Monday, February 18, 2019

“Why Don’t You Go Back Where You Came From, Funny Person?” - The Pit (1981)

(Note: This post is a contribution to The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense's 9th annual The Shortening, which celebrates the shortest month by covering "films that deal with vertically challenged villains." This film, The Pit, whose vertically challenged "villains" include pint-sized monsters as well as an evil kid, was covered on that blog here in 2009.)

Few films mix disturbing, horrific, taboo-breaking content with light comedy as well as 1981's The Pit, one of a limited number of classic horror films made in Wisconsin not directed by Bill Rebane.

For unexplained reasons, several of your universe's critics are blind to the inescapable qualities of The Pit. For example, reviewer Andy Sandfoss writes, "The direction is limp and pedestrian. The art values in the sets and cinematography are non-existent. Nothing about the film rings true." Reviewer rhombus writes, "overall, the movie is just a big disappointment, with an ending that's schlocky and clichéd." And reviewer adam878 writes, "This flick was just weird and boring at the same time." (Weird and boring at the same time? Impossible!)

Please read on and we will set the record straight...

The film begins at a Halloween costume party where children dressed as Cub Scouts yell and roughhouse. A boy named Jamie dressed as a ghost lures an older teenager and his girlfriend into the woods on a foolproof pretext: “I want to talk to you in private. I have something for you.”

“Oh yeah? It better be good.”

“Come on.” Jamie leads the others to a clearing in the woods, telling the older boy he found something by a tree that must have been left there by a robber.

“Jewels and stuff?”

“Yeah. Must be worth millions. Come on.”

They venture farther into the woods. The treasure, however, turns out to be a bag of bloody rags, and Jamie pushes the boy into the titular pit.

Later, at school, Jamie has to stay after class because he brought a naughty book called Creative Nude Photography to school. His teacher flips through the book, and it appears the creativity referenced in the title is due to the fact that there is no nudity in the photographs.

She finds that part of a woman’s image (perhaps the only instance of nudity) has been cut out of the book. Jamie says, unconvincingly, he didn’t cut it out. When the teacher returns the book to the town library, we follow the librarian, who has been sent a photo with the excised nude body—from Jamie. She tears up the harassing photo.

Later, Jamie touches a little girl’s bike. She rides off, saying, “Why don’t you go back where you came from, funny person?”

A young woman, Sandy, visits his home to interview to be Jamie’s babysitter. His parents, seemingly unprompted, relate tales of Jamie acting strangely, including the time he was found “swinging in the trees out back with nothing on except some Superman cape or something, playing Tarzan.” Also, though he appears to be 14 or 15, he has imaginary friends.

At dinner, Jamie ogles Sandy’s legs, and his parents announce they are driving to Seattle to see about buying a house there. Showing perhaps poor judgment on all sides, they leave Jamie with her for an unspecified time period.

Jamie goes to his bedroom to talk to his teddy bear.

And Teddy talks back to him: “She’s just what we’ve been waiting for. Isn’t she?”

The next morning, Sandy wakes up with Jamie staring at her. Instead of leaving immediately or calling the police, she lets Jamie cook breakfast for her. Over the breakfast table, Jamie says, “Mother says we have a problem getting women come in. You know how it is nowadays.”

Then he tells her a secret: “I know where there’s a huge hole in the ground. It’s in the woods. About a mile away. And at the bottom of the hole, down in the dark, there’s some things.”

“What kinds of things?”

“They’re not people, that’s for sure.”

(He calls them trolologs, a bastardization of the word troglodyte combined with the word troll.)

Immediately after talking to Sandy at the breakfast table, Jamie ties a giant scarf around his neck and runs out into the woods to return to his pit. “Do you remember me?” he calls to the creatures. “It’s me, Jamie.”

We see the creatures stirring at the bottom of the pit.

Later, Sandy and Jamie watch a college football game, where her college boyfriend is one of the players. When the three of them return to Jamie’s house, Jamie gets out of the car only to watch Sandy and her boyfriend make out, further indulging his voyeuristic tendencies.

A scene that can only be described as odd follows, as the young girl with the bicycle from earlier in the film, Abigail, teases Jamie by allowing him to ride the bike, only to have it fall apart beneath his weight. “I didn’t tell him that it wasn’t all in one piece,” she laughs, explaining the situation to her aunt, who happens to be the town librarian.

Later, in a scene that is even more chilling than the bike falling apart, we see Sandy cleaning Jamie’s room—and Jamie’s teddy bear (imaginatively named Teddy) turns its head all by itself.

The film grows even more chillingly disturbing when Sandy gives Jamie a bath, an experience almost too horrific to contemplate.

As would most boys given a bath by an older female babysitter, Jamie tells her he has fallen in love with her. She continues washing his back. She explains that when they’re older, “We can write to each other and stay friends.” Jamie also tells her, disturbingly, that his mother washes him a lot because she thinks he’s dirty.

His mind turns back to his trolologs in the pit. “Do you know what they eat down in that hole? Well, they just can’t eat nothing.” (Truer words were never spoken.)

“Oh for goodness sakes,” Sandy says. “Probably chocolate bars.”

Of course, the next day, at the pit, Jamie throws still-wrapped chocolate bars at the trolologs. They growl, though it is unclear whether they appreciate the food or resent being pelted by dairy-based candy.

He then experiments with feeding the trolologs raw meat from the butcher (wrapped in paper, of course). They jump on it. “So that’s what you eat,” he concludes, though it is unclear how they might have gotten raw meat from the butcher previously.

Later, Jamie pulls a prank in which he calls the librarian and plays a tape recorder with a message (with his voice undisguised) that he has kidnapped her niece Abigail. While she listens to the prerecorded phone message, she undresses in her front window, and Jamie takes a Polaroid picture of her naked.

The next day, Jamie tries to feed his trolologs friends by attempting to drag a cow to their pit. “Look, cow,” he says when the animal proves recalcitrant, “you don’t know it, but somebody’s gonna take you away and kill you. Make steaks and hamburger out of you. I’ve got some friends that eat meat too, and I gotta take care of them. I’m gonna take you to see them, and I gotta get you to fall down the hole or else they might starve or even get out.” Despite his flawless reasoning, the cow stands its ground, and Jamie must give up.

Jamie confides in Teddy, who seems to be growing more tousled and crazy-eyed every day. The two agree there is only one thing left to do—feed nasty people to the trolologs.

Of course, the first intended victim is Abigail, the nasty little girl. He tells her, “I know where there’s a bicycle path that no one has ever ridden, and nobody can. Especially not a girl.”

(Jamie’s philosophical conundrum is well constructed, and the audience is left to ponder how the path is a bicycle path if nobody is able to ride a bicycle on it.)

Of course, such a foolproof plan starts to work. Jamie leads Abigail toward the pit, though she has trouble riding her bike through the fields and forest. She falls off and Jamie steals her bike, riding it to the edge of the pit.

Of course, Abigail threatens Jamie for stealing her bike, and as she does so she simply walks into the pit.

We hear the trolologs feeding down below, accompanied by wholesome slapstick music on the soundtrack.

The next victim is a blind old woman in a wheelchair. Jamie shows remarkable strength in pushing the wheelchair (shown in comical fast-motion, no less) through the woods.

Jamie’s murders pile up one after another, all accompanied by comedic circus-clown music. He gets rid of Sandy’s boyfriend by passing a football to him; of course, he isn’t looking at the ground, and he simply runs into the pit.

“There’s nobody else,” he tells Teddy, bemoaning the fact that he has nobody to murder. Teddy has some ideas, however, including the school bully from the opening scene (a scene that is replayed in its entirety here, revealing that it was previously a flash-forward). The murder of the bully is followed by a long chase scene where Jamie stalks the bully’s girlfriend. The chase ends when she falls unconscious next to the pit.

Disturbingly, Jamie pulls off the girl’s ballerina costume. The audience can breathe a sigh of relief, however, when he decides to simply murder her by dropping her into the pit.

Finally, Jamie admits to Sandy that he has been feeding people to the monsters. She says that she’ll come with him to see the pit if he stops “all this lovey stuff.” He agrees, and he leads her through the forest to the pit.

He drops a rock into the pit and the trolologs growl. “They’re pigs!” Sandy screams. “They’re pigs or warthogs or something! They fill in or the ground collapsed or something! Let’s go.”

She sees them clearly, however. “What? I can’t believe it.”

“You can see them! I told you, I’m not crazy!” Jamie says.

Sandy develops a scientific interest in the creatures and suggests they call a paleontologist or anthropologist. He wants to keep the creatures a secret.

During their conversation, in an accident that probably could have been avoided, Sandy slips into the pit. She hangs on to the roots at the top while Jamie tries to help her out, but soon she falls to the monsters, who bite into her flesh.

A distraught Jamie runs back to Teddy, who tells him to go to sleep.

Jamie’s parents return. At the dinner table, both parents are concerned that Jamie appears indifferent to Sandy’s disappearance. Later, Jamie sees Sandy’s ghost in the upstairs hallway.

Somehow, Jamie manages to frame a mustachioed acquaintance of Sandy’s for the disappearances, though we never see how Jamie plants evidence in the man’s car.

As a boy of high moral standards, Jamie decides he can’t murder to feed the trolologs because there are no more nasty people in town. He returns to the pit with a rope that he ties to a tree. He throws the other end down into the pit. “You’re gonna have to take care of yourselves,” he says. “Goodbye. If I think of anybody else, I’ll come back.”

He sees Sandy’s bloody ghost again, and he runs back through the forest.

Of course, the trolologs climb the rope—obviously what Jamie intended. The police find their victims strewn across the countryside. We watch them kill a couple of teenagers swimming in a lake by dragging the girl down into their pit and gorily eating her.

The police form a posse to find and kill the child-sized beasts, who jump into the pit as they flee the gun-toting mob.

“Shoot them!” calls the police chief.

They do, killing all the trolologs.

Then they call in a bulldozer to fill in the pit. One of the posse calls his wife to tell her that they were rabid dogs and had to be killed. “No need to drag them into town, make a scene. People would want to write about it in the papers and stuff like that.”

His wife replies, “Okay, dear. See you later.”

In the finale, Jamie is dropped off at his grandmother’s house behind a cornfield. His grandfather introduces him to Alicia, a neighbor. “She can be your playmate.”

Jamie and Alicia decide to play a game of tag. Jamie chases her along the edge of the cornfield and into the woods.

“Look what I found,” Alicia says.

Jamie is shocked to see that she is standing at the edge of the exact same pit that was just filled with tons of dirt.

“They’re trolologs,” Jamie tells her. “They eat people.”

“Yes, I know,” she replies. Then she stands behind him.

The End

One aspect of The Pit that is unusual is that both the film and a subsequent novelization are quite well known. The Pit started as a Canadian production of a screenplay written by Ian A. Stuart named Teddy. The screenplay was serious and, critically, the monsters in the pit were the product of Jamie's imagination. The original screenplay served as the basis for a novelization by John Gault, also called Teddy. When the film was produced, however, an American director was hired, filming took place in Wisconsin, and the title was changed to The Pit because it sounded better for a horror movie. Thus we, the public, have been gifted with a film and a novel that are quite different based on the timeless story of Jamie and The Pit.

When viewing the film, one of the tragedies that occurs to the viewer is how quickly Jamie runs out of people to murder. After killing a handful of people (probably at least 50% of the inhabitants of his small town), he is forced to let the creatures escape from the pit so they can kill and eat the other half of the town. If only there were more evil people in town that Jamie could murder directly, instead of having to sacrifice the good people in town by letting the creatures roam free!

Finally, it must be said that Sammy Sanders's turn as young Jamie is quite skillful. Particularly realistic is the fact that Jamie breaks into a run at every opportunity. He will be walking slowly along a sidewalk, then start tearing across a park with an awkward gait. Anyone who knows a 12-year-old boy, or anyone who has ever been a 12-year-old boy, will know that these bursts of awkward energy occur constantly, and Mr. Sanders should be commended for capturing this aspect of his character so very well.