Monday, 14 February 2011



Yet again: another opportunity to marvel in disbelief at exactly what made it onto the list of video nasties back in the 1980s: groundbreaking horror films such as Friday The 13th and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre mysteriously escaped the DPP scythe while the tedious likes of Unhinged and The Burning were declared actively obscene in law. Such arbitrary choices made no sense at all: were they just seizing every movie with the word Cannibal in the title? There are four on the list which begin with Don't... - Go Near The Park, Go In The Woods, Go In The House.... and this oddity, now available uncut with a mere 15 certificate (which I personally feel is on the lenient side).

Also known as The Forgotten and Death Ward #13 - the UK DVD I watched is obviously retitled - Don't Look In The Basement is a miserable little drive-in cheapie in which a young nurse arrives for her new job at a sanitarium only to find the head doctor has just been killed by one of his patients and the woman running the place is maintaining his frankly ludicrously liberal regime - there are no locks on the doors, and staff and patients interact freely. Before long, the telephone lines are cut (of course!) and with no restrictions on any of the inmates, be they lobotomised simpletons, nympomaniacs, homicidal axe wielding psychopaths or merely delusional fantasists, it would be foolish to think this is going to end well for anyone. But who's the maniac? The ranting judge, the desperate sex addict, the withdrawn traumatic? The senile old woman or the ex-soldier forever on the lookout for the approaching enemy? Or maybe it's.... Frankly the big reveal is scarcely a mystery worthy of Poirot.

I've always been a little uncomfortable with portrayals of mental illness and asylums in movies as it's very easy to use such things for cheap thrills or, worse, cheap laughs but Don't Look In The Basement does appear to have some respect for its stock of unfortunates and while it does play many of them as pantomime grotesques, they are still human beings. However, it's also a very grotty, seedy and miserable film - it's nominally an exploitation/horror film and there is no fun to be had at all despite the occasional bursts of bloodshed and axe murders. It's too cheap and tatty-looking to really work. (Apparently it went out in America on a drive-in double-bill with The Last House On The Left - that's a date night that went very wrong indeed.)

Yet there is a certain grubby appeal to this, the first of just five films directed by the late SF Brownrigg - and it's lasted 38 years when films more recent and better produced have disappeared into obscurity. Maybe it's just that the film is inexpensive to re-release, having apparently lapsed into public domain. But incredibly, like so many other movies, it's being given the remake treatment! With Troma regular Debbie Rochon in a lead role! Having rehashed most of the great movies of the 60s and 70s we're now working our way through bottom-of-the-bill Z features, so if this of all things is being remade, can Anthropophagus: The Beast be far behind? Don't Look In The Basement isn't very good and it certainly isn't worth watching, but there are moments of interest. Don't want to see it again though.


Buy It Here! Or don't:

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