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1989's Dead Pit directed by Brett Leonard, takes place in and around the 'State Institute For The Mentally Insane' where one Doctor Ramzi (Danny Gochnauer) uses the unwitting inmates at his disposable as guinea pigs to further his work in the field of lobotomies! When the experiments inevitably don't go so well, he tosses their corpses into a giant put in the bowels of the hospital where they are to gotten rid of, permanently. When Doctor Swan (Jeremy Slate) finds out what his co-worker has been up to when no one has been watching him, he shoots him dead.
A few years later and an insanely voluptuous Jane Doe (Cheryl Lawson) takes up residence in the institute. As she gets used to her surroundings, she starts to have recurring dreams of good old Doctor Ramzi. Insisting that she's had her memories erased by someone under duress, it's clear that her presence in the hospital is key to... something. When an earthquake erupts in the area, things long thought buried escape their containment and start wreaking havoc above ground, leaving only Jane Doe and an aged Doctor Swan to stop the resurrected Ramzi from once again conducting his sadistic experiments.
Gory and garish in all the right ways, Dead Pit runs about ten to fifteen minutes longer than it probably should have but still proves to be a really entertaining mix of mad scientist nonsense and zombie horror. There's a lot of really cool primary lighting used in this one that, when combined with the great hospital location and some really cool old school practical makeup and gore effects, basically adds up to late eighties horror movie gold. Leonard's direction has just enough style to it to help keep things visually interesting and the film benefits from a legitimately cool score as well. Anytime the movie's modest budget shows through, which happens semi-regularly, well, that just adds to the film's charms.
As far as the performances go, Gochnauer is a blast to watch as the film's main villain, definitely playing the part with a lot of amusing enthusiasm. He steals a few of the scenes that he's in and is just really entertaining. Slate is good as the more noble of the two doctors in charge, he's quirky but likeable and a good choice for the role. Cheryl Lawson, who spends most of the movie quite scantily clad, plays her confused patient well and looks great doing it. She had to have been cold though…
If Dead Pit doesn't necessarily rank up there with top tier zombie movies like George Romero's Night/Dawn/Day Of The Dead trilogy or Stuart Gordon's classic Re-Animator, it's definitely one of the better middle-tier American zombie films made during the eighties. It's the right mix of schlock, horror, atmosphere, exploitation and general weirdness.
Dead Pit arrives on region free Blu-ray from Code Red in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.78.1 widescreen and taking up 20.8GBs of space on the 25GB disc. Taken from a "new 2k scan of the original negative with extensive scene-by-scene color correction," this looks pretty strong. There are some very minor compression artifacts noticeable in some of the scenes with darkness and fog in them but they aren't a deal breaker and really not all that noticeable when the film is in motion. Colors look very good, especially those greens, and skin tones are natural looking throughout. We get strong black levels here and while detail can vary a bit from scene to scene due to the lighting and smoke machines used, overall this shapes up quite nicely.
The only audio option on the disc is an English language 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track, there are no alternate language options or subtitles provided here. Overall this track sounds pretty solid. It's properly balanced with a decent bit of range to it, the score definitely benefitting from the additional range provided by the lossless option.
Extras, all of which are carried over from the older single-disc DVD release (there was a Best Buy exclusive two-disc DVD edition that had additional supplements included on a second disc that have not been ported over to this Blu-ray edition), start off with a commentary track from director Brett Leonard, co-writer/producer Gimel Everette and star Jeremy Slate. It's an enjoyable and active talk that goes over the writing and pre-production process, casting the picture, effects and location work, who did what in front of and behind the camera, the film's reception and lots more. These guys are a lot of fun to listen to and they tell some pretty amusing stories here.
The disc also includes on-camera interviews, this first of which is as twenty-one minute session with Brett Leonard. The second interview spends eleven minutes with Gimel Everett. The third interview spends thirteen minutes with the film's lovely leading lady, Cheryl Lawson, who now works as a stuntwoman. She didn't participate in the commentary so it's nice to see her included here and get some stories about her experiences on the film and how she feels about it in hindsight. A fourteen minute interview with Jeremy Slate is also provided. The interviews with three commentary participants cover a lot of the same ground as their group talk but there are occasional bits and pieces in here that didn't make it into that track that fans will appreciate.
The disc also contains a trailer for the feature and bonus trailers for Blue Monkey (as Insect!), Guyana: Cult Of The Damned and Death Ring as well as menus and chapter selection. This release comes packaged with a slipcover (sadly, no glowing eyes though… VHS renters of the eighties will remember the film's eye-catching tape cover!).
Dead Pit is a really entertaining film, a zombie movie that mashes in some other genre elements to keep things fun and interesting. Code Red has done a nice job bringing the film to Blu-ray with a solid presentation. No new extras here, really, but everything from the standard edition DVD release is carried over and worth checking out if you haven't gone through them before. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.