The Pit (1981) — A wonderfully weird early ’80s horror gem

“So? This isn’t a cave, it’s a big hole in the ground!”

Rich’s rating: Trollolog.

Rich’s review: As I’ve mentioned before, ever since I joined the staff here at Mutant Reviewers just under a year ago, it seems that everyone I know has a film that they want me to watch. My parents, my friends, random people just e-mailing me out of the blue — I’ve been inundated by requests, and our forum’s Big List still has a fair number of suggested review features on it left unaccounted for. However, of all the films I’ve been suggested to watch, I don’t think I’ve had more fun watching them than I did reviewing The Pit.

The origins of this review stem from a drunken conversation between my friends, which involved my friend D recounting tales of a film he remembered from his childhood, about a boy who finds a pit full of evil gnomes and feeds them people he doesn’t like. As D’s memory, especially while drunk, is a thing where the line between imagination and reality are occasionally blurred, I think it’s fair to say there was some degree of skepticism about his claims; a disbelief that didn’t last much longer than it took for him to find a VHS copy in the world’s garage sale that is eBay, and one short auction later, the terrors of The Pit awaited me. So, ‘nuff respect and all that to my home boy D, or whatever it is the cool kids are saying this week.

The Pit has the distinction of being, I’m fairly sure, the only film which contains the word “Trollolog.” Just think about that for a second. Say it out loud a few times. Trollolog. Its such a fantastic word that if there were some way that I could write this review using only the word Trollolog, that’s the only word you would see on this page. But trust me when I say that the word Trollolog is just one of the many good reasons for you to watch The Pit.

Be warned. This film is so silly that I’m going to spoil it in its entirety in this review. So if you really want to preserve the magic for yourself, don’t read on. But seriously, how many of you are going to track down a twenty-three year-old low budget horror film? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

The plot of The Pit is a wondrously hybrid beast. With the exception of the sequence before the title credits, which is actually shamelessly ripped in its entirety from later in the film, the first 30 minutes of The Pit bears an uncanny resemblance to those Time-Life films with Aaron Spelling in which are all inevitably called “A Mothers Pain” or some variation on that and deal with the trails of raising difficult children. Our central character, Jamie, is probably the most dysfunctional 12-year-old ever to look and sound like John-Boy Walton.

It’s worth mentioning before I get to the plot of the film, that when Jamie isn’t being all weird and talking to his Teddy (who talks back in the kind of etheral spooky voice that just screams evil), he has a kind of “Aw, shucks” cornbread Americana kiddy thing going all the time. In fact, further research tells me that Sammy Synders, who plays Jamie in the film, was also in the serialised TV version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, so if you just imagine it as Tom Sawyer: The Serial Murder Years, you’re pretty much there — “Golly gee ma, I don’t want to paint no fence, so I guess I’ll just have to push you down this here hole full o’ gnomes, fer sure”.

Anyway, we soon find out that Jamie, despite being 12, is a sexual obsessive, is washed incessantly by his mother, has a variety of invisible friends, and talks to his teddy bear. I guess explains why has absolutely no friends and all the other kids think he’s a nutcase.

In a page right out of Good Parenting, to solve this problem Jamie’s parents immediately move away to Seattle, installing young and nubile college Psychology student Sandy as their live in house sitter and child-minder. I have to question the logic of the parents leaving a sexually obsessive and overactive 12-year-old in the care of a 21-year-old pretty female college student, but surely nothing bad could come of that, right?

Wrong. Creepy, creepy Jamie immediately develops an unhealthy fixation on his new sitter, as well as continuing his obsession with the middle-aged Librarian at his school. Jamie begins to woo Sandy with plays right out of the Barry White’s Playbook of Lurve such as “Sneak into her room and watch her sleep,” the popular “Wait till she’s in her nightshirt and then ask for a glass of water so that when the light shines through her nightshirt from the doorway you can see the outline of her breasts,” and the timeless “sneak into the bathroom while she’s showering and write ‘I Love You’ in lipstick on the mirror while sneaking a glance through the shower curtain.”

Unfortunately for Jamie, Sandy already has a boyfriend back in college who isn’t half her age and completely insane, which Jamie naturally finds upsetting. In a final effort to woo her, Jamie busts out the big guns — he tells her his biggest secret. He’s found a hole in the woods that has Trollologs living in it. That’s right, Trollologs. It’s pretty much at this point that we shift out of Hallmark made-for-TV Drama mode and set course straight for hillaritiesville.

Sandy obviously doesn’t believe Jamie’s assertion about pit gnomes because he’s already demonstrated that he’s madder than a brush. Jamie, being the concerned soul that he is, wonders what they eat, since they can’t get out of the pit in any way at all, and Sandy suggests that they probably like chocolate bars. Jamie takes her seriously and heads to the pit in the woods and tosses down a bunch of chocolate bars to the Trollologs (who we see lurking down there, but have yet to be revealed in all their glory) who aren’t remotely interested in Jamie’s candy treats.

Taking the next logical step, Jamie buys five bucks worth of hamburger from the butchers, and throws that down, which the Trollologs happily devour. Satisfied he now knows what they like, Jamie starts feeding them. He quickly runs out of hamburger money though, and resorts to stealing from Sandy to buy more. When that becomes too risky, Jamie is left with a difficult choice — how to feed the evil pit dwelling beasts? After the hilarious sight of watching a 12-year-old trying to pull about two tons worth of cow to the pit to push down to them (which fails because he’s twelve and it’s a cow), and in close consultation with the voice inside his teddy bear, Jamie decides that the only way to feed the Trollologs is to give them people. But Jamie’s not a psychopath though, because he justifies it to Teddy by saying that he’s only going to push nasty people down the pit.

Well, that’s OK then.

This leads to some of the finest scenes ever to be committed to film. It soon becomes obvious to us that Jamie knows a great secret about his small town; that 99% of the population suffer from a retinal defect which mean they are completely unable to see huge gaping holes in the forest floor in broad daylight. Jamie’s first victim chases Jamie into the forest after he steals her bike. In her mad rush to get it back from the delinquent, she rushes headlong across the clearing oblivious to the giant void in front of her, and plunges rapidly to her Trollolog-laden doom.

Next up is the blind and wheelchair-bound old lady who got Jamie’s bike taken away from him; she’s simply wheeled by Jamie into the forest and dumped out of her chair and into the waiting hands of the Trollologs. At Sandy’s urging, her college boyfriend Todd shows up to play football with Jamie in an attempt to befriend him. After leading Todd to the clearing, Jamie, with football in hand, tells Todd to “Go deep”. Todd runs across the clearing, equally oblivious to the twelve foot wide gaping pit, and ends up going deep in an entirely different sense of the word.

A Halloween party and the lamest pack of lies in history account for school bully Freddy who wouldn’t let Jamie into his club, and when Freddy’s girlfriend faints at the sight of her boyfriend getting eaten, Jamie concludes that she’s ‘probably a bad person’ and rolls her into the pit as well.

Meanwhile, in a desperate bid to get Jamie to stop stalking her, Sandy makes a deal to go with Jamie to see the Trollologs and prove they’re real as long as he stops saying he loves her and asking for photos of her. Sandy is naturally shocked to find that the Trollologs are real, and is all set to tell the world that she’s found prehistoric cave gnomes when she slips on the edge of the pit, and despite Jamie’s efforts to save her, she ends up as Trollolog meat too. So much for our heroine.

Jamie is heartbroken that his love is eaten by the gnomes. And as if he weren’t disturbed enough already, he now starts seeing Sandy’s ghost over the place, which isn’t doing his mental stability any good at all. Jamie’s parents come back from Seattle, and Jamie frames Sandy’s new boyfriend (the one after Todd) for all the disappearances. However, he’s still concerned about the diet of the vicious man eating creatures in the forest, and decides that while he can’t justify pushing anyone else into the pit, it’s perfectly OK for him to lower a rope down there so that they can get out and go hunting for themselves, and this is where we get to see the Trollologs in broad daylight; and boy is it a treat, because this sleepy little town is about to get attacked by four Ewoks.

The Ewok-o-logs kill a few travelers and people lazing at the lakeside, being sure to allow any young women to take off their bikinis first, of course. The police are called, and soon a farmer spots a Trollolog in the aftermath of an attack. Instantly, a posse of farmers assembles (and I mean instantly — in one frame, the farmer is speaking to the cops; it cuts away, and suddenly there’s 12 of them with shotguns) and enter the woods. Then, in a scene to warm the hearts of everyone who hated the Ewoks in Jedi and laughed when that one Ewok got shot by the scout walker, the farmers stalk the gnomes through the woods, guns loaded. Looking for a place of safety, the furry fiends run back and hide in their hole. This turns out not to be the wisest course of action, as these farmers apparently don’t suffer from the same retinal defect as the rest of the town. They see the huge hole, look down it, surround it, and pump the Trollologs full of lead from a safe distance, which makes for a thrilling climax, let me tell you.

And what of Jamie, and the mysterious Teddy? Jamie goes to live with his grandparents. Teddy is never explained in any way at all. There is a little twist at the end that I’ve left off for your enjoyment in case you do get to see this film (and really you should if you ever get the chance) but that’s pretty much the end of the movie. Absolutely everything about it, from the acting to the script to the effect to the plot are absolutely platinum comedy material, and it’s about as scary as wearing a hat.

There are so many other classic moments in The Pit that I’ve left out due to the fact that this review is already massive. If you have any chance to see this film, I would recommend you do so; you won’t regret it.

Didja notice?

  • “I must not bring adult books to school”
  • A Terrarium: The perfect hobby for young evil children.
  • Jamie’s cunning hiding place for his dirty magazine — under his mattress!
  • Jamie’s fantastic ability to pre-tape phone calls.
  • Jamie’s priceless conversation with the cow as he’s trying to pull it up to the pit to be eaten.
  • Jamie’s brilliant reverse psychology to get Abigail up to the woods with him.
  • Sandy appears to have a new date the same night that Todd disappears — she doesn’t waste time.
  • The police case against Glenn seems flawless to me…

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