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Case Number 05520

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The Pit / Hellgate

Anchor Bay // 1989 // 187 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // November 4th, 2004

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All Rise...

Want to know what %^@#-ed up truly is? Judge David Johnson has it for you here!

The Charge

What do a demonic teddy bear and Horshak from Welcome Back, Kotter have in common? They are both stars of two of the most $%#@-ed up movies ever made.

Opening Statement

A double-feature of insanity awaits you on this Anchor Bay disc, featuring two wacky horror flicks from the early '80s. And when I saw wacky, boy do I mean it.

Facts of the Case

Two types of movies, with two different types of tones and atmosphere, both share something that Anchor Bay has recognized: the ability to make the viewer go "wha?!" This is the tag-team. Though each film travels a different path, they both arrive at the same destination—Loonyville.

The Pit
Little Jaime Benjamin (Sammy Snyders) is an "exceptional" child, suffering alienation from his peers. Labeled universally as "that weird kid" wherever he goes, Jaime must contend with schoolyard beatings, emotional torment from the neighbor girl, and the vitriol of the elderly. Add to that his hormones kicking into full gear—he tricks a woman into thinking that she needs to strip to get her "kidnapped" daughter back, and snaps a Polaroid of her—and the addition of a bodacious babysitter, and Jaime's world is a confusing one.

Luckily, he has an evil teddy bear with flashing red eyes to keep him stable, and a pit full of man-eating prehistoric creatures to give him purpose. Seriously, this is as nutty as it sounds.

Hellgate
And then you have this film. I think a bunch of screenwriters got together, wrote down their craziest ideas for a movie, fed it to their easy-going portly friend, and what he vomited up was turned into the script for Hellgate.

First, you've got Ron Palillo, Horshak himself, starring as the cool, good-looking hero (this is the man who went on to get creamed in a boxing match by Screech, mind you). Then you have a nonsensical plot involving a dilapidated carnival town that has been cursed since the owner found a mysterious crystal (which is never explained) and started zapping the townspeople and his goldfish with it. Apparently it brings dead things back to life, so when he uses it on his tragically deceased daughter, way back in the '50s (did you know they were doing breast augmentations back then?), she comes back and haunts the town, enticing wayward horndogs to their death.

Some astonishingly bad mistakes by our intrepid protagonists lead to a showdown with the malevolent forces living in the town, and an atypical slasher-fest ensues.

The Evidence

Applause must be given to Anchor Bay for putting these two movies together on one disc. I am hard-pressed to think of anything crazier than these movies, and I'm including the dream where Natalie from The Facts of Life dressed as a superhero pursued me through a Motel 6.

The Pit is a real classic. The most disconcerting fact about the movie is that the filmmakers have played it straight, attempting to craft a realistic horror film. Allow me to repeat the plot: a young boy is told by his demonic teddy bear to feed children and the elderly to a group of prehistoric man-eating creatures dwelling in a pit.

This doesn't make the movie any less laugh-at-loud insane. Sammy Snyders does a great job of making Jaime a little bastard of a kid. The audience will feel zero sympathy for this nut-job when he wheels the old woman through the woods and dumps her into the monster pit. Or when he manipulates a woman into showing her breasts by claiming he kidnapped her daughter. Wow!

Again, this is played straight, as if there were no teddy bear with glowing red eyes telling a 12-year-old boy to murder his babysitter. And speaking of that babysitter—what an idiot! She fails to catch on that the cute little kid she's watching may be severely deranged even after (a) she climbs out of the shower and "I Love You" is written on the mirror in lipstick, and (b) she wakes up one morning to find Jaime staring at her—"I was only watching you sleep!" he proclaims—and she calmly reminds him it's not nice to do that (act like a sociopath I guess?)

Hellgate, on the other hand, is so ridiculous that not a shred of seriousness could be teased from it. And as such, not a shred of horror is found either. This is a tongue-and-cheek gore flick that has no direction, awful pacing, idiotic characters, and utterly fails to deliver on potential coolness. My head hurt after watching this lunacy.

The movie starts with a ghost story, recounting the downfall of Hellgate, the town. This seemed to be setting up a fun movie. In the story, the supernatural crystal transforms its victims into zombie mutations (with some cool puppet work) that explode after thirty seconds. This device, however, and the rules it plays by, are quickly jettisoned moments later. The owner of the town decides it's a wise move to try this crystal on his daughter, who was killed by some bikers.

Defying the odds of becoming a wretched monster and exploding (which were 100% according to the first part of the movie), she comes back as a big-breasted, nubile blonde vixen who stands in the middle of the road and seduces men into coming with her to her house, where he (father) waits to carve the hapless victims up.

But enter Horshak the ladykiller! No woman—alive or dead—can resist the animal magnetism of this Adonis, and soon the malicious father boils over with murderous intentions. Palillo's character, Matt, gathers his three friends, and they decide to venture into the ghost town at night, despite the dire warnings of the townsfolk. (Interesting fact: the movie has some serious temporal issues—Matt gets lost on the road, encounters the ghost woman, is led back to her house, gets seduced, escapes from the father, tells his tale to his friends, boinks his girlfriend, goes out to eat, ventures back to the town, fights off zombies, and gets seduced again—all in one night?!)

When the blood does flow, the effects are more goofy than scary. There's a beheading that's high on blood and low on believability; a girl is strangled and immediately spits up blood (?); and someone gets shotgunned out of a window in way-too-slow motion. But the prize for best kill belongs to a side character who spends the whole movie sharpening his knife and loading his gun to go out to Hellgate and kill the old man, and the second he shows up he gets shot.

Both films are preserved well in widescreen transfers (The Pit, 1.85:1; Hellgate, 1.77:1) and manage to hold up okay, despite their age. Surprisingly, The Pit, despite its age, retains the best look. The sound is passable in a 2.0 mix, but nothing memorable. The only extras to speak of are some stills from The Pit.

Closing Statement

At the right price (which is pretty low from what I saw) this double feature will more than fulfill your daily prescription of absurdity.

The Verdict

Guilty of Being Nightmarishly Strange, but what the heck…the accused is released.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 85
Audio: 80
Extras: 70
Acting: 70
Story: 85
Judgment: 78

Perp Profile

Studio: Anchor Bay
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 187 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Rated R
Genre:
• Horror

Distinguishing Marks

• Poster and Still Gallery

Accomplices

• IMDb: The Pit
• IMDb: Hellgate








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