THE PIT (1981) Blu-ray
Director: Lew Lehman
Kino Lorber

Canada's oddest tax shelter horror film THE PIT hits Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber.

Twelve-year-old Jamie Benjamin (Sammy Snyders, in a role quite different from his better known series part as Tom Sawyer in HUCKLEBERRY FINN AND HIS FRIENDS) just does not fit in anywhere. He is bullied on the playground by classmate Freddy (Paul Grisham) and his girlfriend Cristina (Wendy Schmidt), derogatorily called a "funny person" by snotty neighbor girl Abigail (Andrea Swartz), disliked by wheelchair-bound elderly Miss Oliphant (Lillian Graham, AGNES OF GOD), misunderstood by pretty teacher Miss Lynde (Sonja Smits, VIDEODROME), and Abigail's librarian aunt Marg Livingstone (Laura Hollingsworth) finds his sexual overtures disturbing; even his parents (Laura Press and THE SADIST's Richard Alden) are at a loss at how to deal with him. Jamie's only friends are Teddy, his stuffed bear who actually talks back to him, and the mysterious Trollologs that inhabit a pit in the middle of the woods. Much to the relief of the neighborhood, Jamie will soon be leaving since Mr. Benjamin has been transferred, and his parents go house hunting and leave him in the company of college student Sandy (Jeannie Elias, NOMADS) who has an academic interest in difficult children. Jamie turns his romantic attentions to Sandy who also rebuffs him, but he gets it into his head that the cause is her jock boyfriend (Gerard Jordan, FUNERAL HOME). Jamie confides in Sandy about the Trollologs, but she believes they are imaginary friends and shows him the definition of Troglodytes to convince him that these cave people are long extinct and probably mythological. Jamie reads up more on them and discovers that they are carnivorous and resorts to stealing money from Sandy in order to feed them raw hamburger. When Sandy confronts him about the thefts, Jamie seeks Teddy's advice as to how to feed his friends. Teddy suggests that he feed them humans, but only the wicked ones, allowing Jamie to avenge himself on those who have made his life miserable as well as removing his romantic rival. The police do not make connections between the disappearances or rate them as serious until Jamie runs out of wicked people and throws a rope down into the pit to allow the creatures to find their own sources of food.

A late entry into the "demonic child" genre, THE PIT plays on paper like an 1980s horror paperback but translates to the screen like a warped version of a family film thanks to the wholesome presence of Snyders, the intentionally comic montage of Jamie leading various wicked people to their doom, and the big orchestral sound of compose Victor Davies who sometimes channels Hammer's James Bernard and other times Disney wonderment (although a Canadian production, it was actually shot in the yesteryear town of Beaver Dam, Wisconsin). The film's disquieting sexual aspects – including a scene of Sandy bathing Jamie or Jamie calling Marg claiming to have kidnapped Abigail in order to get the older woman to strip in front of her window so he can snap Polaroids – seem to go against the grain of the story in their execution more so than their presence, and various touches by director Lew Lehman (whose previous work in film had been the script for John Huston's reviled and largely unseen Canadian horror film PHOBIA) that deny the entirely psychological explanation of the original script while not going far enough with the scenes of violence and gore perpetrated by the creatures once they get out of the pit. In spite of its imperfections, the film does remain rewatchable for the degree of queasiness it engenders, the intended moments of black comedy, and those few moments where it does strive for significance.

Released theatrically by New World, the film went to VHS through Embassy. New World retained the TV rights and the film played in heavy rotation during the 1990s with other New World titles, and it seems that they got the video rights back since Lakeshore licensed the film to Anchor Bay for one of the company's double feature DVDs with the awful HELLGATE. Kino Lorber's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray comes from a brand new 2K scan that looks quite grainy with the contrasts one expects of a 35mm print rather than a negative or intermediate source. Detail is good with every strand of hair in Jamie's bowl cut hair as evident as Sandy's frizzy do and the finer points of the creature designs in the few good shots we get. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track delivers clear dialogue and a quite vivid representation of Davies' score.

The film is also accompanied by an audio commentary by film historian Jason Pichonsky and's Paul Corupe who provide sober discussion for a cockeyed film while also noting the ways in which it is a guilty pleasure for both of them. They reveal that the origins of screenwriter Ian A. Stuart's original concept in anecdotes of a child psychologist who told him about a deeply disturbed but artistic child who would draw demonic creatures and send them after people he disliked (who would then be effectively dead to him) and a ventriloquist friend who worked with autistic children and found one that would respond only to the dummy, and that the everything past a certain point in the story was supposed to be revealed as having taken place entirely in his head. Also covered is the role producers John F. Bassett (PAPERBACK HERO) and Bennet Fode (BIRDS IN PARADISE) played separately in Canada's early filmmaking endeavors and the tax shelter program (Basset was actually commissioned to write a report on whether filmmaking was a viable industry for the country and even suggested a quota program for the screening ratio of Canadian to American product that was never adapted), and that Bassett discovered the Beaver Dam location when his tennis pro daughter Carling trained at a school in the town. They also discuss the differences between the film and the novelization which attempted to reconcile elements of the script with the changes in the film, was more darkly sexual, told the story from a different character POV, and was unambiguous about Teddy's supernatural nature.

For such a marginal film, Kino has racked up some more impressive extras, including an interview with star Snyders (16:06) who reveals that he started out as a dancer and moved into commercials and voiceovers before getting into acting. He recalls being oblivious to some aspects of the story but working closely with Lehman and trying to get into the head of the character. He also recalls shooting in Beaver Dam and the welcome they got from the locals. Co-star Elias also appears in an interview (7:21) discussing her only lead role, replacing the original actress whose chemistry with Snyders was unbalanced, and reveals that Lehman originally hired children to suit up as the creatures but replaced them with little people after the kids got sick working in the heavy make-up and masks in the warm weather. Screenwriter Stuart (12:31) elaborates on points made in the commentary about the origins of the project, the changes made during filming including the most damaging one of making Jamie older than the eight-to-nine year old character whose stage of psychological development would be different, and also reveals that he shot the nude scenes since Lehman's wife objected (although she herself doubles as the half-clad body of a victim and the couple's daughter has a topless shot). He also reveals that co-producer Bassett called him and told him that they had ruined his script. Composer Davies also appears in an interview (7:34) discussing his early work and his decision to make his mark with this early scoring assignment by putting his own salary into hiring more musicians for a Hollywood sound. The disc also includes trailers for BEWARE THE BLOB, JENNIFER, BURNT OFFERINGS, NEEDFUL THINGS, and HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS. (Eric Cotenas)