Dive Right In To The Dead Pit

1989's The Dead Pit is an odd duck.  I mean, sure, it's not as weird as some other movies we've looked at here, but it's weird in terms of where it falls in terms of quality.  Like, if someone said to me, hey, I've never seen The Dead Pit, is it any good?  I wouldn't know how to answer.  It's almost a good movie.  In some ways it's an awesome movie.  But it's just too amateurish and crappy to cross that "Good" finish line.  So yeah, it sucks.  But it really delivers the goods, in terms of its imaginative aspirations and in the slick level of quality it manages to reach, that horror fans are looking for.  In other words, it's a real quagmire, just the kind of off-beat flick we cult fans turn to Code Red for.

Update 1/14/20 - 3/8/23: This post was originally titled "The Dead Pit Quagmire" due to some compromises fans had to accept in this film's releases.  But there's a brand new version that solves just about all of that stuff.  Would ya believe Code Red/ Dark Force have gone UHD?
So let's dig into it.  What is The Dead Pit, a zombie movie?  Well, technically, but they don't really show up until the end to up the ante and turn the finale into a wild, The Beyond-like spectacle.  For the most part, the film is a little more subdued, with a single Freddy Krueger-like supernatural slasher committing all the villainy through the bulk of the story.  It all takes place in a mental hospital, with our leading lady convinced that an evil, dead doctor is persecuting her.  She spends the majority of her time in comically exploitative underwear, and the film occasionally dips into "women in prison" territory, replete with a scene where a cackling nurse blasts her top off with a powerful fire hose.  It's all interspersed with some awfully wooden dialogue read by actors who are clearly struggling to remember the last few words of their sentences, which is what pulls the film down to suckage levels. 
But then there's all the stuff that makes it neat.  The hospital location is pretty spooky and expertly lit, with eerie green lights peaking up from The Haunting-like spiral staircases.  The film's directed by Brett Leonard, who went on to direct more mainstream fare such as Hideaway, The Lawnmower Man and Virtuosity.  None of those are what I'd regard as highly respectable films either, but you can see the qualities in here that would've lead New Line to give him those shots at the big time.  And it's full of great kills, from dental drills through the eye to melting faces and flying decapitations, all made with the classic 80s style physical effects fans trawled their video stores for back in the day.  If they'd just paid as much attention to the rest of the film as those sequences, we'd have, if not a Re-Animator level classic, at least an endearing entertainment like The Curse.  Instead, it's a more frustrating experience where cool scenes are ruined by the grind of joyless tedium you have to sit through in order to get to them.  In the end, is it worth it?  That depends on your level of patience and willingness to overlook serious flaws.  But I think this might actually work better on younger viewers who are still thinking less critically as the whole experience just washes over them, in the same way that an adult sees a man in a zippered rubber suit clumsily stepping on cheap models while a child just sees Godzilla rampaging through a decimated city.  That's why I think a lot of us are nostalgic for the old Dead Pit VHS with the novelty light-up box.
But for a very long time, it was largely academic whether you were fond or wary of The Dead Pit, because you couldn't get it on DVD if you tried.  At best, die hard aficionados were able to import hard-to-find budget discs that were barebones and fullscreen from random European territories.  Code Red finally arrived to do the film justice in 2008, releasing two versions of a proper widescreen special edition: a single disc DVD and a Best Buy exclusive 2-disc set.  It was everything you could've wanted until the HD age.  So in 2019, Code Red, this time in conjunction with Dark Force Entertainment, released a blu-ray upgrade... at least in terms of picture quality.  We'll get into it.  But any issues with that release are old news anyway, now that in 2023, Dark Force has released a brand new BD/ UHD 2-disc set with a "BRAND NEW 4k Scan with HDR and Color Correction." 
1) 2008 Code Red DVD; 2) 2019 Dark Force BD; 3) 2023 Dark Force UHD.

The blu wasn't 4k; it had a "Brand New 2k Scan from Original Negative with Extensive Scene-By-Scene Correction."  And it's certainly an obvious enhancement over the DVD transfer, with a far less muddy image and more natural colors.  Just look at the first set of shots; it's like you're trying to view the DVD through a sheet of wax paper, which has been lifted for the blu.  But the inconsistent, patchy and sometimes pixelated film grain falls a bit short of what we expect from a brand new 2k scan.  It feels like an older master, though maybe it's just troubled compression (this is a single layer disc, after all) or a side effect of their correction process.  Both are shown in 1.78:1, but the framing has shifted a bit between versions, so it's definitely not the same scan.  But I'd say most of the credit for this blu goes to the color correction rather than any great gain in resolution.
1) 2008 Code Red DVD; 2) 2019 Dark Force BD; 3) 2023 Dark Force UHD.
Happily, that is not the case with the new disc, which by the way has now been properly matted to 1.85:1.  Grain is now very distinct and fine detail is really improved, even over the blu.  Naturally, I was expecting an upgrade, but this is a surprisingly first-class UHD.  It helps that this time, they sprung for dual-layer.  The HDR is nice and subtle, giving the "normal" scenes more natural and authentic, while feeling even more supernatural for the abnormal sequences; a surprisingly attractive image.  Seriously, the jump from BD to UHD looks as extreme as the jump from DVD to blu.  The Dead Pit looks really attractive now.  There are still little flecks of film damage here and there, but nothing distracting.  In fact, they feel like they belong more than ever now that Dark Force has captured a perfectly filmic look.

For audio, we just get the original mono track (which is all I ask for), bumped up to DTS-HD on the BD and UHD, though it's still a little fuzzy.  There are no subtitle options on any of these.
Now, here's where the blu loses ground.  The special features consist of four really quite good on-camera interviews with Leonard, writer/ producer Gimel Everett and stars Cheryl Lawson & Jeremy Slate.  Neat.  We also get the trailer.  But the DVDs not only also had these interviews; they had considerably more.  There was a fun audio commentary by Leonard, Everett and Slate, and brief introductions by Slate and Lawson on the single disc edition.  Plus some bonus trailers.  Then, the 2-disc edition also included over half an hour of behind the scenes footage, and another half hour of special effects test and creation footage with effects artist Ed Martinez.  And there's a rather unusual "mini movie," which edits the film down to roughly 20 minutes, but includes alternate effects shots, particularly in the final scene where the villain suffers a completely different, gruesome fate.  Oh, and there's a stills gallery.
the 1.31:1 mini movie.
Now, I thought all that behind-the-scenes footage was pretty neat, giving you a real fly-on-the-wall vérité style peek behind the curtain of this film.  But, while it's a little disappointing, I can see why Dark Force decided not to carry all of that stuff over (the mini movie especially feels like they were just trying to find stuff to fill up that second DVD), especially if they weren't willing to spring for a second layer.  But it's just baffling to me that they decided to drop the audio commentary.  It's good natured, with a lot of laughing and back and forth, but never getting off track and failing to be informative.  Oh well.  One thing Dark Force did do is create two much-hyped glow in the dark slipcovers.  Mine, pictured above, is #2.  The first one uses the zombie artwork you see on the DVD, with the more cartoonish face.

But the 2023 release comes correct here, too.  The audio commentary is back on the UHD.  And, since this is a BD/ UHD combo-pack, it comes with a copy of the 2019 Blu-ray, so we still get the extras and the trailer.  Yeah, there was still more on the DVD, mainly Best Buy version.  But now we've got all of the best, high quality stuff.  Plus, we get another signature Dark Force slipcover (especially appropriate for this film, since it's famous for its special, VHS cover).  This one is both embossed and glow-in-the-dark.  That's a photo I took of it with my phone in the dark[left].  I'm not a big swag guy, but this is pretty bad-ass, I have to admit.
So yeah, I was a little underwhelmed by this one in 2019, but not anymore.  I was okay with, but a little disappointed by, the 2k transfer.  But the new 4k scan on UHD exceeds my expectations.  And I was annoyed by the loss of the commentary, which is now back.  A couple months ago, it leaked that the new UHD wouldn't feature the on-camera interviews, which had me pretty frustrated since I'd already pre-ordered and wasn't looking forward to losing stuff.  But that was before we learned this would be a combo-pack, so they're still secure.  Die-hard fans will still want to track down a copy of the Best Buy DVDs, but for most of us, this is all you need.

R.I.P., Banana Man.


  1. The biggest reason for the jump in quality from the Blu to the UHD was the discovery of the OCN. The Blu, though listed as being from an "original negative," was actually scanned from an IN -- a common process for Code Red in order to save money on color timing. While prepping for the UHD upgrade the OCN was actually found during element inspection, being mislabeled as another IN.

    1. Ah, that would explain why I felt the BD was disappointing, too. I almost didn't bother upgrading this title again, but I'm really glad I did.