“To avoid fainting, keep repeating to yourself: ‘It’s only a movie.. it’s only a movie.. it’s only a movie..” I ended my Shocktober introduction with this infamous tagline. I always associated it with We Craven’s 1972 directorial debut, Last House on the Left, but apparently there’s more to the story. When Last House on the Left was released to drive-ins it was packaged as a double-bill with Don’t Look in the Basement, also occasionally titled, “The Forgotten“. Thus, in the laziest marketing move of all time both movies adopted the same tagline. How did I come to choose this obscure little shocker? I mean, I even went out of my way to change today’s planned entry (The Legend of Hell House) to this. I think it was a combination of its shared legacy with Last House on the Left, its premise, and the fact that I’d never heard a single word about it. Maybe that’s how things should have stayed.
Don’t Look in the Basement is the story of a group of socially unhinged individuals living in a sanitarium out in the sticks. Oh, and by sanitarium I mean some house that only has like five patients. Events swing into motion with what better than the swing of an axe. The head doctor at the sanitarium, Dr. Stephens (Michael Harvey), is accidentally murdered by one of the patients, Judge (Gene Ross), a former judge who only speaks in courtroom lingo. A frightened nurse witnesses the incident and heads back into the house where she is then killed by a baby obsessed patient named Harriet (Camilla Carr), who believes the nurse has stolen her baby (a plastic doll). This leaves the sanitarium with only one doctor, the mysterious Dr. Geraldine Masters (Anne MacAdams) and a whole slew of controversy.
Help comes in the form of Charlotte Beale (Rosie Holotik) a young, attractive nurse with no discernible acting talent who has come to assist with the patients, unaware of the sinister events that have unfolded. What follows is a series of violent and psychologically damaging misunderstandings, that’s often more silly than scary. I do admire some of acting considering the low budget. There’s a simpleton character named Sam (Bill McGhee) that is particularly likable but it’s hard to do anything with so little.
Don’t Look in the Basement was the baby of director S.F. Brownrigg, which I can only assume was a porn star alias . Wikipedia lists the budget at $100,000 though it looks more like $100. The “sanitarium” does in no way look like a professional operation, more like some guy’s house. Though there are things to admire here. The pacing is slow and genuinely works to develop the characters. Also, the premise is fairly ahead of its time. I recently finished watching American Horror Story: Asylum and always admired the premise of a horror story set in an insane asylum. Don’t Look in the Basement is the same idea 38-years pryor. Sure, it’s no where near as good but it’s no doubt a unique idea. So nice try S.F. Brownrigg, I can only hope you boned your way to the top!