Judge Ike Oden also sings black metal in a high pitched falsetto.
"When people think horror fans, they think geek. I think our accents help because the redneck overrides the geek."
In the past three or four years, the horror film documentary has had something of a renaissance. When I say horror film documentary, I'm not talking about mock-horror films like Paranormal Activity or The Blair Witch Project, I'm talking about documentaries about horror films. In just a few years we've seen His Name Was Jason, Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, Best Worst Movie, and It Came From Kuchar, to name just a few.
In 2011, filmmaker Kelly Marcott flips the horror documentary trend on its ear by focusing on two horror fans, Aaron Frye and Wes Vance, in Into The Pit: The Shocking Story of Deadpit.com. Frye and Vance are better known to horror geeks as Uncle Bill and The Creepy Kentuckian, whose weekly Deadpit Radio podcast has become a minor phenomenon since its 2005 inception. In Deadpit, the boys have combined the raw honesty and ribald humor of shock jock radio with the Southern-fried perspective of blue-collar critics like Joe Bob Briggs. The show has gathered a roster of A-list guests the likes of John Carpenter (Halloween), George Romero (Dawn of the Dead), and Joe Dante (Gremlins), interviewing them in-depth. Yet the success and acclaim comes at a price: as Deadpit has grown, so have Frye's ambitions to pursue a career in substance abuse counseling. Into the Pit reveals what happens when childhood obsessions clash with adult pursuits, questioning whether Deadpit.com can survive its own achievements.
Into The Pit is an important film for horror fans, a group with a chip on its shoulder almost as vast as the genre they love. Horror fans can be defensive types, quick to be shunned by the filmgoing majority and even quicker to shun deviations from the "classic" style; "classic" being a loose term beholden to whatever film era they grew up watching horror films in. Horror fans can be restless, picky, and often jaded toward the genre. When something comes along to get horror lovers excited about their genre again, it's sort of a big deal. But what happens when you the horror fan come along and happen to be that big deal, at least for a few million strangers spanning the internet?
This is more or less the unspoken set-up of Into The Pit, an engaging film for genre fans and non-fans alike. Into The Pit is a celebration of its protagonists' achievements: far from the reaches of California or New York, Vance and Frye created Deadpit as their own cinematic safe haven. Their home of Prestonsburg, Kentucky is a small town right on the buckle of the Bible belt. This sort of terrain isn't exactly welcome territory for guys whose wardrobe mostly consists of black t-shirts emblazoned with Grindhouse poster art. Nonetheless, it is Prestonsburg where duo have nurtured Dead Pit into a heavy-hitting horror podcast that has created more substantial content in three years than many independent websites do in five—all as two fans' mutual hobby.
The film's greatest concern is how both Vance and Frye deal with their site's take-off, giving them fan adulation of their own. There isn't any substantial plotting to the film, no arc that keeps stacking the deck against our heroes. We experience Deadpit's creation and growth through slivers of their actual podcast, from the first episode through the site's greatest coups.
The film's dramatic question asks whether or not Frye will continue to work on the site in light of these major achievements, but never really follows through with an answer. This would be a major problem if Into The Pit went for rise-and-fall theatrics. It doesn't. The film is a character piece focusing on Frye's doubt and guilt. While Vance lives and breathes Deadpit, Frye yearns to help the community around him (the same one that alienates him as a horror fan). The film explores why and what that means to a guy whose double life involves broadcasting his thoughts on the Friday the 13th series; bitching about horror remakes; drooling over scream queens like Tiffany Shepis (Bonnie and Clyde Vs. Dracula); and making dick jokes. Lots and lots of dick jokes.
It all hangs together on the shoulders of Into The Pit's protagonists, with Vance as the fun-loving, laid back Yin to Frye's more contemplative Yang. Deadpit is Vance and Frye, the sum of their lifelong friendship as mutual horror fans, a relationship that reaches all the way back to childhood. As friends, the two play off each other very well. Even when they're bickering, their interactions are layered with natural comic sensibilities, giving audiences the feeling that, even if the pair weren't working on Deadpit, they would still be in cahoots on some project together. Evidence of their prior project—which include autograph collecting and forming a European black metal band named Hell Lord—only solidifies this assumption.
Regardless of Frye's feelings toward the clashing worlds of Deadpit and social work, one can't help but wonder what the hell else he'd rather be doing with his free time. Then again, who among us haven't felt a pang of guilt when weighing the importance of our passions against more lofty responsibilities and goals? Into The Pit is an excellent exploration of how, when, and why our hobbies form, and at what point we should choose to step away from them.
If I have any issue with Into The Pit, it's that Vance sort of gets the short end of the dramatic stick within the film's narrative. There is a single moment between Wes and his father Mike where they discuss a health scare that happened during the beginning of Deadpit. It's a great moment that comes and goes all too briefly. Vance seems to be content with presenting himself as the John Belushi of horror fans, but a few more dramatic moments such as that would have really helped give him and the film a bit more complexity. Perhaps one day Vance will be ripe for a follow-up documentary of his own.
Being an independently released disc, Into The Pit isn't going to be your next demo, but it does the job. A non-anamorphic transfer looks very clear given the low-tech nature of the production (shot four years ago) but might alienate fans spoiled on more contemporary high-definition. The stereo mix is equally strong.
Extras are plentiful and just as entertaining as the movie itself. A bevy of deleted scenes explore some interesting subplots the film could have potentially taken, including a prolonged indictment of Fangoria magazine that is the main reason Deadpit was started in the first place. Also included are extended fan interviews, a taped Deadpit screening, and a trailer.
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