Lehman's wife was on the set and was too skittish to film any of that as a result. I particularly enjoyed hearing about the inspirations for his screenplay, drawn from acquaintances who worked with troubled children. Composer Victor Davies is the only one of the interviewees to mention that Lehman had been fired from The Pit, although the producers had such a hard time making heads or tails of what the director had shot that they eventually rehired him anyway. Davies speaks about the instrumentation, timing everything with a stop watch since click tracks weren't really a thing in Canada at the time, and how he was able to get so much bang for his buck with the score.
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  • Audio Commentary: With as deliriously over-the-top as The Pit is, it's kind of a drag that its audio commentary is this dry. Canuxploitation!'s Paul Corupe and genre fanatic Jason Pichonsky are clearly passionate about the film, but they devote so much time to reiterating the interviews elsewhere on this disc and delving into the cast/crew's other body of work in such excessive detail that my interest heavily wavered. Although I wish the conversation were more lively, there are still many highlights worth noting: how executive producer John F. Bassett's world-class tennis champion of a daughter indirectly led this Canadian film to be shot on the other side of the border, that AIP and Paramount both mulled over the screenplay for Teddy for a while there, that the topless swimmer near the end is actually the daughter of director Lew Lehman, his failed attempt at editing the movie in his head as his one-time collaborator John Huston had, and exceptionally specific notes about the construction of the titular pit. Of particular interest are comments about how the darker novelization diverges from what made it into theaters. I'd certainly say this commentary is still worth a listen, but it's probably better left playing in the background.

  • Trailers (11 min.; mix of SD and HD): Although there isn't a trailer for The Pit itself to be found here, Kino Lorber has heaped 'em on for Beware! The Blob, Jennifer, Burnt Offerings, Needful Things, and House of the Long Shadows.

The Final Word
What's that, Teddy? Oh, I agree. Very Highly Recommended, at least if your taste in genre cinema is the right kind of offbeat.
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Highly Recommended
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