The Pit (1981)


This is a weird little movie.  A 12 year old boy named Jamie Benjamin has recently moved into a new town with his mom and dad and is instantly made an outcast by the townsfolk.  Poor kid can’t catch a break as we see him ridiculed and bullied by pretty much everyone around him.  Add to this, Jamie is just discovering girls and his attentions to them are becoming a bit deviant to say the least.  And oh yeah, he found a pit in the woods full of what he calls “tra-la-logs”, and what we’d call cave trolls (or troglodytes).

His parents leave go on vacation and leave him with a babysitter named Sandy who is a psychology student in college.  Jamie starts up the pre-pubescent perving hardcore right of the bat by “accidentally” dropping his silverware on the floor during a dinner with her to look up her skirt.  His dad busts him right in front of her, but Sandy is unfazed.  Sandy learns more about poor Jamie; he doesn’t have a lot of friends and it’s unclear if the issue is with Jamie or the townspeople; perhaps it’s both. His only friend is his teddy bear, aptly named Teddy, who gives Jamie bad advice.  The film strongly hints Jamie is schizophrenic.  The town librarian, Mrs. Livingston, tries to warn Sandy about Jamie’s “tendencies”.   Since this is a film where every one is a bit stupid, Sandy doesn’t listen to her, which is odd because this happens shortly after Sandy awakens to find Jamie staring at her open nightgown while she slept.

Jamie tries to tell Sandy about the tra-la-logs and asks her what they would eat.  She of course, doesn’t believe him, and advises candy bars.  He tries it, and it doesn’t work.  So he switches to meat purchased with money stolen from Sandy.  The creatures take to this very well.  Eventually, Jamie runs out of funds from Sandy, and decides to start feeding the towns people to them.  One hilarious part has him wheeling a hapless old lady in her wheel chair from the center of town all the way to the pit in the middle of the woods while she is screaming her head off.  The film has a very dark sense of humor.

In one of the most iconic scenes  Sandy asks Jamie about her missing boyfriend at one point.  This angers him because of his obsession with her.  He responds “Well, they don’t eat candy bars…”, and basically confesses to murdering about four or five people.  She must not be learning anything in her psychology classes because she doesn’t understand what he’s telling her and tries to rekindle her friendship with him.  She must really suck at her psychology classes.

I don’t want to spoil anymore for those who haven’t seen it. Something rather sad and shocking (to me anyways) happens about a bit after this scene that changes things up.  Evidently, this was originally a much darker script and the tra-la-logs were figments of Jamie’s imagination; that is of course not the case in the film.  Writer Ian A. Stuart was not happy with the changes. The novelization, Teddy by John Gault (who is he?), stays a bit closer to the original story from what I’ve read on-line, which means I’ll have to track it down at some point in the near future.

pit3This is an old school creepy kid flick that has a lot of edge and humor and is completely insane and I don’t think could ever be made in today’s culture.  The Pit has become a bit of a cult classic and I’d say for good reason.  It’s a very bizarre and lurid tale filled with characters who do really dumb things for us to laugh at.  The only real fault I have with the film is the ending.  It’s dealing of karmic justice feels tacked on to say the least, but it is just as silly and ludicrous as everything else that came before it. The Pit would be the only film it’s director Lew Lehman would do.  This was originally a Canuxploitation film, but Lehman was hired to direct.  Lehman was American and the film was shot in Wisconsin.  Having never directed a film before, Lehman was really out of depth, which explains why the film is all over the place tonally. You can read more about this in an interview with Ian A. Stuart here.  Be warned, there are spoilers.

Normally in these situations, I’m on the side of the writer, but in this instance, I think Lehman was right to make the changes in making the creatures real.  In a novel, the psychological element works better, but it’s such an insane concept to begin with that on film it translates better if the creatures are real. In both stories, the ending is the same, and makes just about as much sense, so there’s that.

Sammy Snyders, the child actor who played Jamie, is now a dance instructor in Toronto.


1 Comment

  1. Excellent review. I want to see it again.

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