Wisconsin Horror: The Pit (1981)
Jamie feeds an old woman to the creatures in The Pit
12-year-old Jamie Benjamin is a bit disturbed. He’s being bullied at school, he’s developed an unhealthy obsession with his pretty young babysitter, his teddy bear tells him to do bad things, and he’s feeding to people to a hole in the woods full of evil creatures he calls tra-la-logs.
While it may not be a good movie, exactly, The Pit is a strange, deranged, and sleazy bit of cinema, which is exactly what I expect from an 1980s horror flick. And to up the weird ante, the Canadian production helmed by American director Lew Lehman was filmed almost entirely in and around Beaver Dam, Wisconsin.
The original screenplay penned by Ian A. Stuart was a dark exploration of the mind of a deeply troubled child. To Stuart’s dismay, Lehman twisted the story into “grade-B garbage.” He turned Jamie’s psychological demons into real, hungry monsters, and added gratuitous nudity to secure an R rating. You couldn’t have a commercially viable horror movie in the 80s without ample boobs, blood, or, preferably, copious amounts of both.
The only problem was Lehman’s wife was NOT having it.
“Probably the most ludicrous fact about the shoot was that the director’s wife refused to let him shoot the nude scenes, so I had to shoot them,” Stuart said in a 2011 interview. “I was a director with several films to my credit so it wasn’t technically difficult, but the only scene involving nudity the director was allowed to film was the ‘skinny dipping’ scene because the actress he hired for the part was his daughter!”
The Pit may have fallen short of Stuart’s intended story, but it shines as an utterly bizarre (and uncomfortable) 80s cult classic.
“People still contact me after seeing the film,” Stuart says, “to say that although it wasn’t a good film they felt there was something else going on under the surface.”
An extremely rare novelization by John Gault called Teddy was publish in 1980. It is said to be a chilling story that adheres much closer to Stuart’s work.
Downtown Beaver Dam as seen in The Pit
All of the shots around town and in Jamie’s neighborhood were filmed in Beaver Dam in September and October of 1979. Jamie’s house can be found at 115 N. Vita Street. The stand-in for his school is the Beaver Dam Middle School at 108 Fourth St. When Jamie goes to the library to research what to feed the things in the pit, he sits on the steps of the historical Williams Free Library building, which is now the home of the Dodge County Historical Society at 105 Park Ave. The library interior was filmed at nearby Wayland Academy.
After paging through the book he checks out, Jamie decides the tra-la-logs are carnivorous. The butcher shop he buys meat from once stood at 209 West St.
The Williams Free Library building in The Pit
Jamie reads his book on the steps of the library
Beaver Dam Middle School as seen in The Pit
Jamie and his babysitter walk in Swan Park by the historic Spring House
Beaver Dam police search for a missing person eaten by the tra-la-logs
According to the trivia on IMDB, Sammy Snyders, the actor who played Jamie, would go out dancing at a disco bar in Beaver Dam on his off hours. It also says about 50 locals were hired for the production crew.
The pit itself was filmed in the woods in Waupun, and the brief football game scene took place at UW-Oshkosh’s J.J. Keller Field at Titan Stadium.