Wisconsin Horror: The Pit (1981)
12-year-old Jamie Benjamin is a bit disturbed. He’s being bullied at school, he’s developed an unhealthy sexual obsession with his pretty young babysitter, his teddy bear talks to him, 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 strange, deranged, and sleazy, which is exactly what I expect from an 1980s horror flick. And to up the weird ante, it was filmed almost entirely in and around Beaver Dam, Wisconsin.
The Pit was a Canadian production, but with American director Lew Lehman on board, the decision was made to film in the US. Why Wisconsin? Why Beaver Dam, of all places? I have no idea.
Jamie’s home, the middle school, and the library from the movie can still be found in Beaver Dam today. For some reason, the pit itself was dug out and filmed in Waupun. 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 original screenplay penned by Ian A. Stuart was a dark exploration into 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 PG-13 horror movie in the 80s.
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 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.