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Saturday, May 11, 2024



Originally posted on 12/8/14


Despite some seriously threadbare production values, DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT, aka "The Forgotten" (1973), is wonderfully weird and deliriously demented. Lensed in Texas on a shoestring budget and in a single location, this dark madhouse shocker starts out messed-up and just gets more messed-up as it goes along.

Set in a large, seedy old house that serves as an insane asylum, the story revolves around a tightly-knit group of crazies presided over by Dr. Stephens (Michael Harvey), whose methods of treatment are somewhat unconventional.

This includes handing one of the nuttiest residents an axe and encouraging him to chop away his hostilities on a handy log out in the yard, which is great until the guy gives Dr. Stephens a nice big chop in the neck when his back is turned. Exit Dr. Stephens before the titles have even moseyed into view.

Next in charge of the place is the matronly Dr. Masters (Anne MacAdams in a solid performance), who regards the inmates as family and doesn't want to disrupt their routine with anything as pesky as a murder investigation. So she sweeps the whole matter under the rug (so to speak) right before the new nurse that he hired earlier arrives unexpectedly, ready to start work.

Although initially gung-ho about nursing and eager to delve into her new job, it doesn't take long before pretty, perky Nurse Charlotte (1972 Playboy covergirl Rosie Holotik, HORROR HIGH) regrets ever laying eyes on the place as she contends with a hostile and domineering Dr. Masters and meets the downright unnerving nutcases wandering around loose at every turn.

There's the insecure nympho constantly ripping off her clothes and begging every man she meets to "love" her (including the guy who shows up to fix the phone), the former army sergeant who's still fighting some war, the drug-pilfering Goth chick, the frizzy-haired nerd who keeps popping up everywhere like a giddy poodle, and the childless young woman pitifully coddling a doll as though it were real, having already offed a nurse whom she mistakenly thought had tried to steal her "baby."

Bill McGhee (QUADROON, THE TRIAL OF LEE HARVEY OSWALD) is gentle giant Sam, a likeable lug who seems harmless enough since being lobotomized by Dr. Stephens. (Or is he?) Giving HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL's Mrs. Slydes a run for her money in the "creepy old lady" department is a cackling hag named Mrs. Callingham (Rhea MacAdams) whose cryptic warnings to Nurse Charlotte to get out of there as fast as she can will later be proven worth heeding.

Worst of all, perhaps, is the guy with the axe, Judge Oliver W. Cameron (Gene Ross, THE GOONIES, THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK), who seems to have presided over one nerve-wracking trial too many and now shows up at the least opportune times (including standing over Nurse Charlotte's bed in the dead of night) wielding whatever sharp stabbing or hacking instrument he can get his mitts on. When the nympho sets her sex-crazed sights on this wretched piece of work, they make quite a pair.

The screenplay by Tim Pope (who would become a major music video director during the 80s) moves along nicely from one unsettling situation to the next, aided by a capable directing job from former Larry Buchanan collaborator S.F. Brownrigg and a cast of actors who, while mostly unpolished, really throw themselves into their roles--often with surprising intensity.

Imaginative writing helps the story avoid getting too cliched while supplying plenty of scintillating dialogue and unexpected plot twists, with a surprise ending that you won't see coming unless you're one of those "I saw it coming" types.

The film's leisurely pace is punctuated by a few startlingly grotesque scenes--one in particular in which a patient is found one morning with her tongue having been cut out during the night--while building to a nightmarish free-for-all finale that pretty much pulls out all the stops. It all boils down to who kills who, who gets away and who doesn't, and who really is or isn't who we think they are. Oh yeah, and somebody finally looks in that basement, too.

The DVD from Film Chest is in 4 x 3 full screen with original mono sound. No subtitles or extras.

With an eerie atmosphere and weirdness to burn, DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT transcends its meager budget to deliver the gruesome goods for the horror fan who appreciates a good B-movie with some imagination behind it. It may not be terrifying, but don't be surprised if you feel it warping your mind just a bit.


1 comment:

Cliff said...

It really is a gem. I'm surprised it doesn't get more positive reviews.