Don't Look In The Basement (1973)

JANUARY 11, 2010


It’s at least once a month that I have the “You REALLY watch a horror movie a day?” conversation with someone, but it’s rare that I am having it while in danger of blowing my streak (which is at around 1050 days right now). But that’s what happened last night, as a friend was grilling me as I was nervously checking my watch, having not yet watched a movie and seeing no tell-tale signs of the gathering being brought to a natural end. So I had to duck out early in order to get home and pop in Don’t Look In The Basement before the dreaded 11:59 PM deadline. I hope you folks appreciate this!

Luckily it’s a pretty good movie. Made on the cheap (and quite quickly) to cash in on Last House On The Left, it’s sort of like a better Dr Tarr’s Torture Dungeon, with an “inmates running the asylum” scenario, except without all the boredom (and Shakespearean nonsense). Christ, this movie offers up two deaths before the opening credits! And one of them was clearly seen by someone involved with Friday the 13th Part V and then copied for Joey’s murder at the hands of Vic, so I appreciated seeing that scene’s cinematic father.

They don’t do a very good job hiding the twist though. I called it early on, and then spent half the movie wondering if it was even supposed to be a twist and I had simply missed the scene where this plot point was clarified. On that note, I think Jack Sholder’s Alone In The Dark was influenced by this film as well, with the colorful inmates and the place being run by someone just as batshit.

I particularly liked how, even though it was a Last House cash-in, the film wasn’t particularly unpleasant. When the sweet and slightly naïve young nurse shows up to work there early on, I expected the worst (i.e. a rape) but the folks there are legitimately insane, not cold-blooded criminal psychopaths. One guy is a simple giant with an affinity for popsicles, one’s a batshit old lady who speaks in babble, one’s an older guy convinced he is still working as a judge, etc. No Krugs or Weasels here.

The film’s quickie production carries some problems, but nothing too damaging. There’s a subplot about broken phones that is way too padded (to the point where its not even remotely plausible), and the twist only works if you accept that our heroine is a complete idiot and horrible job researcher. There are also some bits of dialogue that only exist to explain what is happening in the scene due to primitive special effects, such as when the girl stumbles upon a woman whose tongue had been cut out and helpfully shrieks “Your tongue’s been cut out!”

The ending is a knockout though. The twist is revealed, the patients get their revenge, and then the “hero” patient gets his own revenge on the “villainous” patients. And then: bliss, as the end credits put the actor/character names over shots of their corpses when applicable. What a wonderfully mean-spirited and awesome thing to do. Also, if I were to fall asleep watching the film at the Bev, this particular set up would spare me from having to ask friends if/how certain characters died. I could totally fake staying awake!

The DVD is a horrid relic from the early days of DVD (1999), with nonsense being thrown on it to make up for the fact that it really had no effort whatsoever. “Movie Trivia” is simply a few filmographies for the primary crew members, and the “Preview reel” is as random as they get (Bird With the Crystal Plumage and Gorgo?) without having a trailer for THIS film. And the transfer is a full frame offering from a VHS source. Luckily (?), the film is being potentially remade, so if that comes to pass, I’m sure we can expect a new release. (or should I say, a BETTER release - there are multiple releases already, since the film is apparently in the public domain, but they all seem to be the same bad transfer). Director S.F. Brownrigg has unfortunately passed away (at a fairly young age - anyone know what happened?) but the film was written by Tim and Thomas Pope, who went on to direct The Crow 2 and write The Manitou, respectively. Love to hear those guys talk about it.

What say you?

HorrorBlips: vote it up!


  1. Thank you for your sacrifice. Your pride probably has more to be thankful for than us though... as long as I get reviews often, I'm happy.

  2. This movie came as a Double Feature DVD with the original House on Haunted Hill which was why I bought it. I had no intent of watching Don't Look in the Basement but I did. Unfortunately, I fell asleep halfway through the film and never finished it. I never thought much of what I did watch but this review makes me feel like I should revise it just to see the entire film before I fall asleep.

    Thanks for the review. As always, I'm looking in.

  3. Wow. Those ending credits are priceless. Joe Schmoe as Drooling Harry, over an image of him lying there with a meat cleaver through his head. (Not the real names, but you get the idea.) I almost pissed my pants -- it was actually worth sitting through the whole film just to get to that.

  4. This used to be on ALL the damn time on WOR here and even though it freaked me out as a kid, I'd watch it whenever it was on.

    I think the channel was trying to compete with Chiller Theater over on WPIX, and WNEW's Creature Features but I vaguely recall they almost never had films as good for some reason. Well, save for when they ran 100% unedited prints of Witchmaker and later, The Thing With Two Heads. They also showed a Benny Hill episode with a topless woman sticking her head out a window for a second, but that was fixed by the time it was rerun. Gotta love the sloppy 70's and that late-nite asleep as the switch programming.

    Even though I saw this flick in glorious black & white on a tiny TV the first few times, I still got scared as hell by the end credits. That said... yeah, even as a kid I knew that the busted phone thing was lame stuff.


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