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Feature


A woman with no memory of her past in admitted into a mental asylum with a horrific history. After arriving, ‘Jane Doe’ realizes she has latent psychic powers, and discovers a personal connection with the creepy asylum. With a bit of detective work she finds a terrifying pit filled with psychotic zombies.

Dead Pit, The
Most horror fans between the ages of twenty and fifty likely remember The Dead Pit for its last act zombie attack (“it’s about damn time”) and its awesomely gimmicky VHS box art. I remember waltzing down the horror isle of the local video store, and seeing this ridiculously giant box, with a three dimensional zombie reaching out at me. If I pushed a little button the zombie’s eyes would light up. How could anyone resist such a thing?

Horror films have always been cannibalistic. Sometimes mimicry comes out of a lack of imagination and a want of quick cash, while other times the mimicry comes out of love. I think that the mimicry of The Dead Pit comes out of love, and can thus be considered homage. However, homage really only works in the right context, and with the exception of Kill Bill, in moderation. There’s no moderation here—the whole thing is one unoriginal idea after another. The Dead Pit rips off, or pays homage to about a hundred films, including A Nightmare on Elm Street (parts one and three), The Re-Animator, Blade Runner, The Third Man, and most thematically obvious, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Return of the Living Dead. The ‘homage’ wears very thin, especially the last act, which probably owes Dan O’Bannon a pile of money.

Dead Pit, The
Director Brett Leonard very obviously came out of 1980s MTV. The film’s greatest asset is Leonard’s visual sense, and his first time director need to experiment. Leonard and his cinematographer Marty Collins play with the neo-noir film style pioneered by Michael Mann with the original Miami Vice, Dario Argento with Tenebre, and of course, Ridley Scott with Blade Runner. The whole film is soft and smoky, and colourfully lit in baby blues, pastel pinks, and garish greens. The screen is filled with hard, long shadows, and shafts of abstract light. No matter how derivative the plot and uninteresting the characters, The Dead Pit always looks great for such a low budget production.

Leonard’s career is a bizarre one. The director went from this strange and derivative little One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest meets Return of the Living Dead thriller straight into Lawnmower Man, a studio film that pushed the boundaries of digital effects. Then three years later Leonard made two studio films featuring major stars, Hideaway and Virtuosity. After those films tanked he found a brief niche in made for IMAX features. Most recently he made a Highlander sequel that managed to be worse than the previous three films. His films have common threads, including altered realities, dream states, and generally awfulness. Actually, despite all its awesome problems, The Dead Pit may be his best film.

Dead Pit, The

Video


Code Red has managed to squeeze as much detail out of the original footage as possible. The anamorphic 1.85:1 (a first for fans) transfer is very colourful, the contrast is well balanced, creating bright whites and deep blacks, and grain is surprisingly minimal. There’s some compression noise around some of the harder edges, some inconsistencies in brightness, and a lot of bleeding colours (no pun intended). I’d say that the transfer is as perfect as one can expect, except for some kind of frame rate problem that unfortunately follows through the entire film. The problem is sort of comparable to a NTSC to PAL transfer.

Audio


Code Red keeps it old school, and doesn’t bother remixing things into unnecessary digital surround sound. The original Mono track isn’t exactly flat, but there’s no mistaking the track for stereo either. The dialogue is clear, though distorted a tad on ‘s’ sounds and hard consonants. The score is actually very impressive for a tiny production, adding layers to Leonard’s already impressive visual production values. The music is a bit low on the track, but it doesn’t disappear into the moaning zombies or shouting mental patients.

Dead Pit, The

Extras


The extras begin with a solid commentary track featuring director Brett Leonard, co-writer Gimel Everett, and (now deceased) actor Jeremy Slate. The track is mostly ruled by Leonard, but Everett and Slate have plenty of fond and not so fond memories. The recall is pretty impressive for a film that’s nearly twenty years old, and though the tech talk gets a little cumbersome, there are enough pleasant thoughts to go around. The participants obviously aren’t aware of the power of the microphones, because they answer their phones and pass some noisy gas.

The disc also houses four on camera interviews with the commentary’s participants, and lead actress Cheryl Lawson. These are in-keeping with Code Red’s other super-cheap interview segments, and mostly cover the same material as the commentary. Leonard’s interview lasts a patience testing twenty minutes, Slate’s lasts a more tolerable thirteen minutes, Evertt’s takes an even easier ten minutes, and Lawson (who still looks fantastic) talks us up for a average of twelve minutes.

The disc finishes up with the original trailer, and other trailers for Code Red releases.

Dead Pit, The

Overall


The Dead Pit isn’t well written, it’s overlong, and the meaty scenes are too long coming, but it looks great for its budget, and deserves some credit for its tenacity. If you’re a die-hard zombie fan who’s come of age in the post VHS era you’ll want this one under your belt. First time viewers lose the garish box art, but you’ll get a chance to see the complete, uncut version of the film, including the previously deleted brain fiddling sequence. If you’re looking for an ‘80s music video director’s first shot at B-horror, seek out Razorback.


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