Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Kino Lorber Studio Classics - THE PIT and ASTRO-ZOMBIES on Blu-ray ""

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Kino Lorber Studio Classics - THE PIT and ASTRO-ZOMBIES on Blu-ray

THE PIT (1981; Lew Lehman)
There are weird movies and there are bad movies and then there's THE PIT. I don't want to use the word "unclassifiable" with regards to it, but it is truly such an odd and unique little horror film that I'd hate to have to describe it briefly. I mean, I could say something like "It's a film about a sexually repressed, but curious kid who talks to his teddy bear all the time and the bear often gives him advice about who to lure into this strange pit in the woods behind his house that has these little demon trolls or something in it", but that's a little reductive. Your immediate response upon hearing that synopsis may be to burst into laughter and that's perfectly reasonable (I know I would), but there's more to this film than a whacked out premise. While it's difficult to not snicker at some moments here, there are quite a few scenes with some genuine creepiness and this really comes primarily from actor Sammy Snyders and his lead performance as the boy - Jamie. Now I'm kind of half and half on the "creepy kid" genre and often find this type of film annoying a tedious, but THE PIT is one of my favorites. My affection for it derives mainly from the combination of Jamie being such a strangely disturbed kid (too old to have a teddy bear at all, let alone one that talks to him), the little mutant troglodyte creatures (which resemble the Critters from that popular 80s franchise)  and the perverse sexuality of the movie overall. The story is that Jamie's parent's go out of town for a week or so and he is left in the care of a live-in babysitter (Jeannie Elias). As the days go by, the babysitter witnesses and becomes more aware of Jamie's ominous and inappropriate behavior as the drama begin to escalate between them. All the while, Jamie is learning more and more about what the troglodytes like to eat (spoiler alert: it's meat) and trying to come up with ways to feed them (as he has decided to become their caretaker for whatever reason). The film goes to some places you might expect, but there's a good deal of unsettling weirdness that cannot be predicted (or explained really). In listening to the screenwriter's interview on this disc's extras, there is actually something of an explanation for why the movie feels a bit off (casting choices and a key scene excised), but I must say that this is a case where I am kinda glad that it ended up as it did. As it stands, THE PIT is one of the more bizarre and wonderful movie watching experiences that you'll ever have and that is the truth.

Special Features:
When Kino Lorber initially announced they would be putting this film out on Blu-ray, I was absolutely floored (in a good way). That a fan-favorite Canadian produced horror obscurity like this could be given the HD treatment was quite exciting by itself, but Kino went one further and packed the disc with a bunch of extra features on top of that! Between the illuminating commentary track and the interviews with the cast and crew members, these supplements shed quite a bit of light on this heretofore mysterious film's production and how it came to be what it was. It's a great disc for cult movie fans and a must own. Included are:
-An Audio Commentary by Paul Corupe of and Film Historian Jason Pichonsky
-Problem Child - An Interview with Star Sammy Sniders (16 mins)
-The Babysitter - an Interview with Star Jeannie Elias (7 mins)
-Teddy Told Me To - An Interview with Screenwriter Ian. A Stewart (13 mins)
-The Music of Mischief & Monsters - an Interview with Composer Victor Davies (8 mins)
Buy THE PIT here:
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ASTRO-ZOMBIES (1968; Ted V. Mikels)
I was saddened to hear of Ted Mikel's recent passing as I know he meant a lot to genre and low-budget movie fans. He is one of those mythic filmmaking figures that I only came to become aware of initially because of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (and it’s no coincidence that this Blu-ray includes a RiffTrax Commentary by the way). I believe that GIRL IN GOLD BOOTS was the first Mikels movie I saw and it honestly didn’t stick with me, so I may have ended up letting him slip off my radar for a while. It wasn’t until years later when I was working my way through the filmographies of Al Adamson and Andy Milligan that my interest in Mikels cropped up again. I watched and was entertained by his film THE DOLL SQUAD and was about to seek out ASTRO-ZOMBIES when I caught wind of this Blu-ray coming out and decided to hold off. Why I felt like I needed to see a movie like this in high definition is beyond me, but I did. In finally watching the film I am finally able to understand it's cult appeal. It's not necessarily my kind of thing, but it has a shaggy, Ed Wood-y quality about it that certainly gives it some personality. Mikels seems to have been director who was not afraid to get in there and do whatever it took to get what he needed for his movies. During the opening of ASTRO-ZOMBIES, there is a shot of a woman driving a convertible down the street and we see her through the windshield. Apparently, it was Mikels himself who was operating camera for this shot and he was on the hood of the car holding onto the windshield wipers to steady himself. It is this kind of do-it-yourself bravado that I think was rare even among the shoestring directors of the 1960s that perhaps helps define Ted Mikels and his approach to making movies on the cheap. ASTRO-ZOMBIES has occasionally been placed in the company of the worst films ever made and I can see why it might fall into that category, but I found it charming in a lot of ways. Science-fiction and horror from this period done for this kind of money has a plucky quality about it that has a tendency to hook me. The plot is ridiculous and concerns the creation of some superhuman monsters in a Frankenstein-y kind of way that end up going on a rampage and killing lots of people. The cast is quite fun too, with Tura Sutana, Wendell Corey, and John Carradine headlining and bringing a lot of cult cache with them.

Special Features:
Another nice disc from Kino here and this one is heavy on the commentaries. You have the previously mentioned RiffTrax commentary - which is of course quite funny. Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett provide their usual dose of delightful levity with this track and I guffawed several times while listening. But wait, there's more! Also included is a commentary the man himself - director Ted V. Mikels. This is a great little track with a very jovial Mikels recounting some entertaining and informative stories about how he made the film. He seems quite sharp and his memory of locations, actors and other details are quite solid. It's very nice to have this audio archive especially now that Mikels is no longer with us. Lastly, there is a final commentary track by Horror Cinema Historian Chris Alexander which is also quite explanatory and a good listen.

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