The back of the box of 1981’s The Pit sums things up pretty well.
“Jamie Benjamin, a twelve year-old autistic boy, is sick and tired of the cruel people in his midwestern town. The children humiliate him, the grown-ups ignore him and the mature females excite him. Jamie gets his chance for revenge on all of them when he accidentally discovers a huge hole in the forest, at the bottom of which are strange and deadly prehistoric creatures he calls Tra-la-logs. The Trogs become Jamie’s best friends, and it isn’t long before some of Jamie’s worst enemies begin disappearing…”
In other words, fear the autistic. You may have already suspected something is amiss from the use of the phrase “the mature females excite him”, but it becomes pretty clear about ten seconds into the movie that Ian A. Stuart, who is credited as the screenwriter, evidently just thought “autistic” is a PC euphemism for “pervert”. The story starts unexpectedly at Halloween, with a ghost-costumed child luring a pirate and his irritating girlfriend next to…The Pit. As he’s about to shove the pirate into the Pit, the title screen flashes up with a bolt of lightning, illuminating a sinister looking teddy bear, behind “The Pit” in big red letters. The opening sequence reappears about an hour later, the first time ever that I’m aware of a movie’s teaser simply being an unedited scene from later on in the movie.
After being penalized 5 yards for a false start, the story moves quickly to fulfill the promises of the back of the box. Either that, or whoever wrote the blurb could only sit through 5 minutes of the movie. That’s all the time it takes for Jamie to; get punched in the face for saying hello to a kid (who turns out later on to be the pirate that Jamie shoves into…The Pit), have a little girl on a bike tease him relentlessly, get shoved out of the way by an old lady in a wheelchair, send a dirty letter to his teacher, and in one of cinema’s all time under appreciated moments, look up his new nanny’s skirt during dinner, after pulling the lamest “Oops, I dropped my napkin” move you’ve ever seen. His father’s reaction- “None of THAT, young man!” is priceless. (Also priceless is the unanswered question of why the father is dressed like a litigator when everyone else is dressed like the movie’s wardrobe consisted of somebody just grabbing 3 random armfuls off the 25-cent rack at Goodwill.)
After another uncomfortable exchange with the nanny in the kitchen, Jamie goes to “Talk to Teddy”. Don’t get excited stoners, it’s not that type of Teddy. This Teddy turns out to be just his Teddy bear, who speaks back to Jamie. Like Jamie, the teddy bear is kind of a pervert, and he and Jamie make some sleazy innuendo about the nanny. Since Jamie is also the voice actor for Teddy, you think that he’s just Jamie’s perverted alter-ego.
Jarringly, later on, the Bear is revealed to be independently evil when it turns its head to creepily stare at the nanny while Jamie is away at school. Unfortunately, the exact nature of of the bear’s relationship with Jamie, or its plots, or frankly, anything else at all about the bear are never revealed. Like everything else in this movie, it’s just jumbled into the plot haphazardly, like the immortal Ian A. Stuart couldn’t find his finished script, so they just worked from the 15 or so original brainstorming note cards he had laying around, which said things like
“Work in Evil Teddy Bear somehow, I love that idea”, “Kid is a pervert, but what’s another name for perverts?”, and “I want this movie to be different. What name could we use for Trolls that’s different? Trollies? Trollogs? Tra-la-logs!”
I’ve seen this movie several times now. I am still struggling to understand where the hell the budget went in this movie. It certainly didn’t go to the directing, cinematography, wardrobe, casting, sound, and maybe most importantly, it didn’t go to editing.
When Jamie first jogs out into the woods to visit…The Pit, the movie sees fit to join him for almost his whole jog. Jamie even has to stop a couple times along the way to catch his breath. Listen, I’m grateful the fine folks at Amulet Pictures decided to make this movie, but they shouldn’t have felt the need to break the 90 minute barrier for MY benefit. 80 minutes definitely would’ve been a major improvement over 96, given the material.
After the thrilling rush of the first 20 minutes, the next act is given over to Jamie trying to stalk out the nanny, figure out a way to feed the tra-la-logs, and also to convince the nanny that they really exist. He’s fully successful in creeping out the nanny, but runs out of money to feed his monsters in a hurry, and gets nowhere when he tries to tell her about them. (How they fed themselves prior to the appearance of a creepy, slow-witted child is a plot hole left mercifully gaping) Now, a .333 batting average will satisfy almost anybody, but our little Jamie reveals himself to be an overachiever, and is determined to do something, anything to feed the trolls. He tries to drag a cow to…The Pit, and also tries to chase down a chicken, but whiffs on both efforts.
So, he decides that it’ll be easier to just trick people into either falling or being pushed into…The Pit. What’s surprising is that it actually IS. I, for one, would never have believed pushing a shrieking, struggling old lady in a wheelchair all the way across town, then up a hill, through a field and the woods to…The Pit would be easier than grabbing hold of a chicken, but that’s the way this movie works. It makes a believer out of you.
Jamie has a good old time settling all his grudges, but when he gets the nanny’s boyfriend to fall into…The Pit, she starts asking questions. Eventually, she finally agrees to go see…The Pit, and is amazed to find the monsters are real. You can probably guess what happens next- she falls in. Jamie is consumed with guilt, and in short order is haunted by the nanny’s ghost. He does the only thing he can think of to alleviate his guilt, and lowers a rope into the pit so the tra-la-logs can climb out and feed themselves. As the saying goes, ‘give a man a fish and you’ve fed him for a meal…”, except that saying is about giving, and the movie is mostly just about confusion. In any case, the monsters go on a rampage of both killing people and being obviously little people in baboon costumes. Most of the last 20 minutes of the movie, actually, are just the tra-la-logs getting real raw and changing arrangements on people’s faces. But alas, the hand of man is cruel, and eventually, the monsters get chased back to…The Pit, and shot dead, by what seems to be a remarkably well-drilled impromptu firing squad.
The movie closes with Jamie going to stay with a relative out in the country, who has a daughter. She takes Jamie into the woods where…wait for it…she has her own Pit! Complete with tra-la-logs! Jamie gets shoved in. End credits.
Now, lets be honest. It’s hard to be an exceptionally awful horror movie. It’s the genre most readily given to churning out shlock. Acting, production value, plot- these have never been staples of the horror film. So believe me when I say that this is a true classic of awful. And you WILL feel 96 minutes older when it is over. Older, but unfortunately, not wiser. This movie is a tangled ball of cords you will never unravel. The only thing you’re left with in the end is a feeling of your own mortality, and 150% of the level of mistrust of autistic children you had just an hour and a half earlier.