Junkfood Horror: The Pit

By  · Published on October 28th, 2011

Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema; we told you not to go out tonight. You have entered the unholy realm of one of the internet’s most horrifying creations…well, most horrifying creations that don’t involve the sharing of bodily fluids in one fashion or another. Every week during this glorious month I will chainsaw my way through a stinky horror film, severing large chunks of fault from its flesh. But then, I will lovingly sew those chunks together and, with a lightning bolt of legitimate praise, will instill it with new life. Then, as I watch my creation wreak havoc on the villagers, a.k.a readers, Igor and I will happily nosh on a disgustingly tasty snack food item paired to the film.

This week’s abomination: The Pit.

The Pit is the happy, all-too-familiar story of boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, boy shoves people he doesn’t like into sunken pit filled with ancient ravenous monsters. The protagonist here, and the best pro-abortion argument I’ve ever seen, is Jamie. Jamie is a eccentric recluse whose only real friends are the inhabitants of his terrarium and his teddy bear. Jamie is also fond of the monstrous denizens of a large hole in the woods: the trogs. Jamie, obsessing over an older woman he can’t have, becomes even more unstable than usual and begins to go out of his way to ensure the survival of the trogs…by feeding them human meat.

What Makes It Bad?

Have you ever been sunburned from head to foot and had to ride home from the beach in a Jeep with leather seats and poor alignment? It’s almost as uncomfortable as watching The Pit. Jamie is a mobile crazy factory with a Partridge Family haircut. At first, we are dumbfounded by the seemingly undue abuse he suffers from the townsfolk. He seems a touch weird but certainly undeserving of something like a punch in the face just for asking to be in the popular kid’s club, right? But had we known where this mouth-breather’s fractured psyche was going to take him, take us, we would have slipped that popular kid a shiv and told him to finish the job. Jamie’s insistent pursuit of the twice-his-age babysitter is, in medical terms, just plain icky. He sneaks a peek under her dress, creeps in on her while she’s showering, and begs her to wash his back while in the tub as he assures her “I’ll be all covered with suds.” It’s like Mary Kay Letourneau in reverse which, surprisingly, turns out to be twice as creepy.

If the hemorrhoid-like discomfort of Jamie’s relationship with his babysitter isn’t enough to give you the heebies and/or the jeebies, Jamie has a teddy bear. What’s that you say? You don’t find the fact that a twelve-year-old harboring a sixteen-year-old’s libido would still have a teddy bear? I’ll grant you that, but what if I told you that Jamie talks to that bear…and it talks back…in his own voice. Luckily, Jamie’s normal speaking voice is what I imagine that dog who told the Son of Sam who to kill sounded like; soft, but unmistakably coo-coo pants. The teddy bear is the one that advises Jamie not only on the best way to catch a glimpse of babysitter nip, but also strongly urges him to kill. It’s actually just as silly as it sounds. They were clearly going for creepy, but ultimately it’s just sad to watch this pale-faced psycho tot communicate his sexual hangups to a stuffed bear. I mean if you’re going to do that, you might as well name the kid Brian. Hahah….hmmm. Note to self: edit that line out later.

Tonally, The Pit has as many identity disorders as its toe-headed lead. It sets itself up to be a Carrie rehash, then it becomes an almost Lovecraftian monster story; not too jarring. But then randomly it becomes a silly, slapstick-filled feeding frenzy full of both whack and zane. It adopts this tone despite the fact that Jamie is sending children, ballerinas, and even old women in wheelchairs to their deaths. So imagine Little Shop of Horrors with a raging case of Aspergers. And there are musical cues throughout the whole film that seem set on selling it as the type of wildly entertaining schlock for which the 80s was so identifiable. But except for a few glimmering moments, The Pit is not fun. When it gets to the end it’s a dark, ugly cautionary tale…for which there isn’t even a moral. Then it’s a creatures-on-a-rampage flick followed finally by a procedural police thriller. The American Medical Association strongly recommends wearing a neck brace while watching The Pit…or at least they would if they weren’t busy with all that cancer nonsense.

There are plenty of odd and ends and missteps in The Pit to keep the schlock train a-rollin’. Jamie may be the product of an abusive home, a chemical imbalance, or violent comic books, but I honestly feel the more likely cause of his psychosis is horrible editing. The Pit just STARTS in the middle of a child’s Halloween party – because the movie hates us – with no studio logos or lead-in black; keep an eye out for the kid dressed as, as far as I can tell, an octopus who pilots a WWII era bomber. Then, just as Jamie shoves his first victim into the titular crevasse, the music begins to swell…only to be cut off immediately as we move to the next scene. Nice job, capuchin monkey intern. Or how about the little girl that keeps calling Jamie “funny person” as if that’s an actual insult. Shut up kid, you’re name is Abergail. Who the hell is named Abergail? I’ll tell you who, people who think “funny person” is an effective insult. I take that back, it is insulting to Barbra Streisand movie enthusiasts slavish to title accuracy.

The design of the monsters in The Pit leaves much to be desired (read: look as if they were designed by five-year-olds with a couple biology textbooks and astigmatism). I’m all for monsters looking like “a cross between x and y,” but the mammal/sea creature crossover is a little goofy. It looks like An American Werewolf in…a fish. Or how about the fact that our straw-haired little sociopath disappears for a good twenty minutes near the end of the film? Don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled for the break from Jimmy No Marbles, but it takes a certain amount of boldness to abandon your main characters that most, you know, good films don’t boast.

Why I Love It!

As much as I love the context-free, unabashedly fun horror movies of the 1980s, something about The Pit just grabbed me; thankfully it wasn’t Jamie or his devious stuffed animal. The loneliness of adolescence is an emotionally disturbing and terrifying experience and I am always fascinated with the myriad methods by which horror films communicate that literally. Why doesn’t Jamie have any friends? Because he drives them all way (figurative)…by feeding them to prehistorical creatures who live in the woods (horror literal). If they were going to write a series of young adult books about Jamie’s life, it would be set at Cthulu Jr. High. Despite it’s not being based preexisting material, as you watch The Pit, you can see how it could have easily come from a horror short story…and how the imaginary short story is better. This is exactly the kind of film that could, and honestly should, be remade and would benefit from the changes in cinematic landscape since the original was released.

SPOILER ALERT!!! I actually enjoyed the monster hunt section of the film. Not only were we granted reprieve from the obnoxious kid acting of Cedric Von WhinnyMouth (I can’t remember the actor’s actual name), but the movie sort of becomes a clone of Humanoids from the Deep; the monsters setting up shop around a swimming hole and snatching up bathing beauties. This section of the movie gives us the most practical-effects-heavy innards snacking and speaks to the danger of letting loose a contained evil. Once they corner the beasts back in the hole, they gun them down with gusto and cover over the pit with dirt. It’s actually sort of heartbreaking despite itself.

The ending of The Pit had me leaping up and applauding. SPOILER ALERT!!! Well, I leaped as much as any man could who had spent the previous 90 minutes building a despair fort out of blankets and Funyan wrappers on the couch; did I mention how dark this movie gets? Once Jamie resurfaces, apparently having somehow escaped any suspicion of any of the countless murders he committed, even the ones set to Benny Hill music, he goes to live with his grandparents. While there, he is introduced to a young girl who is assigned the uneviable task of being Jamie’s playmate. As they chase each other into the cornfield they come across, you guessed it, another pit. At this point, we’re all thinking the same thing: that Jamie’s troubles have followed him to his new home and that it’s all going to start over again. What we should be thinking is, “where the hell did Jamie’s parents go and why is he suddenly living with his grandparents without any explanation?” But instead, the little girl makes a passing comment insinuating that she knows all about the Trogs, circles behind Jamie, and shoves him in. It’s such a legitimately effective ending that both gives Jamie his comeuppance and provides a chilling condemnation of every child who ever existed ever. Do not trust children.

Junkfood Pairing: Teddy Bear Lollipops

Inspired by the masterminding stuffed toy, enjoy these delicious teddy bears on sticks…before they decide to kill you and mount pieces of you on pikes. It’s ironic that these treats are most often made with molds considering The Pit operates so far outside the mold of a traditional 80s horror film.

For more teeth-rotting goodness, browse the Junkfood Cinema archives.

Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.