(Canada • Lew Lehman • 1981)
A creepy and curious hybrid of monster movie and killer kid cinema, 1981’s ‘The Pit’ is an obscure horror comedy, filmed in Ontario, Canada, and Wisconsin, USA, for an estimated $1,000,000 Canadian.
Abergail’s missing and so is Mrs. Oliphant, aren’t they? And Freddy and Christina … They don’t eat chocolate bars. You know what they eat?”
Starring the eerily effective Sammy Snyders as twelve year-old oddball Jamie Benjamin, we bear witness as he is picked on by his peers, actively disliked by his neighbours, and ignored by his parents to boot. Poor Jamie’s only friend in the universe is Teddy, a toy bear with whom he regularly converses. Walking in the woods one day, Jamie discovers the pit of the title – occupied by dangerous troll-things that (the slightly vacant) Jamie calls Trogs. Naturally, when he confides this to Teddy, the bear tells Jamie to feed his tormentors to his hungry new allies; a task which he carries out with singular glee. Still desperate for affection, Jamie starts to fixate / perve on the attractive university student left to babysit him when his parents go on a trip. Now believing himself to be in love, he tries to share his secret, but with unintended results…
Reportedly Ian A. Stuart was dissatisfied when his original screenplay was markedly altered for the final film, seemingly by director Lew Lehman. In the original version, the Tra-la-logs were a figment of an 8 or 9-year old Jamie’s imagination, and the whole thing played out with much less overt humour. The 1980 novelisation of the film, ‘Teddy’ (by John Gault), is said to be more faithful to this original script, although this author has not had a chance to read a copy as of yet. Further production travails included Lehman’s wife’s refusal to allow him to film the nude scenes, except for the one featuring his own daughter (the rest instead being lensed by the screenwriter), and the last-minute redesign of the Trog costumes (they weren’t considered to be realistic enough to be committed to celluloid, necessitating reshoots in Toronto).
Despite this dischord, ‘The Pit’ has gathered a minor cult following among some, both for its odd premise and for Snyders’ convincingly disturbed performance. The film is most definitely very strange, veering between darkness and ill-conceived slapstick, throwing in a multitude of weird moods and genre tropes for good measure, and even abandoning the lead entirely for a good portion of the film. If you’re looking for something a little bit awkward yet worth your time, you could do worse than to check out ‘The Pit’. If you prefer a bit more consistency and some good humoured Eighties schlock, you might consider Tibor Takács’ 1987 film ‘The Gate’ instead.