Wednesday, January 5, 2011

It Came From Netflix:Don't Look in the Basement(1973)

By Eric Polk of The Audio Descent podcast-
It was originally released under the name The Forgotten as the 2nd act of a drive-in double feature featuring Last House on the Left, directed by someone guy called Wes Craven. The original name for this film directed by S.F. Brownrigg seems quite apropos.

The film is set in Stephens Sanitarium, a secluded rural mental health institute whose chief doctor believes that the best way to deal with insanity is to allow the patients to freely act out their realities in the hopes that they will snap out of it, so to speak. The film begins with an elderly nurse in Stephens Sanitarium making her rounds. After a troubling incident in which a patient threatens her life, she decides to retire, and goes out to visit the chief doctor, Dr. Stephens, to inform him of the decision. Unfortunately, in the process of therapy (which involves chopping wood with an axe), the crazed former magistrate known as "Judge" stabs Dr. Stephens in the back, apparently killing him. The shaken nurse returns inside to finish packing, where she is attacked by a patient who accuses her of stealing her "baby" (actually a plastic doll). The patient kills her by crushing her head in the nurse's suitcase.

The only remaining doctor appears to be Dr. Geraldine Masters, who is greeted by a pretty young nurse who enters the institute and informs Dr. Masters that Dr. Stephens had hired her a week ago. Dr. Masters begrudgingly allows her to settle in. The young nurse, Charlotte Beale, meets the patients, including a mentally challenged man named Sam who enjoys popsicles, a nymphomaniac and schizophrenic named Allison, an emotionally dependent woman named Jennifer, an octogenarian old woman named Mrs. Callingham who spouts bizarre poetry and mistakes flowers in the garden to be her own children, a prankster named Danny, a shellshocked Sergeant who lost his mind after accidentally killing his men in Vietnam, and a crazed former judge who seems incapable of speaking in anything other than courtroom jargon and the repeated phrase "My name... is... Oliver... W... Cameron..."

Charlotte realizes that her life is in grave danger, and she tries to escape. Judge informs her that they all know Masters is a patient, but that they think Charlotte is a patient also. Charlotte finds that all the windows and doors have been boarded by Masters, preventing an escape. Sam then leads Charlotte to the basement, where she is startled by a man grabbing her ankle and beats him to death with a toy boat. She realizes that it is Dr. Stephens, but not before finishing him off. Sam, at the direction of Masters, leads Charlotte upstairs, apparently so Judge can axe her to death. Sam thinks Charlotte murdered Dr. Stephens on purpose, so he helps restrain her. However, he has a flashback from his lobotomy, and lets Charlotte go. He then leaves the room as Masters cowers in a corner. As Sam leaves, the other inmates enter with weapons. Judge Cameron brutally axes Masters to death. Sam is deeply disturbed, and grabs the axe and proceeds to kill all the other inmates except Ms. Callingham, who is not in the room. Charlotte is already outside, having been told of a secret exit in the basement by Sam. She wanders around outside as the camera goes back to Sam, who, while eating a popsicle and viewing the carnage, cries to himself.

Wow! So much to hate about this film. From it's illogical killings(suitcase-fu?), illogical premise, (Not that I'm against horror movies set in the looney bin, but just answer me this Reaplings, Why did the doctor let the judge have an axe?), and who can forget the overacting by the nympho character? This movie makes Howard the Duck look like The Godfather.

On the plus side, this movie has that cheapie-70s grainy quality that I enjoy in low-budget films, and the last ten minutes really aren't that bad. If your looking for a masterpiece, look elsewhere. If you're looking for a laugh, check this out!



1 comment:


I know in my rational brain that this is a bad movie but ever since I first watched it back when I as 12 I have found it a strangely compelling bit of Grand-Guignol.

Are we more forgiving of horror tales we saw in our youth?