A couple of months ago, Movie Vigilante, a long-time reader and supporter of Reel Librarians (thank you!), gave me a heads-up about the new release of the 1981 film, The Pit (aka Teddy). It’s a pretty obscure film, but one that has developed its own cult following. I pre-ordered a copy of the DVD, and it arrived on my doorstep this past weekend, just in time for me to watch and analyze it for the blog. As the film is a horror film — and it even begins with a Halloween party scene! — it’s perfect timing to round out our scary movie theme for October.
*PLOT SPOILERS THROUGHOUT*
The basic plot? This plot summary from IMDb.com sums up The Pit quite well:
Twelve year-old Jamie Benjamin is a misunderstood lad. His classmates pick on him, his neighbors think he’s weird and his parents ignore him. But now Jamie has a secret weapon: deep in the woods he has discovered a deep pit full of man-eating creatures he calls Trogs… and it isn’t long before he gets an idea for getting revenge and feeding the Trogs in the process!
One major detail this plot summary leaves out? That Jamie talks to Teddy, his teddy bear… and Teddy answers him back. Teddy even gets highlighted in the film’s title card sequence, as seen below.
Title card from ‘The Pit’ (1981)
The original screenplay, written by Ian A. Stuart, was a bit different from the final film. Jamie was younger, 8 or 9 years old, and the “tra-la-logs” (what Jamie calls the Trogs) were imaginary, not real. It’s kind of a shame that the director, Lew Lehman, didn’t follow that original vision. I always prefer psychological horror — are they real? are they not real? — because your imagination makes things scarier and more horrifying. And that’s the major pitfall (har har) of this film, the cheesy special effects. Plus some gaping plot holes that rival the actual pit in The Pit. ;D
The Pit is definitely an odd film in many ways, including the fact that it’s a Canadian horror movie that was filmed entirely in the United States. More specifically, it was filmed in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, utilizing well-known locales in that city. Beaver Dam is even thanked in the film’s credits!
Special thanks in end credits of ‘The Pit’ (1981)
When I unwrapped the DVD, I read the back of the cover, which states: “Jamie will teach everyone a lesson: the kids who teased and bullied him, the mean old lady down the street, even his pretty new babysitter.”
DVD front and back covers for ‘The Pit’ (1981)
My senses went up at the “mean old lady” comment, wondering if this was the reel librarian? But I was mistaken! The reel librarian character, Marg Livingstone, is a much younger and attractive woman (in her 30s?) played by Laura Hollingsworth. IMDb.com lists this as Hollingsworth’s sole film credit. She gets 4th billing, and the credits also list a Library Clerk, played by Cindy Auten.
But before we get to the library scenes — there are several in this film! — let’s get to the context. Within the first five minutes of the film, Jamie (played by Sammy Snyders) is seen writing sentences on a school blackboard, punishment for bringing in a naughty book. The schoolteacher opens the book, titled Creative Nude Photography, and comes across a page with a nude silhouette that’s been cut out.
Book closeup in ‘The Pit’ (1981)
Even though the book clearly has NO CALL NUMBER on the spine (the tell-tale clue to differentiate between books in a bookstore vs. a library), the schoolteacher assumes it’s a library book. She also states that she’s sure “Ms. Livingstone can find some way to repair it [the book].”
We then see her walking up to a large and beautiful stone building with the words “Williams Free Library” in scrollwork atop the front windows.
Williams Free Library exterior seen in ‘The Pit’ (1981)
Side note: The Williams Free Library was also the first public library in the United States to have open stacks, which is quite impressive. This stone building was completed in 1891 and is one of the most well-known buildings in that region. Beaver Dam built a new library in 1984, so this building now houses the Dodge County Historical Society.
Even though a few websites erroneously list Miss Livingstone as a school librarian, it’s clear that she’s actually a public librarian. Here’s a peek into the library itself (the library interiors were actually filmed at Wayland Academy in Beaver dam), when the teacher comes in to the drop off the book. In the screenshot below, you can see a corner of the nameplate on the front counter, which reveals the librarian’s name (and marital status) as Miss M. Livingstone. You are invited to also visually contrast the more formal (and dare I say, more glamorous?) attire and hairstyle of the librarian with the more casual look and hairdo of the library aide beside her.
Public library counter in ‘The Pit’ (1981)
Here’s how this scene plays out:
Librarian: Hello, Marian. What can I do for you?
Teacher: I’m returning this. Jamie, one of my little boy borrowed it. There isn’t likely to be any record of it having gone out. Perhaps you could slip it back for me?
Librarian: I’ll make sure it’s put back on the shelves.
Teacher: There’s been a little clipping from one of the pages, I’m afraid. One of the figures cut out. Can you fix that?
Librarian: We’ll just take out the whole page. Thank you.
The dialogue of this exchange seems innocuous enough, but the expressions on their faces reveal a deeper subtext. The librarian’s face visibly tightens when the teacher mentions the clipping, and the teacher notices this and looks a bit puzzled.
The next scene reveals WHY the librarian reacted this way to the news about Jamie and the clipping from the book. After the teacher leaves, Miss Livingstone immediately takes the book and her purse to a back room in the library. Unbeknownst to her, Jamie is also peeking in on this scene. (One of many convenient plot points.)
Library backroom in ‘The Pit’ (1981)
She then takes out an anonymous letter from her purse, which reveals that Jamie has sent her the nude clipping with a picture of her head glued on top! Definitely creepy and unsettling! And now the librarian knows who sent her the letter. But instead of alerting authorities, she just rips up the letter.
Ripping up an anonymous letter in ‘The Pit’ (1981)
The commentary track, provided by a film critic and film historian, highlights a major problem I had with this scene. It’s clear Miss Livingstone is an object of Jamie’s fantasies, but what was his plan or motivation for sending the letter? Is he trying to flatter her? Or is he trying to creep her out? It’s unclear.
Whatever Jamie’s motives, Miss Livingstone remains suspicious of Jamie. This also rises to the surface in the next scene in the library, almost a half-hour into the film. This is when Miss Livingstone meets Jamie’s new babysitter, Sandy, who has come to the library to check out books on “problem children.”
Sandy: I’m working for Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin, looking after…
Miss Livingstone: Jamie. Yes, well, I can certainly understand why you’d want a book on problem children. […] Look, I’d like to tell you something about that little boy that you might not know. As another woman, I’m sure you’ll understand.
Library scene in ‘The Pit’ (1981)
Although Miss Livingstone takes the opportunity to warn Sandy about Jamie, it’s clear that, once again, she chooses NOT to go to the police or other authorities to warn them about Jamie’s escalating behavior.
The next, and final, scene that takes place in the library clocks in at 37 minutes, when Miss Livingstone observes Jamie browsing the shelves at the library. The camera angles on this scene are fantastic, revealing the librarian’s suspicions nature about Jamie. It also visually posits the librarian as the “peeping tom” in this scene. Role reversal!
Librarian observes Jamie in ‘The Pit’ (1981)
Librarian observes Jamie in ‘The Pit’ (1981)
The librarian then questions the library aide, seen shelving behind Jamie, about what he checked out.
Miss Livingstone: What kind of books was that little boy taking out?
Library Aide: Art.
Miss Livingstone: What kind of art?
Library Aide: Some drawing and painting. How-to-do-it stuff. And some on animal husbandry. Maybe wants to be some kind of veterinarian.
Library steps from ‘The Pit’ (1981)
We then see Jamie opening up one of the animal husbandry books on the library steps, where he learns about carnivores. Uh oh! This is a pivotal scene, as the library book provides Jamie with knowledge about what to feed carnivores. He starts out buying meat from the butcher’s shop to feed the tra-la-logs… and then when his money funds out, he starts feeding them humans! Convenient that he only feeds them people who have been mean to him…
Jamie’s next prank is quite complex, as he successfully blackmails the librarian. He waits until her niece, Abigail (which he keeps mispronouncing as Abrigail, very annoying), is out of the house and Miss Livingstone is doing yoga in her leotard. He then plays a tape recording over a public pay phone with a pre-recorded message stating that he has kidnapped Abigail and won’t release the child unless Miss Livingstone takes off her clothes. Jamie then sneaks under her window and takes pictures of her on his Polaroid as she undresses.
Peeping Tom and polaroids from ‘The Pit’ (1981)
Major plot holes with this scene? First, Jamie makes NO ATTEMPT to disguise his voice on the recording, and Miss Livingstone has had several disturbing encounters with Jamie already. Why doesn’t she recognize his voice? (The commentary track also brings up this issue.) Second, he says on the recording that he’s watching her yet she DOESN’T BOTHER to look out the window, where she could easily spot Jamie with his camera. Third, a 12-year-old boy has pre-recorded the blackmail message, therefore having to anticipate the reactions of a 30-ish woman. Like I said before, another very convenient plot point.
When Jamie takes the Polaroids home, he shows them to Teddy, who says, “I’m going to look at these a lot.” Creepy! And then I realized that these Polaroids of the librarian are actually included on the film’s poster. Double creepy!
Polaroids in a scene from and poster for ‘The Pit’ (1981)
We never see the library or librarian again in the film. It’s interesting to note that Miss Livingstone does survive in the end, and there doesn’t seem to be any attempt on Jamie’s part to include her with the “bad people” he lures into the pit. (By the way, the aforementioned niece, Abigail, is not so lucky. She was mean to Jamie and played a trick on him with her bicycle. She got scolded by her librarian aunt for this trick, but that was not punishment enough for Jamie… )
In general, Miss Livingstone comes across as a pleasant, stylish, competent, and intelligent woman (except for when she didn’t recognize Jamie’s voice over the phone). She is seen both inside and outside the library, including at home with her hair down) as well as around town. The reel librarian is a supporting character, earning The Pit a spot in the Class III category.
Closeups of the librarian in ‘The Pit’ (1981)
As for what purpose or role she fulfills in the film? Primarily, she’s an Information Provider: she, or the library she represents, provides pivotal information to Jamie — unwittingly helping escalate his behavior. Miss Livingstone also provides a reference point, a touchstone, for the audience as she mirrors our growing dread and suspicion of Jamie.
Although she doesn’t actually portray a Naughty Librarian in the film, it’s almost as if the filmmakers are pitting her character against that fantasy in others, namely Jamie. This is also echoed in the commentary track for the first library scene, as the film critic and film historian (both males) talk about how Miss Livingstone is an object of Jamie’s affection.
1st commentator: You can tell because the glasses are so enticing. [sarcastic tone]
2nd commentator: At some point … the hair’s going to go down and the glasses are going to come off, and she is going to be a hottie.
Here’s how the reel librarian character is described on the Canuxploitation site:
“Miss Livingston is the world’s most uptight librarian and appears to hold some deep, dark secret which is never revealed.”
I don’t agree with this characterization, that she is “the world’s most uptight librarian.” I interpreted her reactions to Jamie’s behavior as quite understandable, as a woman who is trying to do her job and go about her daily life. Instead, she has to deal with unwanted and inappropriate — not to mention unsolicited! — sexual attention and fantasies from a young boy.
Can you tell who I sympathize with in this movie? It sure isn’t Teddy…
One final note: Although the creatures are listed as “Trogs” in the film’s credit, Jamie refers to them as “tra-la-logs” throughout the entire film. Every single time, this made me think of the “Mr. Trololo” singer and YouTube video clip that made the rounds on the Internet a couple of years ago. More creepiness!
So that wraps up this year’s scary movie posts, an annual tradition each October on the Reel Librarians blog. Here are the scary movies and reel librarians we looked at this past month:
After collating this list, I also realized that during this past month we have looked at movies from four different decades: the ’50s, the ’70s, the ’80s, and the ’90s. 🙂
Which scary movie post was your favorite? Please leave a comment and share.