The Time(s) When Matt Farley Fell in The Pit

Our Movie of the Month ritual involves everyone in the crew taking turns introducing a film that no one else has seen yet. It’s an experience we try our best to enter blind, without any preemptive research. I failed that stipulation by just a week’s time this October by watching a stealth remake of CC’s first Movie of the Month selection, the 1981 Canuxploitation classic The Pit, without knowing what I was getting into. While I had never seen The Pit before, stray details of its cult-circuit reputation were still potent enough in the ether that I recognized I was spoiling the movie for myself by watching a parody of it a week early. The question is, how could I have possibly suspected that a parody of The Pit even existed until I was already watching it? What kind of deranged madman would even think to make a feature-length parody of that little-seen Canadian horror curio, much less actually follow through? The only possible answer, of course, is Matt Farley – but it’s a discovery that only leads to more questions as you track the ripple effects of Farley’s fixation on The Pit in the larger picture of his entire Motern Media catalog.

Once you’ve seen the original work, Matt Farley’s 2002 horror comedy Sammy: The Tale of a Teddy and a Terrible Tunnel is unmistakable as a feature-length homage to The Pit. I suspected as much when I originally watched Sammy (in my summer-long determination to watch all of Matt Farley’s available filmography), but what I didn’t realize was exactly how deep that influence seeped. In Sammy, Matt Farley changes his name to Jamie to match the protagonist of The Pit, even mentally de-aging his own character with a head injury to match the original Jamie’s emotional & sexual maturity. He carries an oversized, telepathic teddy bear that encourages him to violate the sexual privacy of his babysitter (including exact recreations of two key bathroom scenes from The Pit). He gets banned from the library for staging disruptive pranks. He wages war on a bratty neighbor named Abergail, who believes the phrase “funny person” to be the ultimate insult. He lures his perceived enemies to a woodland setting, where they’re eaten by a captive prehistoric monster that eventually breaks free to cause widespread havoc. Sammy is not a loose homage to The Pit; it’s basically a cinematic cover song, a low-key remake.

However, watching Sammy and watching The Pit are too wildly different experiences, mostly because of their respective, outright opposed tones. Part of what distinguishes Matt Farley from most microbudget, backyard horror auteurs is that his work is aggressively wholesome. I get the sense that he (along with frequent collaborator Charles Roxburgh) was raised on VHS-era horror oddities like The Pit, but doesn’t have the heart to recreate their cruelty. My favorite aspect of The Pit, beyond the volume & variety of its monstrous threats, was how uncomfortable & grotesque its depictions of pubescent sexuality could be. In The Pit, Jamie is a menacing pervert who squicks out his entire community with his weaponized libido, which he barely disguises with a Rhoda Penmark-style performance of innocence. In Sammy, by contrast, Jamie is an adult man conveying that exact childish sexuality, right down to the very same acts of bathtime inappropriateness, but somehow Farley makes its impact far less creepy. His favorite aspects of The Pit were obviously the more innocuous, absurd touches like the name Abergail, the “talking” teddy bear, repetitions of the phrase “funny person,” etc. When it comes to being genuinely creepy & sexually uncomfortable, he doesn’t seem to have the heart; it’s a wholesome monster movie aesthetic that makes his already hyper-specific regional cinema ethos all the more distinct.

When I mentioned to Matt that I planned to revisit Sammy in light of having recently seen The Pit (he is extremely, radically approachable), he “joked” that I must rewatch all of his movies in that context, as they were all influenced by that formative relic. I immediately saw his point. Besides Farley’s aggressively localized, microbudget version of horror-comedy worshiping the regional cinema ethos of The Pit as if it were a religious doctrine, his own movies follow its exact narrative pattern over & over again. In most contexts, The Pit’s structure of functioning as a psychological drama & a hangout comedy until rapidly mutating into a full-on creature feature in its final minutes would seem erratic & illogical. In the context of Matt Farley’s pictures, it’s a rigid blueprint. In most Matt Farley movies there’s a Riverbeast, a “Gospercap,” a cult of modern “druids,” or a shameless peeping Tom lurking in the woods just outside of the action for most of the runtime, then rushing in to cause havoc just minutes before the end credits. Watching Sammy, I was amazed that someone had committed to remaking a minor curio as underseen as The Pit (way back in 2002, long before every movie of its ilk got the 4k Blu-Ray restoration treatment). Since Matt Farley tweeted back at me, my amazement has only deepened, as I’ve since realized he’s been remaking The Pit over & over again his entire career as a filmmaker. It’s as impressively committed as it is baffling.

As interesting of a pairing as Sammy makes with The Pit, it’s not the first Matt Farley title I’d recommend to fans of that classic. His holy trinity of greatest accomplishments – Local Legends, Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You!, and Monsters, Murder, and Marriage in Manchvegas – all convey the taste of The Pit’s influence on the Motern Media catalog you’d need to get the full picture, and they’re each much more satisfying as isolated works. (In true Matt Farley fashion, Sammy is part of a complex mythology of interconnected “druid” films, even though it doesn’t contain druids itself.) As a stunt & an act of stubborn follow-through, however, it’s astounding that Farley & crew completed a feature-length homage to that Canuxploitation gem in the first place, one made mind-bogglingly wholesome through revision & fixation. It’s worth seeing just for that commitment & audacity alone.

For more on October’s Movie of the Month, the horned-up Canuxploitation horror curio The Pit, check out our Swampchat discussion of the film, our look at its big-budget equivalent, The Gate (1987), and last week’s examination of how it could have easily have been a Gooby-level embarrassment.

-Brandon Ledet

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