Wednesday, October 12, 2022

#2,835. Don't Look in the Basement (1973)


The original title of this 1973 S.F. Brownrigg-directed horror / thriller was The Forgotten, and in the end that makes a lot more sense than Don’t Look in the Basement.

I can’t say for sure, but I get the feeling the title switch happened years after the movie’s initial release, as a way to jump on the Don’t bandwagon of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, when films like Don’t Go In the House and Don’t Answer the Phone were making a splash. And since the basement in question doesn’t even come into play until the final five minutes of this almost 90-minute film, I think I may be onto something!

But never mind, because while Don’t Go in the Basement may be a micro-budget horror film with mostly sub-par performances and a flimsy story, it’s not a total disaster.

Nurse Charlotte (Rosie Holotik) was recently hired to work at a remote psychiatric clinic. Unfortunately, when she reports for her first day, she discovers that the man who offered her the job, the clinic’s chief physician Dr. Stephens (Michael Harvey), was recently killed in a tragic accident, and the person now in charge, Dr. Geraldine Masters (Anne MacAdams), was never informed that a new nurse was on her way!

Still, Dr. Masters decides to keep Charlotte on, and with patients like the prim and proper Judge Oliver W. Cameron (Gene Ross), the quiet but occasionally violent Jennifer (Harryette Warren), and the kindly, child-like Sam (Bill McGhee) to contend with, Dr. Masters needs all the help she can get.

But there’s more going on in this facility than meets the eye, and Charlotte will soon discover that she’s in quite a bit of danger.

Aside from brief fits of violence at both the outset (we witness the “accident” that took out poor Dr. Stephens) and the end, not much happens in Don’t Look in the Basement. Most of the movie deals with the patients themselves; aside from those already listed, there’s a nymphomaniac (Betty Chandler) who craves love; a former military man (Hugh Feagin) who believes an “attack” (by an unseen enemy) is imminent; and a crazy guy (Jessie Kirby) who gets a kick out of pissing people off.

Watching this unusual group of characters interact with one another does have its moments (a scene where the nympho throws herself at the Judge is particularly disturbing), but not enough of them to keep things flowing at an acceptable pace, and the movie’s “harbinger of doom”, the elderly Mrs. Callingham (Rhea MacAdams), who warned Charlotte that she needs to leave as soon as possible, is neutralized far too quickly (her tongue is cut out before the film’s halfway point, making her essentially mute through the rest of the movie).

Most of the performances are weak, though Anne MacAdams does a splendid job as the enigmatic Dr. Masters, as does Bill McGhee, playing one of the film’s few likable characters. And while things do move along sluggishly for a large portion of the movie, the ending is just insane enough to make it worth a watch (well, almost).

Don’t Look in the Basement is not a great film by any stretch, but it’s not the worst low-budget horror flick you’re likely to see, either.
Rating: 5.5 out of 10

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