Monday, March 15

Some quick thoughts on The Dead Pit: Director's Cut (1989)

An unidentified young woman with amnesia (power-legged stuntwoman Cheryl Lawson) is institutionalized by the state to a hospital with a dark, unspoken past of ritualistic patient experimentation. The top doc of the facility (Jeremy Slate) was the one to end the reign of vivisection with a bullet to the head, but the arrival of "Jane Doe" and an earthquake seems to conjure the insane, slain practitioner of demonic lobotomy back to present day. Conditions suddenly worsen in the institution, staff begin disappearing, Ms. Doe's hallucinations grow, and the longtime dead start writhing in their pit in the basement of an abandoned building on the grounds.

This was one that I just couldn't get in over the weekend. Friday night was a wash and my planned late Saturday night double feature with 1994's underrated Brainscan fell through when I ended up asleep about twenty minutes into the very flick I'm clicking these keys over. However, I didn't hit the sack over boredom with Brett Leonard's satanic zombie hospital hoedown. Code Red's long-awaited unleashing of The Dead Pit onto digital disc in the summer of '08 pulled me back from the brink. For an embarrassingly long period before that time, I lost much interest with not only watching horror, but also collecting it. Even though a vocal minority were miffed by this, Best Buy's exclusive 2-DVD Collector's Edition is what made me pick it up and after seeing this film the ol' gears of what made me endeared to the genre in the first place were thoroughly greased. A level of rejuvenation that could only be hoped for even by a freebasing Tony Little swinging on his Gazelle trainer at 70mph with two Glade Plug-Ins hanging from his testicles and pecs glistening from a trip to Bed, Bath, & Beyond.

Okay, maybe I'm selling The Dead Pit too much, it's not some recently discovered classic, but it's a rare bird in the pantheon of trashy '80s horror. Instead of going the usual and easy route of full-on pandering by way of a gore onslaught, Leonard wisely plays both ends against the middle. We get pleasing Re-Animator-eqse surgical trauma, a busty bombshell lead running around in two Charmin paper towel sheets barely containing her bits and pieces, ghastly zombies, time-elapsed corpse melting, and a mad undead doctor with glowing red eyes. Though all this fun is tempered with gloomy off-kilter wide angle shots imbued with flooding red, blue, and green hues. No, this isn't Bava or Suspiria, but it goes to show how much mileage simple artistic touches go to enlivening modest proceedings just as much (if not more) than a cavalcade of splatter.

This consistent balance makes The Dead Pit a horror quickie that doesn't do any one aspect exceedingly well, yet in total, it's a nice trip back to when flicks like this weren't coming out the genre's ears from the invent of cheap digital and were still profitable in the rental landscape. There is a certain foreboding power in patients having foresight of something terrible over those that control them. Although the screenplay hints at this, given the throwaway $150k budget and rushed writing phase built solely around the ominous shooting location, most intrigue falls away to gooey effects. Still, the results deserve a loud golfclap, many a time others have done much worse with much more-- especially in the era of Reagan and the finest Colombian yayo.

I've been known to openly ponder why Code Red's DVD transfers all look so similar to each other. Their product have a distinctive, warmly colored, sorta hazy "video-like" picture quality. In this case, this appearance helps The Dead Pit's sense of '80s analog wonder and looks far superior to the European discs released before Code Red's edition. This presentation is also a full seven minutes longer than Imperial Entertainment's VHS or those other DVDs. Speaking of the VHS; its still cool "bumpy" plastic cover in the shape of the zombie on Code Red's cover with light-up red eyes is quite collectible if the eyes still work. I don't have a copy either way; the ones I've seen were all heavily damaged. Pop open a few brews, indulge in buttery popcorn, and enjoy the warped scenery over the director's later 180° twist into mid-'90s sci-fi backwash with Lawnmower Man and Virtuosity.


Franco Macabro said...

I kind of liked this zombie movie, it has many plot holes, but so be it, it was a fun ride!

What I found hilarious (yet pleasing to the eye) was how they got the main actress to walk around in her undies through a huge chunk of the film! Shes hot in deed, but I thought it was so gratitous.

The film felt a bit like a Freddy Krugger movie (which were at their peak during the time this movie got made) so in a way this movie was just cashing in on Freddy Krugger. But with a zombie twist which is really what makes this one different.

I thought the visuals with the evil doctor playing with his victims brains was pretty unique as well. But I remember having questions about the whole supernatural angle of isnt explained all that well either.

I found the blessing of the water on that giant water tank thing a truly original idea, the ending was gooey and messy..

The Mike said...

The video store I worked at ten years ago had a copy of the VHS, and the eyes worked. I played with it all the time, but never got time to check out the flick. Anywho, cool review, I want to check it out now.

Anonymous said...

I used to see this movie at my local video store all the time (with the eyes). I put off buying the BB 2 disc and when I finally went to get it, it was gone. Need to see this one. you dare tread upon the staircase?

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