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eighties horror you might have missed

The Pit (1981)

Many of us had a special teddy bear when we were kids. My bear's name was Fred E. Bear - he came with a poster that showed him as an astronaut floating in space, which was Blu-Tacked above my bunk bed's lower bunk for a brief period of time (later replaced by posters for RunawayRemo Williams: The Adventure Begins, then finally the Star Wars Blueprint for R2D2). In The Pit, 12-year-old Jamie has a special bear, too. "Teddy" speaks to Jamie telepathically, telling him to throw mean people into a troll-filled pit in the forest and helping him take naked Polaroids of the neighbor across the street; inexplicably, the film's poster is able to convey all of that. Teddy is one scrappy-looking stuffed animal, whose voice is a higher-pitched and lightly-reverbed version of Jamie's. His googly eyes look off in two different directions (this detail is missing from the poster), and that should tell you a lot. In fact, Teddy is kind of a pervy version of "Tony" (Danny's imaginary friend in The Shining); he tells Jamie when to sneak into the bathroom while the babysitter (Sandy) is showering and ogles the Polaroids that he helped Jamie take (Teddy: "I'm going to look at these...a lot!").

Jamie has a HUGE crush on his babysitter Sandy, and explains to Teddy that "she's not like the others". At one point he asks her to wash his back while he's in the bathtub: "...I'll be all covered up in you like washing me?" - for some reason, she complies.

Jamie also confides in Sandy about the pit that he's discovered and the creatures (which he calls "tra-la-logs") that live at the bottom of it. The tra-la-logs appear to be short people in furry suits and rubber masks. Realizing early on that the tra-la-logs are hungry, Jamie takes them raw meat from the butcher, which they quickly devour. When he's unable to procure a frozen leg of lamb or local farm animals, he decides that he should throw mean people into the pit instead. Teddy helps him decide who those people are, including a school bully and an old woman in an electric wheelchair (which Jamie rides triumphantly out of the forest after pushing the woman into the pit). As each of these unlucky mean persons meet their end, kooky, caper-type music plays, which seems totally incongruent - maybe it's telling us how Jamie feels about what he's doing?

The original script for The Pit by Ian Stuart (which was then called "Teddy") was darker in tone, with Jamie as a 9-year-old, instead of 12. Clearly this would have greatly changed the dynamic between the boy and his babysitter. Another key difference with the film is that the tra-la-logs  and the story's amazing coda only existed in Jamie's mind. The script was inspired by a ventriloquist friend of Stuart's, who helped children with severe mental disorders, including an autistic boy who would only communicate with the ventriloquist's dummy. Apparently, the novelization of the film (Teddy by John Gault) sticks much closer to Stuart's initial ideas. Ian Stuart's other contribution to the film was to direct all of its nude scenes (the director's wife insisted that somebody else would have to do that).

The Pit is the only film that Lew Lehman directed (he also wrote the screenplay for John Huston's Phobia, 1980). His daughter, Jennifer Lehman, played the Caren character. Sammy Snyders played Jamie - his last film role (but followed by an appearance on The Littlest Hobo - best title ever); he now teaches jazz dance! Also watch out for Sonja Smits (as Mrs. Lynde) - you may recognize her as Bianca O'Blivion (from Videodrome, two years later). My favorite scene in the film shows Sandy inspecting Jamie's room while he's at school - after she leaves the room, there's a panning shot over to Teddy sitting on the bed, his head slowly twisting towards the camera! I think the only thing we're missing here are glowing bear eyes (which we do get to see during the opening credits).