The Dead Pit 1989 (*VHS “R”) – Directed by Brett Leonard An evil doctor that experiments on his mentally ill patients is entombed in the basement of an abandoned wing. 20 years later, an amnesia patient known only as Jane Doe (Cheryl Lawson), arrives. An earthquake breaks the seal releasing the doctor to continue his dirty work. The dead patients also rise to wreck havoc.
The biggest complaint I heard from other reviewers was about Lawson’s acting ability, which I do not think is that bad considering this is her first feature. She is not Scream Queen material though and would be better suited for a Lifetime movie. (She won acting awards for this role and has since had a long career as a stunt woman). And why is she running around in her underwear? Not only would this be considered unethical treatment for patients, but since when are bikini panties standard issue? She would be wearing granny undies. One size fits all… This movie suspiciously looks a lot like Nightmare on Elm Street, which was released 5 years prior to this. Our Jane Doe looks identical to Elm Street’s heroine Nancy Thompson. And the scenes where she is running in a dreamlike state evading the evil man in her dreams… But what really made me take notice was the scene where she is following her recently deceased friend only to be lead to Freddy, uhhh….I mean the evil doctor.
This venture was a bit disappointing for director Leonard (Lawnmower Man, Feed) especially considering he co-wrote the script. There are a few script problems that should have been tweaked during script rewrites. Why do the doctors and nurses speak to patients like best friends? If there is limited funding for this mental institute, then why do they admit someone with amnesia and other minor illnesses? How likely is it that not one, but two patients are snooping around and solving mysteries? The biggest problem is that I guessed the surprise ending early on in the film.
And while the film touches on controversial subjects like performing illegal lobotomies on patients, but never digs deep enough to leave a lasting impression on the viewer. There were a few scenes cut from the R rated version I watched such as an open brain surgery. Hopefully these scenes will be added in the upcoming DVD release.
What stands out in the film are the top notch special effects provided by Ed Martinez. The zombies were the most exciting part of the movie although they come late at the 67 minute mark. You know the fun starts once the zombies emerge from the dead pit bald, rotting, and slimy. The patients later learn that a little bit of holy water goes a long way and we are treated to many melting faces.
My favorite scene was toward the end when the “good” doctor (played by the late Jeremy Slate) walks down a hall hearing this disgusting gurgling, choking noise. When he enters the bathroom, it is covered with blood and the nurse walks towards him looking not so hot at the moment.
Overall, I think they didn’t try hard enough in the first part of the movie. With 2 writers on board, they should have been able to make a clever script with cool dialogue. They have a mental institution, a nun, amnesia, zombies, etc and they still struggled to make it interesting. Maybe they could have shown the orderlies and nurses being abusive towards the patients to make the first half of the film more dramatic and the zombies killing them in the second half bittersweet. Or why not add more religious themes since they had the nun patient blessing holy water? And if they insist on making Jane run around in panties, then why not sleaze it up to make it more fun? There were several different directions this film could have gone, but seemed to just tiptoe around the subjects instead of tackling them head on.
Favorite Quote: None. The dialogue was lackluster. And shamefully, it wasn’t even goofy enough to make me laugh.
Extras: *This was the VHS version with no extras other than a few trailers at the beginning. (It won “The Best Video Box of the Year” by Entertainment magazine when it was first released). A special DVD release is in the process now with SFX artist Ed Martinez providing commentary and SFX extras. Commentary has already been recorded with director Brett Leonard, producer Gimel Everett, and the late actor Jeremy Slate. See the Ed Martinez Interview with HorrorYearbook for details.
To hear about the upcoming The Dead Pit DVD release and the unfortunate passing of actor Jeremy Slate, read distributor Code Red’s Blog here: http://www.codereddvd.com/nublog/.
Bottom Line: A must see for Leonard fans interested in his filmography. Has some noteworthy scenes, but fails to be controversial or very scary.