Before I get off on a tangent with the ascertainable atmosphere within The Dead Pit, allow me to mention that the film is inclined to have a tremulous build up for some. It took me several viewings to make it past the 30 minute mark and I'm sure glad I finally buckled down for this treat. After its bizarre Ghoulies-esque opening scene of a young(er) Jeremy Slate lurking down a spiral staircase bathed in a ghoulish green smoke only to find a mad scientist who has been using the hospital's patients getting bizarre lobotomies and brain manipulation techniques. Telling the crazed Ramzi that this must come to an end, he puts a bullet between his eyes, rolls him in his "dead pit" and seals the cellar to the abandoned ward. Cut to the present, Dr. Gerald Swan (Slate) has become a shut-in psychiatrist with a misappropriated addiction to alcohol and counseling his patients. With the admittance of a new patient, one with a strange case of amnesia(?), a mysterious earthquake ravages the grounds and breaks the seal to the dead pit.
While the film desperately struggles to breathe life into all its characters, this proves unnecessary as the dead rise from their Nickelodeon-flavored point of entry to devour the brains of all who have entered upon this unholy ground. Cheryl Lawson as Jane Doe is pitch perfect as an entrancing bubblehead but not much more than that. Actress she is not, dissenting guinea pig of psychological and physical torture by way of a malicious manifestation she is. Her connection with the sinister undead ringleader goes as far as one with any luck in predictability would assume. Jane Doe's adventures at night as she daintily sneaks past guard prove to be superfluous at most as most of her contact with the specter prove to be through her dreams until the finale. Even as dated and aged as the film appears to be, The Dead Pit does feature an exquisite set of decadence as told through abandoned hospital wing. To strengthen this aspect, Brett Leonard utilizes several camera techniques way before their time to great effect e.g. the chase scenes through the halls as our poor lead actress flees in fear of falling victim to her boogeyman. At first glance, these scenes might appear to be ordinary but pay close attention as these tactics have just begun being employed again in such a similar "sweeping" pattern. See also: Live Free or Die Hard for a recent example.
Perhaps the most universal ground of praise in The Dead Pit would be the climax of the film where Dr. Ramzi commands all his minions to shuffle ominously through the swinging double doors. Again, the implementing of the fog machine works to a brilliant key stroke. The calamitous nature of these bumbling fiends plays to great regards the tension needed for the shuffling beasts and their lack of humanity. Now while these slaves are limited by command, they break down my expectations to kill two police officers just off the property which sets the mood nicely for an all-over possibility of this supernatural epidemic breaking past the grounds and possibly into a world-killing event. Just a thought. The Dead Pit, while being an 80s horror film, is a sugar rush of evil incarnate. This comes as no surprise from the highly efficient skills of Brett Leonard. It's rather saddening to see him resort to directing Highlander films nowadays as he was such an unregarded icon in both cyber-thrillers and debut zombie features. The Dead Pit comes greatly recommended if you can digest the constant dribble of loons until you reach the midway notch. This is a film that matures as the mysticism of evil progresses; a very nice touch for a first-timer.