Robin Ince's Top 30,000 Films Of All Time
#30,000: Don't Look In The Basement
11 April 2003
Let's get this straight right from the start, however objective I say I am going to be, a list compiled by one person of the top 30,000 films of all time will undoubtedly be highly personal. Not only will many of you argue about the inclusion of certain films, you will also argue about the position. What I would say is - do wait until you have seen the full list of 30,000 or at least allow me to get down to number 19,500 before starting to cast aspersions.
Firstly, let me put your minds at rest; Orson Welles will be making appearances in this list, as will Sergei Eisenstein (though I haven't actually seen any of his films I am reliably informed they won't sit strangely in the top 15,000) and stop worrying, John Hughes pops up a few times as well. For numerical fact admirers there are two more films with Dame Anna Neagle in than Steve Guttenberg, and the Orangutan from Every Which Way But Loose appears one more time than Martin Kove. There is only one film in the list in which Lance Henriksen shares screen time with Jan Michael Vincent.
I have tried to keep this list as balanced as possible taking into account artistic merit, cinematic innovation and the fact that I have actually seen it. I hope it causes as much debate amongst you, your friends and your family as it has in my head.
Ok, let's go...
Don't Look In The Basement (1973, dir. SF Brownrigg).
Warning, there are what some call spoilers in this review: this is where twists, endings and so forth are given away, though if you don't guess the twist shortly after the opening credits then it's unlikely you know how to insert a DVD into the player you have just stolen.
Firstly, why shouldn't you go in the basement? Well, there's the near dead body of the Doctor we thought had been killed with an axe blow at the beginning of the film lying there twitching. That seems to be the main reason, though frankly he's not exactly a threat to anyone, now that's sorted, let's rewind to the start.
Stephens Sanitarium, a large house in the middle of nowhere is full of top quality mentals - there is Sarge ( Hugh Feagin, who also appeared in Don't Open the Door!), all his men died because of him in the war and now he's Sergeant of Nut Patrol; Mrs Callingham (Rhea McAdams), a mad octogenarian full of portents of doom; Harriet (Camilla Carr) who thinks the doll she has is a real baby; Sam (Bill McGhee who also appeared in Curse of the Swamp Creature) a simple minded large black man who craves Popsicles and Judge Oliver W Cameron (Gene Ross) a wide-eyed loon who thinks he's a judge but just loves to bludgeon.
The film begins with a long pre-credit sequence where we are introduced to these characters and their own histrionic acting talent.
Dr Stephens, head of the sanitarium, has rather unwisely given the axe murdering judge an axe so he can get his anger out on a big bit of wood. You see, Dr Stephens doesn't believe in conventional therapy after he botched big Sam's lobotomy. No, Dr Stephens believes all his patients should be allowed to roam freely around the grounds without locks on the doors and with axes if they want. Unfortunately Dr Stephens is distracted by a nurse who wishes to resign her post as she thinks the whole place is becoming a madhouse, sadly that one moment of inattention leaves the Doctor lying face down in the lawn after taking an axe to the neck. The resigning nurse also finds herself dead in her own cheap luggage. Opening credits roll.
Dr Masters (Annabelle Weenick who you may have enjoyed briefly in the Burt Reynolds starring, Henry Winkler directed Cop and A Half, oh and she was in Olly Hopnoodles Haven of Bliss) has taken the reins of this peculiar home and is surprised one night by the appearance of Charlotte Beale (Rose Holotik, who appeared on the cover of Playboy in 1972), initially Dr Masters is reluctant to let her stay, but soon changes her mind.
On the way to her bedroom, Dr Beale is accosted by the babbling Mrs Callingham who warns her to get out for danger is here (of course it is, she's in a house full of psychotics and Dr Stephens saw fit not to put any locks on the doors). Well it's downhill from there really. The phone man comes to fix the phone and after being seduced by Allyson (Betty Chandler, who knows where she went, though she does fulfil the requisite drive-in breast revelation), he is stabbed in the neck by a mystery assailant. Mrs Callingham enjoys a walk in the flower filled grounds with Charlotte (she thinks the flowers are her children) but wakes up the next day in discomfort when she finds out someone has cut her tongue out. Another patient has her head slammed onto a desk paper spike severely damaging her eye and brain to the point of death. After much shenanigans all is revealed, Dr Masters is in fact one of the loons.
Charlotte then discovers Dr Stephens in the basement, Sam has been nursing him back to health with his popsicles. Sadly she is so shocked by the sight of him that she beats the doctor to death with a toy boat. Anyway, Dr Masters gets chopped to bits, then Sam chops all the inmates to bits, Charlotte runs away and Sam sits on a bed weeping and sucking another popsicle. The end credits then treat us to lots of single face freeze frames of the inmates dead bloody faces.
Don't Go In The Basement is one of the many minor movies to have been swept up in the Daily Mail sponsored video nasty craze. The gore is pretty simplistic, but vividly red and there is some corpse fondling near the end, but it is very discreet and tasteful corpse fondling from a distance. The most likely reason for its early inclusion on the nasty list, apart from the fact that the whole country went loopy over these 'sick movies that will damage our children's feeble minds', is the eye gouging scene. For some reason eye molestation was something that really got the DPP's goat.
In fact, the actors, considering their limited experience acquit themselves very well for such a low budget piece. There are a few reasonably nightmarish moments and director SF Brownrigg is far from the clumsy artisan who so frequently helmed these projects. The story was written by a Tim Pope. IMDB thinks this is the same Tim Pope who directed most of The Cure's videos and The Crow:City of Angels. I am not so sure, but would like to know. If so, perhaps we could have a remake with Robert Smith as crazy old Mrs Cunningham.
There are those that might say the Stephens sanitarium is an allegory for the world as a whole, with each occupant representing the different elements of society and with a clear message in those Nixonian times that the lunatics were taking over the asylum, but if someone does say that, hit them in the face with a steel pan, they are clearly an idiot.
Don't Go In The Basement is not currently available on DVD in the UK, but is available on amazon.com from the US. Also it can be frequently picked up on ebay in the guise of Vault of Horror, a package of 10 horror films on 5 double sided dvds. This is put together by Brentwood who hamfistedly transfer these films onto dvd using really tatty prints that jump all over the place. This is very good of them as I think that is how these films were meant to be seen, via a dim bulb on a dying drive in screen projected by an arthritic alcoholic projectionist in Tucson Arizona. Vault of Horror also includes William Castle's House on Hill, Night of the Living Dead, The Satanic rites of Dracula and Silent Night, Bloody Night.
Note: if you enjoy 'Don't Look' movies, you might also enjoy Don't Look In The Attic, Don't Look Back and Don't Look Now.