The Dead Pit 1988
Directed by: Brett Leonard
Starring: Jeremy Slate, Cheryl Lawson, Stephen Gregory Foster
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Ok so I’m not trying to hide the fact that a SLASH above is a website dedicated to slashers. It’s easy to see because I mention the word in every other sentence (says a lot for my vocabulary, but hey!) The Dead Pit isn’t exactly one of those flicks, but for a fair part of the runtime it incorporates some of the genre’s defining elements. There’s a psychopathic, surgical masked serial killer that has the trademark heavy breath and only the heroine can see him, which obviously references Halloween. There are also some similar themed stalking set pieces, chase sequences and fairly gruesome murders that borrow all the standard elements that make up a stalk and slash flick. The film is like an insane mix of Exquisite Tenderness, Dawn of the Mummy and strangely enough, The Exorcist. I’m not alone in this theory though, beacuse among others, Bill Gibron over at DVD talk said, “a simple slasher film upended by a Lucio Fulci inspired unnecessary unleashing of the living dead” But overall it’s a zombie movie; even if it’s an original one with an inventive surrounding for the plot to unravel in. I suppose the question that you really want answered if you’re reading this is, – is it any good?
In the beginning, Jane Doe is admitted to the State Mental asylum (sorry but they don’t give us the name) with amnesia. She protests that she hasn’t lost her memory, but it was in fact stolen from her! Her arrival spells bad news for the other inmates however, when an earthquake rocks the institution. Soon after, the patients start losing their minds even more rapidly and people begin to disappear although Jane knows that they have been brutally murdered by the deranged looking surgeon with a bullet hole in his head hanging around the complex…
The Dead Pit is essentially a patchwork of a movie and not just because it attempts to be a successful crossbreed of horror sub-genres. A claustrophobic and effectively eerie atmosphere is created at times, even though it feels like there are far too many ideas fighting for attention. There’s definitely some action here for a SLASH above readers, which is why I decided to review it for this site and I noticed that if you press stop at the fifty minute mark, you wouldn’t think that this was anything other than late-eighties slasher trash. I guess that the amalgamation of ‘a bit of everything’ can be put down to a director who, overflowing with enthusiasm for his début, wanted to try his hand at the styles of Carpenter, Romero and Friedkin.
It’s not all plain sailing though and the excellent lighting that is evident in the opening scenes seems to inexplicably evade the rest of the movie. The plot seems to crumble from imaginative to downright inept by the time that we get to the conclusion and it flies back and forth from sluggish to energetic throughout. Surprisingly enough, the BBFC – who were at their strictest in the eighties – were implausibly lenient when they gave this an 18 certificate. They left an astonishing amount of gore unedited and the story benefits from its presence.
This was Cheryl Lawson’s first movie and maybe it was a massive ask to leave the screenplay on such inexperienced shoulders. She spends most of the runtime in a tight T-shirt (obviously without a bra, I mean come on) and small knickers. That’s great for T&A lovers because she’s lick-lippingly gorgeous and exceptionally well endowed, but it looks especially gratuitous and somewhat unnecessary and subtracts from any credibility that she could have gained. (Name me an asylum where the females run around in their underwear?). She does ok with the script and is by no means the worst performer featured, but I think she would fare much better in a role that required less physicality. The entire cast here weren’t very good and I think it had more to do with a lack of direction, because they all seemed to be overacting like Al Pacino on speed.
Funnily enough, Cheryl once sent me a message on IMDB in reply to something I said in an earlier review, which was very kind of her. She did a little more acting, but became an extremely busy stunt-woman, appearing in big budget hits, such as Spiderman 2, 24 and Ocean’s Eleven.
Director Brett Leonard didn’t disappear after this like the myriad of other horror film-makers from the eighties. Instead he managed to climb on to other things – most notably Lawnmower Man. It’s obvious from his experimental photography that he is creative enough to offer something to cinema, but unforgivably at times he struggles to create suspense when it felt like it was most needed. He also co-wrote the screenplay, which is notable mostly for having more holes than a fisherman’s net. Some of those include: How did a doctor that was locked in a basement with a bullet in his head manage to find the time to erase Jane’s memory? How can he be dead for twenty-one years and keep up those youthful looks? (Demi Moore asked me to ask) And most importantly, were they deliberately aiming for paroxysms of laughter with their method for stopping the hordes of zombies? It has to be seen to be believed! Answers on a postcard please…
As I said, there are far too many ideas fighting for attention here, which leaves the best of them struggling to be realised. Huge potential that should have been further developed is sadly wasted by the film’s attempt to be a jack of all trades. There are a few redeeming features that prevent it from complete failure, but ultimately far too much has been crammed into far too little. It is indeed a shame, but what could have been a benchmark in horror history is unforgivably flawed.
I loved the beautiful final girl, liked the gore and also the typical stalk and slash set pieces, but brush those to one side and actually it’s not very good.
Zombie fans might like it more…
Final Girl √√√