‘80s Oddities: The Pit & Paperhouse

Did I see every horror/sci-fi/weird-ass movie released during the ‘80s? At the time I felt like I did. But I must have been too busy watching Re-Animator on a continuous loop to catch them all, especially when they came from such peculiar, far-off, probably imaginary lands like Canada and the U.K.

the pit 1981 posterFor most of my childhood, “Canadian movie” simply meant one directed by David Cronenberg, so it’s no wonder something as cheap and weird as The Pit (’81) passed me by. I’d have liked it more as a ten year old, but even as an adult, its creative oddness impresses, if not a whole lot else. I mean it does feature a telepathically communicative teddy bear, so one certainly can’t dismiss it altogether.

Sad to say, the teddy bear plays a less disturbing role than it might have, only bothering to talk or rotate its head infrequently. The troglodytes living in the pit likewise make fewer appearances than one hopes for, but by the end they go on a satisfying rampage. They’re small and hairy with rabid woodchuck faces and glowing red eyes. They’re almost adorable. You want to be their friends.

And so. The pit. Jamie, a horny twelve year old boy, discovers it in the woods behind his house, and enjoys hanging out on its rim observing the shuffling monsters living within. He can’t pronounce troglodytes and calls them tra-la-logs. Kids are so cute.

Arf.

Arf.

Horny kid that he is, he falls hard for his babysitter, college babe Sandy, who is alternately charmed/weirded out by Jamie’s blatant lusting. He gets around to telling her about the pit, but she doesn’t believe him.

It’s probably around here that teddy the bear starts telling Jamie to do creepy stuff like steal Jamie’s money, buy meat, and feed it to the trogs. Better yet, he tells Jamie to feed them the various townsfolk who’ve oppressed him, like the mean librarian with large breasts and the nasty little girl who won’t let him ride her awesome bicycle. Also? A mean old lady in a wheelchair he tips into the gaping hole.

Bye, grandma!

Bye, grandma!

Eventually Sandy figures she’d better get a look at these alleged monsters. And oh my, does she ever get a good look! Mwa ha ha!

But hey, no spoilers. Aside from this one: there’s no happy ending. Unless by “happy” you mean one of those everyone-gets-eaten cheapo horror flick endings with a surprise ‘ha ha!‘ to cap it off. You know what I’m talking about.

I’m not going to tell you The Pit is a good movie, but it is a weird movie, which is mostly the same thing if you ask me. So the next time you find yourself about to watch Troll 2 yet again, why not check out The Pit instead?

paperhouse posterPaperhouse (’88) comes with a somewhat better pedigree. For a low-budget creepy kids’ flick, it was released in a somewhat normal fashion, and irritable film critics like Roger Ebert reviewed it (positively; Siskel went thumbs down). Bernard Rose directed it, his first feature. He’d go on to greater cultish fame in ’92 with Candyman, and in ’94 with Immortal Beloved, in which Gary Oldman eats the scenery as Beethoven.

This one is centered on an eleven year old girl, Anna, who draws a frankly pretty crappy drawing of a house and then, when she passes out at school one day, finds herself in a weird, empty dreamworld field. Empty save a dreamworld version of her house! Whoa! It’s just like Dreamscape but without the killer lizard man or evil scientists or Eddie Albert dreaming of nuclear devastation.

So, okay, a little different.

Anna is terribly sick, it turns out, and the mean nurse lady tells her to stay in bed, so she does, and keeps finding herself back in her dreamworld house. At first it lacks things like stairs, so she has to draw them while awake. Same with a boy she draws in the window, Mark, who in fact may be her dream interpretation of a sick boy her nurse tells her about. I mean, yes, of course it is. I’m just trying to keep things exciting here.

Inside the house

Inside the house

Also, her dad is, I don’t know, gone, or something? Dead? No, a drunk, that’s it, and on the outs with mom. Anna draws him into her house, only then she gets mad at something or other and scratches out his eyes and crumples up the drawing. When next she visits, the house is trashed, Mark is annoyed, and dad, freakishly eyeless and demonic and wielding a hammer, comes I guess to kill them both. Can’t tell you why, but there we are.

It’s kind of disturbing.

But then again, is it? Maybe it’s just so odd you feel mystified. Anna and Mark deal with dad in what feels like the climax, and then the movie keeps going for another fifteen minutes, and if anything is mystifying about Paperhouse it’s that.

Dad drops by

Dad drops by

I’d heard good things about this one. I was a bit disappointed. It’s not your normal kid-escapes-dreary-reality-into-dreamwold movie, but not necessarily in a good way. More in a is-that-really-what-they-were-going-for? way. Time Bandits it ain’t.

Still, Paperhouse tries. It wants to capture something real about childhood fears and fantasies. It’s just that it lacks troglodytes and a talking teddy bear.

paperhouse 1988

2 responses on “‘80s Oddities: The Pit & Paperhouse

  1. I’ve been meaning to watch Paperhouse for years as it’s written by friend-of-Mind-Control Matthew Jacobs. It’s recently available on streaming, but I haven’t had much time for oddball 80s-style horror lately — I’ve been getting enough via the news.

    But I’ll watch it soon unless the troglodytes get me first, which is seeming increasingly likely.

    • Ah, I didn’t make that connection. See what happens when I ignore the screenwriter? I should know better.

      And yes, it would appear America has thrown a rope into the troglodyte pit. Now they’re loose. Sigh.

Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man.