The Dead Pit (1989)
By: J.R. McNamara on July 15, 2008  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Code Red (USA). All Regions, NTSC. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0 Mono. 101 minutes
The Movie
Director: Brett Leonard
Starring: Jeremy Slate, Cheryl Lawson, Danny Gochnauer, Stephen Gregory Foster
Screenplay: Brett Leonard, Gimel Everett
Country: USA
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I love it when you pick up a film that you haven't seen for ages that has had either no or only small releases on DVD. When The Monster Squad came out in the special edition in 2007 I was thrilled, as I was when The Burning and Scarecrows came out. Sometimes, like The Burning, one can be pleasantly surprised and can find the gem has remained a gem. Occasionally though, like Scarecrows, one can be let down completely. It is here in the latter, for me, that The Dead Pit lies.

The Dead Pit is the first film by director Brett Leonard, who went on to make The Lawnmower Man and Man-Thing, who co-wrote this film with producer Gimel Everett when they were offered space, an old asylum, and some money from a producer of another film. The pair had to write a script quickly, which they did in three weeks, and make the film quickly, again another three weeks, and had to keep the paltry budget, $350,000 for a 35mm feature film, down as low as possible. Of course many favours were offered and called in; many actors worked very hard for long days with little pay but at the end of the day that's what low-budget filmmaking is all about: the guerrilla mentality is a must!

The Dead Pit tells the story of a mad doctor, Dr. Ramzi (Danny Gochnauer) who has been performing experiments on the inmates of an insane asylum. His colleague, Dr Swan (Jeremy Slate) puts an end to them when he kills Ramzi, and disposes of his body in his 'dead pit', a hole where he had been dumping the corpses of his patients/victims. Flash forward 20 years, and we find amnesiac Jane Doe (stunt performer Cheryl Lawson) being delivered to the same hospital, where the good Dr. Swan still resides. Upon her arrival, an earthquake occurs, unsettling everything… not just the patients, but those who have resided in the dead pit for these long years, and they rise, but what for? Food? Revenge? Or perhaps to claim something that was taken from Ramzi long ago… something more important to him than his own life….

I have to say the first thing I like about this film is the zombies themselves. They are not seen until well into the movie, and are a strange combination of Fulci's shambling dead and Stuart Gordon's shuddering madmen from the Re-Animator films. The ideal of the undead is turned on its head as well. Those who are used to the 'shoot it in the head' type will be pleasantly surprised to see how these supernatural anomalies are destroyed.

Another plus in this film in the lead actress Cheryl Dawson; a glamour of the Brooke Shields type, Lawson spends most of her time in the film running around in high cut white panties and a white mid-drift top with no bra… letting all and sundry swing free. She only does one scene of topless-ness, but at the risk of sounding like a total pervert (of which I am not… I haven't fully decided to convert yet) it is totally appreciated! She does manage to squeeze into a few other outfits, the only other highlight being a nurses uniform (mmm… maybe I HAVE fully converted).

In the minuses of this film though I have to include some miniature special effects that would have the guys from the The Thunderbirds in stitches, some truly diabolically bad dialogue, and quite possibly some of the most overblown, melodramatic overacting ever put to film, particularly from Steffan Gregory Foster, who plays the role of an asylum inmate in the same way that Patrick Stewart would approach Shakespeare in a stage performance for the Queen!

Another small disappointment of this Code Red DVD release of this film is the abandoning of the original poster which featured Cheryl Lawson suspended over the titular 'Dead Pit. Instead, the distributors have gone for a more generic 'zombie' cover, which is a shame!
The Dead Pit is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio and is 16:9 enhanced. This is a fairly decent transfer, although occasional artifacts pop up here and there.
The sound is presented in mono, and at times is uneven. The music has a tendency to drown out the dialogue or sound effects which is on occasion quite annoying.
Extra Features
First there is a feature length commentary that is performed by Leonard, Everett and Slate, just before his death from throat cancer. An incredibly informative commentary… actually one of the better ones I have ever heard. All contributors to the commentary have much to say throughout the majority of the film, which at times is reflective and funny.

There are a series of interviews with Leonard, Slate, Everett and Lawson which are matter of fact, detailed interviews which at no time devolve into the usual mutual masturbatory level that these sorts of things can end up as. These interviews occasionally cover the same information as is presented in the commentary, but that is to be expected. The best thing about these interviews is to see that Cheryl Lawson has gotten even hotter with age. Wow (yep, pervert-dom confirmed!!)!

There are several trailers on this disc for the Code Red releases of The Dead Pit, Night Warning, Beyond the Door, The Unseen, The Farmer and Sole Survivor. I have to give big props to Code Red for releasing some films I never thought I would ever see again!!!
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Proof that sometimes your memory of something is better than the reality. I still like this film but it is no where near the essential film that I previously perceived it to be. I guess age changes one's tastes. This film is well worth a watch for its sexy star (with 80s pompadour), decent gore and for its different take on the undead, but probably isn't a necessary film for the collection… unless you simply must have every zombie film ever made. The interviews and commentary on this disc are OK but the disc is let down by the average mono soundtrack.

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