THE DEAD PIT
I got a mild kick out of
this film, an insane asylum-set zombie fest from the eighties. It’s really not
much, but makes for an adequate time-passer if you’ve got nothing better to do.
The most notable thing about the straight-to-video THE DEAD PIT (1989) was
probably its VHS packaging, a 3-D box with a zombie face whose eyes lit up when
you tapped a “Press Here” patch. As I recall, though, the eye lights had
usually all burnt out by the time one got around to renting the video (I know
this because I informally tested the thing at several LA video stores around the
time it first hit shelves). While on the subject I should mention that the
FRANKENHOOKER (1990) video box had a button you could press that would cause the
gal pictured to say “Wanna Date?”, but this function likewise became used up
extremely quickly; good luck finding a workable copy of either box these days.
Getting back to THE DEAD PIT, its director was Brett Leonard, making his
feature debut. While it’s far from one of the great debuts of all time, THE
DEAD PIT is superior to most of Leonard’s subsequent films, which include THE
LAWNMOWER MAN, HIDEAWAY, VIRTUOSITY and FEED.
Twenty years ago, the loony Dr. Ramzi was conducting a number of
questionable medical experiments on the patients of a secluded insane asylum.
His colleagues became fed up with his antics and murdered the none-too-good
doctor, then boarded him and many of his experimental subjects up in the asylum
cellar, a.k.a. the “Dead Pit”.
The present: the twentyish Jane Doe is an amnesiac with schizophrenic
tendencies brought to the asylum for treatment. What neither Jane nor her
doctors realize is that she was one of Dr. Ramzi’s subjects twenty years
earlier, who as a little girl managed to escape his clutches. But his lunacy
isn’t finished: shortly after Jane arrives at the asylum there’s an earthquake
that releases Ramzi and his subjects, who’ve become undead homicidal freaks as a
result of his experiments, from the confines of the Dead Pit. They waste no
time sneaking into the building and massacring the staff one by one.
Jane has an inkling something is amiss when Dr. Ramzi appears outside her
window one night and tosses a severed head her way. She tries to escape from
the asylum but is caught and shut up in solitary confinement by clueless
attendants. The zombies quickly overrun the place and chomp every warm body in
sight, leaving Jane and the surviving attendants with no choice but to run for
their lives. They do, however, figure out a way to effectively combat the
zombies: douse ‘em with holy water, blessed by a loony-nun inmate! All they
need is to have her bless the contents of a nearby water tower and they’ll be
Brett Leonard keeps the blood flowing herein with quite a few reasonably
impressive low budget gore FX (largely shorn from the US version of the film),
which include several RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK-worthy melting faces, a brain
removal and much assorted flesh ripping. Cinematographer Marty Collins does
many interesting things visually, utilizing distorted lenses and multi-colored
filters to pleasing--if frequently show-offy--effect. The majority of the film
takes place at night, giving Leonard ands Collins a prime opportunity to get
creative with the lighting.
I just wish they demonstrated a bit more moderation, as
repetition is the film’s primary annoyance. A mid-film tracking shot through a
lengthy hallway is impressive but drags on for too long, and the noisy
synthesizer music cues that sound every time a zombie attacks grow annoying very
quickly. I also wish Leonard had done more with his insane asylum setting and
its loony charges, a la Sam Fuller’s whacko classic SHOCK CORRIDOR. But
alas, Leonard is more interested in following standard eighties horror movie
formula--that’s not to say there’s anything necessarily wrong with that, just
that he could have done a lot more.
THE DEAD PIT
Cornerstone Productions Company
Director: Brett Leonard
Producer: Gimel Everett
Screenplay: Brett Leonard, Gimel Everett
Cinematography: Marty Collins
Editing: Brett Leonard, Gimel Everett
Cast: Jeremy Slate, Cheryl Lawson, Steffen Gregory Forster, Danny Gochnauer,
Geha Gertz, Joan Bechtel, Michael Jacobs, Mara Everett, Randy Fontana, Jack
Sunseri, Frederick Dodge, Nettie Heffner, Luana Speelman