It's fair to say I've earned my stripes in regard to zombie movies. Through the course I've taken to delve deep into horror, I've seen countless titles given the highest honors to the lowest scum-of-the- earth production values cinema has ever witnessed. From A to Z grade, however, there stands a few shining stars that are worth discussing. The Dead Pit is one of these last glimmers of hope. Brett Leonard, the man responsible for both writing and directing 1992's The Lawnmower Man, made his directorial debut with this undead feature; he did a fine job of presenting it.
The story begins at a mental hospital in California. Dr. Ramzi, a deranged doctor at the facility, has been murdering and experimenting on patients in the basement. Dr. Gerald Swan learns of his sinister activities; in fear of jeopardizing his career at the hospital, he decides to eliminate Dr. Ramzi and bury the truth for 20 years. Jane Doe, an unidentified woman suffering from amnesia, is admitted to the facility. After an earthquake occurs, visions allow her to slowly uncover the dark secret buried deep beneath.
This movie seems to function greatly for a variety of reasons. Although a few typical 80s production cliches exist they all seem to apply perfectly in the given scenarios the plot uncovers - the use of smoke machines in correlation with intense back lighting are exhausted thoroughly. The bumbling policemen standing outside discussing donuts was also a nice touch. I expect certain predictable elements to exist within the era I'm experiencing. It all works tremendously. The vacant hospital wings that were chosen as set pieces for this film are outstanding. The director clearly knew what he was doing; as a viewer, I felt isolated. The cast of actors/actresses hired to fill the character roles did a decent job - certainly no Emmy nominations to be had, but a solid enough attempt in their own right. As far as the musical score is concerned, expect typical, 80s off-beat harmonics - which, in my opinion, is what I look forward to. Clearly anything with a dark melody is par for the course.
This film can be classified as a zombie flick but it requires a bit of patience from the viewer. The pace seems sluggish for the first 40 minutes of the film but picks up nicely. There is plenty of violence and gore to satiate the blood thirst of any gore hound. The special effects and makeup are worth noting. Although I reserve a special pedestal for Tom Savini, the artists responsible for "The Dead Pit" are truly remarkable and come in a close second - their work displayed here is even a few notches down from , in my humble opinion, the greatest zombie masterpiece of all time, George A. Romero's 1985 feature "Day of the Dead." I consider this a true accomplishment; many Z grade zombie flicks from the 80s, primarily ones with an Italian-schlock quality (I'm not including Lucio Fulci when I speak of schlock, so please don't send a lynch mob to my doorstep!), fail miserably in achieving the same success.
When it comes to zombie movies in general, I think most could agree that Romero was responsible for reinventing and trend-setting a particular brand of undead fiend in 1968's "Night of the Living Dead." I don't consider it a crime if his influence is shared by directors and production teams alike. Although not in the top 5 of classic zombie re- tellings, "The Dead Pit" surely makes the top 10 - give it a try and you won't be disappointed.