Saturday, September 29, 2007

#22: The Dead Pit (Brett Leonard, 1988)

In junior high and high school, my friends and I regularly hung out at Bateman's Trading Post, one of my hometown's three convenience stores. Everyone else hung out at Conoco. Idiots. A weird hodgepodge of anything one might need in a small town, Bateman's sold live bait, gas, beer, coffee, slushes, magazines, nachos, Little Debbie snack cakes, stale hot dogs rotating under a heat lamp and truck stop cassettes (Bon Jovi, Roger Miller, Roy G. Mercer, etc.). A stuffed bear stood behind the cash register. Fake gag photos on the wall showed the convenience store's owner putting Bill Clinton in a headlock. Bateman's also rented movies. To get to the porno movies, one would have to take a left at the beer, walk behind the cash register, then take a right behind the life-size wooden Indian sitting in a chair. In high school, we rented a porno film called "Hard to Hold," in which each sex scene contained some sort of challenging circumstance (gigantic breasts, menage-a-trois, man with two penises, enormously overweight women, etc.) My friends and I played a game we invented at Bateman's called "The Next Person Who Walks in the Store." We would take turns saying things like, "the next person who walks in just got done having sex with his dog" or "the next person who walks in doesn't know how to read" or "the next person who walks in just killed a man with his bare hands" etc. Then we would wait for someone to come in (and, since Bateman's was right on the highway, someone came in all the time) and then laugh hysterically. We sat there for hours, drinking Dr. Peppers and eating Little Debbie snack cakes. We befriended all the cashiers. Why would you want to hang out at Conoco? So many people in my hometown are such unimaginative, Conoco-hanging-out-at dullards. In high school, I browsed the VHS tapes often. The video store in town was a good source of Hollywood movies, but Bateman didn't know the slightest damn thing about movies, so he just bought whatever was cheap. Using this scattershot approach ensured a much more interesting collection of movies. I found some weird things at Bateman's mixed in with the usual stuff, and I got to see the occasional foreign, obscure horror, sexploitation, b-grade action, or art film that ended up in this 1,500-person town because it was cheap to carry. One VHS cover I often looked at but never got around to renting was The Dead Pit. I looked at it often because a three-dimensional zombie puffed out from the box cover, and when you pressed on it, his eyes lit up and blinked. Pretty sweet packaging, am I right? When I rented the film this week, the blinking, glowing eyes had long since stopped working. That was the first disappointment.

I mentioned in my last post that Dead of Night was the worst film so far on this list. However, once the terrible first thirty minutes ended, the rest of the film was skillfully made and never less than competent. The Dead Pit ends Dead of Night's one-week reign and is our new worst-film-on-the-list champion. This movie sucks in every way possible. I love horror movies so much, however, that I still enjoyed watching it. I can't recommend it to any living thing, though. It's about a "brilliant" doctor who goes nuts and starts experimenting on mentally ill patients' brains. After the patients die, he throws them in a pit in the hospital's basement. The head psychiatrist finds out about him, shoots him, and walls up the pit. Twenty years later, an earthquake and the arrival of a mysterious amnesiac woman trigger the doctor's return from the grave. He resumes his mad killing spree and raises a zombie army. The mental patients are left to defeat him. Makes perfect sense, right?
The faults are numerous: lousy acting, neither funny nor scary, cliched treatment of the mentally ill, inept camera work, gloomy, humorless, ugly to look at, and an incredibly stupid and incoherent script. I will give it a few kudos: One of the characters speaks exactly like Sean Connery, but he says things I've never heard Sean Connery say in a film, e.g. "We need to destroy these damn zombies!" or "What the fuck?" so that's pretty exciting. The woman playing the amnesiac constantly wanders around a co-ed mental institution in tiny hair-metal-era panties and a braless baby midriff nightie and gets her top squirted off by a firehose in a pointless dream sequence. Normally, I would pooh-pooh this sort of exploitative treatment of an actress (right?) but in a movie this terrible, it helps things considerably. She looks very nice. A neato melting zombie head effect probably used the film's entire budget, and the undead mad doctor looks pretty cool. Auteur Brett Leonard went on to direct that piece of shit The Lawnmower Man and one of the eight million Denzel Washington thrillers that came out in the mid-1990s.

1 comment:

Spacebeer said...

"What the fuck?" was easily the best line in this film, but somehow I still enjoyed it...