The Dead Pit – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

Twenty years ago, a mad surgeon named Ramzi at a hospital for the mentally insane used his patients in a secret experiment deep within the hospital’s basement and found a way to conquer death just before being shot in the head and sealed in the tomb by a fellow doctor. Now, an earthquake has broken open the seal and the undead surgeon, who has patiently waited for his day to return and begin his experiments anew, is let loose. It is on this very day that the hospital receives its latest patient, a buxom brunette who claims to have had her memory stolen and goes by the name of Jane Doe.

Jane spends each day being terrorized by images of the insane undead surgeon, although no one else seems to notice him, and her nights having her dreams tormented by images of her past. But Ramzi is not content in just giving Jane goosebumps, and begins to kidnap patients and hospital staff and brings them back to the now abandoned building where he continues his experiments in keeping the dead alive. When his army of still living and stumbling corpses is discovered, they are unleashed upon the hospital grounds to feed and only Jane, a patient obsessed with explosives, and a little holy water can stop them!

As part of the last wave of horror films to be released in the 1980s, director Brett Leonard’s low budget zombie flick is a shambling hodgepodge of what makes these sort of creature features so great and at the same time so bad. With inspiration that can easily be traced back to Re-Animator, Leonard and co-writer Gimel Everett try to give their zombie hoards a fresh and perhaps even pseudo-scientific origin rather than the “no more room in Hell” motif. But as the zombies don’t make their appearance until well into the final reel of the movie, Leonard seems even more interested with providing as many chances as possible to get Cheryl Lawson as Jane Doe well-endowed body into a tank-top that is two sizes too small, and providing politically incorrect humor at the expense of the mentally insane that wander in the background.

Despite this being his debut, Leonard, who would go on to give the cyberpunk genre two memorable entries with The Lawnmower Man and Virtuosity, has all the makings of an entertaining schlockfest well in hand. With the movie being filmed inside an actual asylum for the criminally insane which had been closed down, the shadow-filled clinical feeling of the sets provides a very natural and uneasy tingling that permeates much of the movie. Leonard uses this with an amazing and resonating effect to build up a very suspenseful atmosphere with more than a dash of claustrophobia. Leonard also takes on the use of the tried-and-true ’80s style blue backlighting through fog to cast unearthly shadows across the screen.

While the zombies wait patiently just off stage for their chaotic reign of terror, Cheryl Lawson provides ample entertainment as Jane Doe. Sure she may not have the best line delivery (incidentally she later found success as a stunt woman) and any attempt to become scream queen material leaves much to be desired. But she does have an incredible body and absolutely no shame when it comes to parading around in skimpy clothes on cold night, and that goes a long way in a borderline exploitation movie like this. Danny Gochnauer, who makes his only screen appearance as here as Dr. Ramzi, uses his naturally demonic facial expressions coupled with some generously applied latex, to a make a memorable king of the zombies. The medical-themed puns he is entrusted with might even make Freddy Kruger cringe, but his creepy screen presence more than makes up for it.

Once the zombies become unleashed and Ramzi goes into overdrive conducting his experiments on his freshest victims, Brett Leonard and the special effects crew let the fake blood and gore flow. Some of their highlights include a dentist drill through the eye, the affects of holy water on a zombie, and an exposed brain being poked by acupuncture needles. Of course there is also the prerequisite brain munching and bloody corpses that make up a majority of the zombie masses, and Leonard relishes in it all with great abandon. Though there are a few weak elements here and there, it all just adds to the overall charm of the production.

And that is what it all comes down to. The Dead Pit is certainly not without its faults, with more than a few questionable plot holes throughout the meandering story and nothing but b-grade acting across the board, but damn if it isn’t a fun and charming little zombie flick that never gets pretentious and never takes itself seriously. Leonard just wants to provide a hundred minutes of pure ’80s cheese to the home video market, and his enthusiasm as a first time director is wholly infectious virus that more than covers a few bumps and blemishes along the way.


The anamorphic widescreen transfer retains much of the “video quality” sheen that plagues many lower budget films of this era, especially during the night sequences. The original mono soundtrack is also included, and once again has that meddlesome fuzzy noise of the era, but is never distracts from the enjoyment of the movie.


Interviews – Director Brett Leonard, Co-writer Gimel Everett and stars Cheryl Lawson and Jeremy Slate are each separately interviewed and look back with fond memories on the movie.

Audio Commentary – Remember that previous mentioned infectious enthusiasm? It is no more apparent than in this highly entertaining group commentary with Brett Leonard, Gimel Everett and Jeremy Slate.

Original Trailer – Discover how the film was originally marketed.

Code Red Trailers – Five trailers for other releases by Code Red, including Night Warning and Sole Survivor.


A fun time will be had by all with this under seen and underappreciated slice of ’80s cheese, and as this is the “Unrated Director’s Cut” you’ll be ensured that all the best parts have been meticulously restored.

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Code Red presents The Dead Pit. Directed by Brett Leonard. Starring Jeremy Slate, Cheryl Lawson, Stephen Foster, Danny Gochnauer. Written by Brett Leonard and Gimel Everett. Running time: 101 minutes. Not Rated. Released on DVD: June 17, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.