Don't Look in the Basement
The day the insane took over the asylum!
Year of Release: 1973
Also Known As: The Forgotten, Don't Go in the Basement, Death Ward #13, The Snake Pit
Running Time: 89 minutes (1:29)
Director: S.F. Brownrigg
Rosie Holotik ... Nurse Charlotte Beale
Annabelle Weenick ... Dr. Geraldine S. Masters
Bill McGhee ... Sam
Harryette Warren ... Jennifer D.
Jessie Kirby ... Danny
Hugh Feagin ... Sgt. Jaffee
Betty Chandler ... Allyson King
Camilla Carr ... Harriet
Gene Ross ... Judge Oliver W. Cameron
Rhea MacAdams ... Mrs. Callingham
Nurse Charlotte Beale arrives at the isolated Stephens Sanitarium to work, only to learn that Dr. Stephens was murdered by one of the patients and his successor, Dr. Geraldine Masters, is not very eager to take on new staff. Charlotte finds her job maddeningly hard as the patients torment and harass her at every turn; she soon learns why Dr. Masters is so eager to keep outsiders out.
Don't Look in the Basement, remindin' us that it's good to be the king... but it's *great* to be the telephone repair man. So maybe the dame that came onto 'im was nuttier'n a pecan log, I don't see what the big problem is. I mean, it's not like she's ever gettin' outta the straitjacket suite anytime soon an really, this isn't any more dangerous than pickin' up a hooker on Sunset Strip. Man, the 70s must've been a great time to be alive. These days the broad'd be stalkin' the guy on Facebook an fixin' the brakes on alla his female co-workers' cars before sendin' 'er PTSD ridden, ex-military brother over to the guy's house to remind 'im about his "obligations." Sure, once Dr. Heelgood found out about the closet shenanigans she may've scheduled a little infacive surgery on the guy, but that sorta thing happens to the best of us now an then. Besides, there's no fun in it when that element of danger's missin' anyway. Heck, I had to get an ear sewn back on an 13 stitches in my... well, suffice to say, every encounter is a real learnin' experience. For instance, now I always check to make sure that any hoo-ha piercins have a post attached to 'em. You only make that mistake once, that's for sure. I guess what I'm tryin' to say is, love hurts. Especially when you've got no health insurance an you've gotta get stitched up by a guy named Tetnis out in a fishin' shanty behind Walleye's Topless Dancing & Bait Shop. But if nothin' else, the man does at least have a surprisingly good bedside manner. In any event, there really ain't time to go into alla my wheelins an dealins, but I promised Tetnis I'd help get his name out there now that I'm a famous movie critic in exchange for diggin' those press on nails outta my lower posterior last weekend, so now we can get down to business. See? We're even now, Tetnis.
Anyway, this one's gotta be just about the finest movie ever to be filmed in Tehuacana, Texas that documents exactly what happened to that lady that got thrown in the crossbar hotel after those narrow-minded cops wouldn't believe a dingo ate 'er baby. An in appreciation of those efforts, I'ma be a swell guy an share a few of the things that I learned from watchin' this one, cause it'd be just plain wrong to hoard all this insight an leave alla you guys goin' to bed stupid every night. First, you can actually be locked up in the quack shack for nothin' more'n bein' a little bit slower'n other folks. This is extremely bad news for Ken Ham, John Elway, an whoever was supposed to be makin' sure Jennifer Lawrence didn't get too carried away with the Coco Locos at Madonna's Oscar party. Second, overthrowin' dictators an hospital administrators never ends up makin' a damn bit of difference. Oh sure, the guy with his eyes on the prize always promises freedom, a commitment to improvin' the lives of their subjects, an to always adhere to the will of the people. But the moment they get that brass ring, BAM! Next thing you know, they start rampin' up the torture an cuttin' off access to the game room. An third, if you can't lay anyone nice, don't lay anyone at all. We've prolly got different definitions of "nice," but I'm not your mama, so you can figure that last one out the hard way if you think you're so smart.
But even after learnin' as much as I have from this one, I've still got a question that demands some serious attention, cause we've got this weirdo in the movie who's a few turds short of a compost heap that carries this Cabbage Patch doll around with 'er everywhere she goes, who ends up losin' this thing no less than three times throughout the course of the movie. But does Child Protective Services ever show up to put Polly Pocket in a foster home so the maniac in the Waldo shirt'll quit kidnappin' 'er an causin' irreversible psychological trauma? No sir. They treat 'er like a second class citizen just cause she's made of petroleum products. So she's stuck with this unhinged psychopath that loses 'er child more'n Catherine O'Hara an everyone is okay with this? Did I miss something?! An this isn't even countin' the fact that she's lettin' the inanimate infant sleep with a blanket that could easily smother 'er, or that she puts it in bed with 'er at night when everybody knows that causes an unhealthy emotional attachment. Course, that's if the kid's even lucky enough to avoid gettin' rolled on harder'n Justin Bieber's mama when he got caught takin' 'er prescription meds, causin' its head to resemble a basketball that's been sittin' out in the rain since 1968. I mean, seriously, we can't let gay couples adopt babies, but we let Squeaky Fromme here go unchecked an unsupervised with Raggedy Ann out at Chateau Van Gogh? What in the name of Jehovah's jack-booted junk is wrong with these people? I want Betsy Wetsy taken into protective custody an I mean like three days ago, god damnit. Cripes almighty, she's damn near dehydrated from all the fear pissin' she's been doin' in this woman's care. It's stuff like this that makes me afraid to even watch the next movie, cause everytime I think I've seen the worst society has to offer, I end up takin' another set of steel toes right in the ole reproductive rail station. I suppose it prolly would've happened anyway, though. You prolly aren't gonna believe this, but some of the things I've said over the years've actually upset some people. Some people though, they just don't wanna hear the truth, 'specially when it's about their mamas, I've noticed.
The movie begins in a home for the mentally constipated out in God's country where this nurse (Jane) that's closer to the edge than Chester Bennington's tryin' to round up all the denizens for dinner. On the guest list, we've got; Sergeant Slobber (ex military man that thinks Charlie's on the far hillside ready to sack his post at any moment), Jennifer "Pugnacious" D. (Hot an cold runnin' crazy. Sometimes bashful, other times slashful), Danny aka "The Giggly Wiggly" (hyperactive jerkoff who's the kinda guy that eats six bowls of chili the night before his fraternity tries breakin' the phone-booth stuffin' record), Allyson "Obsessive Humpulsive Disorder" King (she'll open up the baby hatch for anybody that tells 'er she's pretty enough to take to Ruby Tuesday), Aussie Ann Harriet (who looks to have gone scooters after a dingo ate 'er baby an carries around a Betsy Wetsy everywhere she goes), Judge Chopner (who's jury seems to be on permanent sequester), Mrs. Curingham (an old hag in serious need of a dermatologist that resembles a cigar store Indian), an Sam Bubba Gump, who wants nothin' more outta life than to get his boat in the water an start a bathtub shrimp fishin' company. I dunno how far it'll go, but if he gets his net in the water after Allyson showers, he'll prolly at least catch some crabs. Course, by now Jane's about had it with this lovely buncha coconuts an goes outside to tell Dr. Stephens that she's turnin' in 'er candy stripes so she can do somethin' safer with 'er life, like circumsizin' the Grizzly bears over at the zoo. Unfortunately, Stephens is takin' this moment to let Judge Dredd work out some of his frustrations with a splittin' maul an a chunka wood an the second he turns his back the Judge sentences 'im to death without the possibility of egg rolls, or whatever it is they're havin' for dinner. Then this blonde nurse (Masters) comes outside an calms the Judge down so he'll commute the sentences of the rest of the patients an gets Sam to take the axe away an promises that she's gonna "take care of the family now." Meanwhile, Jane's packin' up 'er stuff quicker'n Jody Foster when she found out John Hinckley Jr. was bein' released from prison til an Amber Alert gets issued on Harriet's Cabbage Patch doll an pretty quick she comes into Jane's room foamin' at the mouth like she just polished off a box of Alka Seltzers an finds the doll sittin' on a dresser. As you might expect, Jane is promptly squished into a fine paste by her own suitcase when Harriet does the math. We're talkin' Flanoi Jane, here. The next day, a new blonde girl (Charlotte) shows up at the nut hut an tells Masters she's been hired by Stephens to babysit all the loose screws an Masters gets this look on 'er face like 'er mama just told 'er she had to let 'er little brother play in the treehouse with 'er.
So now Masters has to explain to Charlotte that Stephens' gone to the big 18 hole golf course in the sky an that she's declared 'erself the new Old MacDonald on this funny farm an that she don't need no pretty young thangs up in here remindin' 'er how she ain't done nothin' with 'er life. But about that time Masters realizes that when Charlotte starts explainin' to 'er prospective employers why she left 'er first job that she might spill the beans about the Judge spillin' the guts an decides she'd better hire 'er before she starts anglin' for weekends off. So Masters shows 'er to 'er room an tells 'er there's no locks on any of the doors cause they don't wanna take away any of the patients' ability to engage in self expression via wreakin' crazy havoc at random. Oh, an sleep tight, by the way. Then Charlotte takes a shower an heads out into the hallway where the old lady with skin like Teriyaki jerky comes up to 'er an tells 'er to run away an never return like she thinks she's Simba or somethin'. The next mornin', Sarge drafts Sam in to cover his post for a minute so he can hit the latrine an while he's AWOL he heads down to Masters' office an tells 'er that the prisoner (Jennifer) is secure an that he'll be peelin' potatoes down in the mess hall if she needs 'im. So by this point, Masters figures an explanation of each patient's goofed up foibles is in order an starts tellin' Charlotte about the details of each corn nut while Allyson's upstairs in the Judge's room tryin' to get ahold of his gavel til he has to throw 'er outta his room on a contempt of whoret charge. Then Charlotte takes Jacqueline Links out for a walk in the garden so she can talk to the flowers awhile an persist in tellin' Charlotte about how she needs to get the heck outta there before the nurse's union beats 'er up an collects 'er dues against 'er will. But later on when Charlotte tries usin' the phone in 'er room, she realizes it's deader'n 'er actin' career if anybody ever finds out she took this role when Sam shows up an tells 'er about how Dr. Stephens wants everybody not to worry an to be happy, an that he told 'im to tell 'er that. So once she gets done patronizin' Sam, she goes downstairs an tells Masters about 'er phone an finds 'er in 'er office with Jennifer under 'er desk. But, bein' how this ain't a nunnery, Charlotte gives 'er the benefit of the doubt an Masters tells 'er she'll look into the phone issue as soon as she's done makin' Jennifer act like Nova from Planet of the Apes. The next mornin', Charlotte goes to check on Leatherface, only she ain't real chatty cause when Charlotte finds 'er lyin' on the floor she's got a lot less tongue than she did the day before an Masters tells 'er she prolly just did it to 'erself to protest the hospital food. Then this guy with a toolbox shows up to work on the phone an when Masters finds out about it she gets real P.O.'d cause he didn't send a carrier pigeon to make an appointment first an cause this somehow makes 'er less of a ma'am or somethin'.
Eventually, she agrees to show 'im the switch box for the phone an tells 'im not to even look at anybody til she comes back to escort 'im off the property. Then Allyson shows up an starts tryin' to escort 'im towards 'er itch box til he insists on bein' a gentleman an 'er eyes start lookin' like Sissy Spacek's right before she torched the senior class at the prom an makes 'im tell 'er he loves 'er before poppin' 'er top an lockin' 'erself inside with 'im so she can test the torque on his nut driver. Meanwhile, Charlotte's upstairs ironin' all the pinches outta the ass region of 'er uniform til she opens up the closet an gets jumped by Jennifer who starts tryin' to slice 'er up into Spam casserole. Then Masters shows up an has to pull Jennifer off an belt 'er a good one til she gets this look on 'er face like somebody just stuffed 'er gerbil down the garbage disposal while Allyson takes 'er back to 'er room. As you might expect, Charlotte's used to havin' people try to slice 'er up into Oscar Meyer lunchmeat, but that's generally only until the bath salts wear off, so she tells Master's she's had it with the Goof Troop an she's gettin' the heck outta there til Masters reminds 'er that they're not in a right to quit state an Charlotte promises to do a better job of takin' the abuse an attempted murder with good humor in the future. Elsewhere, Danny decides it'd be a real great time to pretend to like Allyson so she'll get all revved up like a John Deere tractor an then cut 'er off so he can start laughin' at 'er like a hyena at a George Carlin set til 'er psychosis reaches critical mass. Then the Judge finds 'er shirt layin' in the hallway an tries returnin' it to 'er til she tries workin' 'im for a stay of sexecution an he has to get all disgusted an leave again. So later on that evenin', Masters starts freakin' out cause she can't find somethin' on 'er desk an goes upstairs to tell Sarge that he's gonna get corpse-martialed if she finds 'er missin' contraband hidden inside his perimeter til she eventually finds whatever it is an makes 'im hold it in his hand after she lights it on fire so she can feel all powerful an squirt in 'er granny panties a little bit. The next mornin', Sam comes to visit Charlotte again, only this time he's got Stephens' watch an tells 'er the doc wants to help 'er an that if she needs any earrings he's got some inside his trench coat that'd go great with 'er purse til she ends up takin' the watch so he'll leave 'er alone. Then she an Danny goes outside to tiptoe through the tulips an Danny ends up givin' 'er a flower so she won't think it's creepy when he gives 'er a smooch. Only that's as far as he goes cause once he gets close to 'er he notices 'er roots showin' an has to roll around on the ground laughin' like an AM radio listener watchin' All in the Family reruns when he realizes she actually chooses to be a blonde.
But eventually he gets what passes for his marbles together an sneaks into 'er room later that night to pick up where he left off til she wakes up an has to get in his face an go all Broadzilla so he'll trash his Depends an take off like a Cincinnati Bengal when the cops drive by. I suppose you can't blame 'im for tryin', there's just somethin' about a woman in uniform, ya know? So then once she wakes up after a restful night of tryin' to sleep clutchin' a Louisville Slugger with 'er eyes open, she an Masters start takin' inventory on the medication an when they come up a couple vials short on their antifistamine downers they have to go pawin' through all the patients' rooms til Masters finds 'em rolled up in Sam's leopard print thong. Meanwhile, Sam's downstairs moppin' up alla Allyson's duck butter as part of his daily chore routine when he happens to open up the closet door an sees somethin' that Sam was not meant to know an goes lookin' for Masters before Doug Bradley shows up an tells 'im this isn't for his eyes. Unfortunately, he's somehow unable to find the big cranky white thing with the three-an-a-half foot wide ass an so he takes Allyson down to show her an she ends up goin' to pieces like a leper in an off balance washin' machine when she sees the corpse of 'er closet conquest seepin' an entirely different bodily fluid than she's used to.
Meanwhile, Jennifer's upstairs riflin' through the drawers in Sam's drawers lookin' for 'er secret stash of happiness til she realizes they're missin' an pretty quick she ends up gettin' this look on 'er face like Gollum when he realized the precious was missin'. So then she goes downstairs an starts rootin' around in Masters' office til she finds 'er vials 'o smiles on the desk, only she never gets to enjoy 'em cause all the sudden this hand grabs ahold of 'er head an mashes 'er face into the table til 'er cornea gets impaled on somethin' pointy. Glazer eye surgery, not recommended until all other options have been exhausted. So shortly after all this stuff goes down, Charlotte goes into Allyson's room an by now Allyson's finally P.O.'d enough to unload the big secret on 'er; namely, that Masters is only pretendin' to be a doctor, is just as whacked out as everybody else, an that she killed the only man Allyson's ever loved since last Tuesday. That's typical. Company hires from within rather than takin' the best qualified applicant, what a crock. So about that time Charlotte figures it'd prolly be a good time to turn in 'er letter of self conservation an get the heck outta there but while that's goin' on, Allyson goes down to Masters' office an tells 'er she squealed about 'er inadequate qualifications til Masters starts mumblin' to 'erself like one of those guys out at Cliven Bundy's place that thinks the government's spyin' on their brainwaves an pulls out a syringe so she can inject Allyson with some industrial strength NyQuil. Unfortunately, Allyson hates the Ramones an doesn't wanna be sedated, so when Masters tries to stick 'er she takes the needle away an jabs Masters with the nighttime sniffling sneezing coughing aching stuffy-head fever so she can rest an quit bein' such a powertrippin' fascist bitchface, medicine. Will cut here so as to not spoil the big finish on this one, cause it's a doozy. Do feel free to check it out on Youtube though, as it's a public domain title.
It really surprises me that this one was allowed to fall into the public domain, cause in all seriousness, it's pretty decent. I'm gonna say that, at this time, this is the best public domain title I've seen. Less Night of the Living Dead, cause that don't count. And the really impressive part is that they only spent 12 days and under $100,000 shooting it. I'm not sure how *far* under $100,000 it was, but that's not a whole lot, even in 1973 dollars. I won't pretend like that's an absolutely pitiful amount of money for a low budget horror movie, after all, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre was made for less, but it certainly puts a damper on your ability to make a movie with big, elaborate effects or actors that anyone's heard of. Seriously, 12 days. If I were the kinda guy to give extra points for things like that, this movie would prolly have to get an 80% or better, but, I don't think that's a good way to handle ratings. Movies are as good as they are, and the rating needs to reflect that, without being artificially tampered with. But I did wanna put that out there just the same, because it's pretty impressive. And to give it a little more perspective, keep in mind that it's sitting on a 5.1 rating on the IMDB, with 1800 ratings. I'm sure that by now you've heard me rant enough times about how hard it is for even a decent horror movie to get a 6, but it's damn hard for a low budget horror movie to get a 5. Of course, this movie probably didn't get much cable time past the 70s, save for local stations that realized they could air it for free I suppose. But even then, by 70s standards, this movie's actually pretty bloody. Bloodier than The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, The Hills Have Eyes, The Exorcist, or Phantasm by a good margin, so there probably wasn't a lot of that happening, at least before midnight. My point being, the bulk of the ratings are going to be from genuine horror fans for the most part, and thus, the rating doesn't have to overcome much in the way of normal human beings givin' it the shaft. I admit that it's got a few problems; it's choppier'n a Japanese chef in a sushi restaurant for one thing, but because there're so many different characters in the movie, there really is no other choice but to jump around from scene to scene, otherwise there'd be no way to keep up with them all. Besides, these kinds of movies are always better with a variety of different, distinct weirdos. And admittedly, the twist is a bit predictable, but as far as twists go, particularly these days, it's important to remember that a predictable twist is still 100x better than an unpredictable one that doesn't make any sense.
Well then, lets corkscrew that eyeball outta the socket an see if beauty really is in the eye of the beholder, or if it's just a really lousy attempt at Lasik surgery. The plot is alright, probably a little above average once the plot twist is revealed, but it certainly isn't the first nut-house flick to ever come down the pike. The premise is pretty simple, and thus, the movie depends more upon acting and atmosphere to a much greater degree than it does plot, but there's certainly nothing wrong with it. The acting, which is too often what keeps a movie with this type of budget from even attaining "decent" status, is probably this one's strongest asset. Despite having a cast comprised entirely of unknowns, each and every one of them does an admirable job in each of their roles. If anyone's lacking at all, it's probably Rosie Holotik (the sane one), but even so, her deficiencies are minimal, and never come into play at crucial junctures. These people pull off the varying flavors of lunatic with a great deal of skill, and more so than any other element, they are what make the movie work. Bill McGhee, of course, isn't a lunatic so much as just mentally retarded, but that's not exactly an easy thing to pull off convincingly either, outside of a C-SPAN broadcast. Very good performances all around, here's who matters and why: Bill McGhee (Curse of the Swamp Creature), Jessie Lee Fulton (Keep My Grave Open), Michael Harvey (Encounter with the Unknown), Jessie Kirby (Logan's Run), Hugh Feagin (Don't Open the Door!, Scum of the Earth, In the Year 2889), Camilla Carr (Keep My Grave Open, Logan's Run, Scum of the Earth), Gene Ross (Halloween 4, Friday the 13th Part IV, Keep My Grave Open, Don't Open the Door!, Scum of the Earth, Encounter with the Unknown, The Legend of Boggy Creek), Annabelle Weenick (Deadly Blessing, Keep My Grave Open, Don't Open the Door!, Encounter with the Unknown, It's Alive 1969, Creature of Destruction, Curse of the Swamp Creature, The Black Cat 1966), Rosie Holotik (Encounter with the Unknown), Rhea MacAdams (Don't Open the Door!). If it seems like the same titles are coming up pretty frequently, that's just because they are. Don't Open the Door! and Keep My Grave Open were also directed by Brownrigg, though I'm not seeing the connection to Scum of the Earth or Encounter with the Unknown. I guess it was just pretty clear how well they all worked together.
The special effects, infrequent as they are, look pretty good. When I said it was bloody, that was the truth, however, all the blood comes from just a few scenes. There's the axe in the back for Michael Harvey early on, the severed tongue on Rhea MacAdams (you don't actually get to see the severed tongue or the stump, it's just blood), the slice 'n diced repairman, the eye-pendectomy, and the particularly bloody finale which I won't be giving away. Keep in mind that it was still the early 70s, so it's not going to be wall to wall brutality, but what there is, looks good, and the blood is about the right color/consistency, which is kind of important when that's all you've got in the way of gore. So, for its time, this is about as much as you can reasonably expect, and it's well done. The shooting location, singular, is acceptable, but not particularly memorable. This is just a large house, or perhaps a temporarily vacated bed and breakfast, not an actual sanitarium. But they do go into that early on, with the idea that Dr. Stephens' methods are a bit unusual and based a great deal upon trust, and trying to achieve a certain comfort level for all the patients. So for me, that does adequately fill in the questionable nature of the sanitarium. Still would have been better if it were set in a standard insane asylum, though. The soundtrack isn't really all that prominent in the movie, and doesn't do a whole lot to create tension or atmosphere. And really, I felt that too often, it seemed too cheerful, or at the very least, nowhere near as dark as it should have been to give the movie any substantial mood. It's very 70s, too. Which I don't necessarily mind, but I figure it does warrant a mention. What I will give them, is that they did a very good job of knowing when *not* to use music, as there're a few particularly great scenes that are enhanced by the dead silence. There's also a track that's essentially nothing more than someone tapping on a pipe or some other metallic surface, which isn't so much bad as strange. So, minor damage on the overall score for the mildly happy tracks being placed where they were in the movie (there are a few other scenes that also have these kinds of tracks, but that actually are more cheerful and thus, it isn't a negative), but nothing devastating. Overall, a very under-rated movie, check it out.