Don’t Look in the Basement (1973, USA)

In the United Kingdom, Don’t Look in the Basement was added to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) list of 72 video nasties. Don’t Look in the Basement was one of 33 films not prosecuted.

Don’t Look in the Basement (1973) (89 min)
Directed by S.F. Brownrigg.

aka The Forgotten, Death Ward #13

Written by Tim Pope.
Starring Bill McGhee, Jessie Lee Fulton and Robert Dracup.
Followed by Don’t Look in the Basement 2 (2015)

Available from Amazon

Don't Look in the Basement (1973)

Directed by S.F. Brownigg (Scum of the Earth) and released in 1973, Don’t Look in the Basement is an independent horror film that was unfortunate enough to fall foul of the UK media upon it’s 1981 home release; yet fortunate enough to not be prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act in 1985.

Nurse Charlotte Beale (Rosie Holotik) transfers to an isolated asylum to work alongside Dr. Stephens, whose revolutionary treatment allows patients to freely act our their delusions.

Unfortunately her arrival at Stephens Sanitarium is greeted with disdain by Dr. Geraldine Masters (Annabelle Weenick), who not only informs Charlotte that she was unaware that Dr. Stephens had hired a new nurse, but that the doctor himself is dead. Reluctantly Dr. Masters allows the nurse to live and work at the asylum under the previous agreement arranged by the (now deceased) Dr. Stephens, but warns Charlotte that none of the doors within Stephens Sanitarium have locks, allowing free movement between both patients and staff.

Don't Look in the Basement (1973)

As Charlotte develops a nurturing relationship with each of her patients, she begins to fear something is wrong. Stephens Sanitarium is hiding something, and the answer might be right under Charlotte’s feet…if only she dared to look!

“The line between sanity and madness can be crossed in a single step. And with this step you enter the nightmare world of terror. On the day the insane took over the asylum!”

Originally entitled The Forgotten, and shot in just twelve days on a shoe-string budget, Don’t Look in the Basement was frequently paired with Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left (1972) as a double feature; sharing the same tagline:

To avoid fainting, keep repeating: “It’s only a movie, only a movie, only a movie…”

Don't Look in the Basement (1973)

This is evident in both the theatrical trailer and poster for Don’t Look in the Basement, which lifted the tagline from The Last House on the Left for its own promotion. Indeed, Hallmark Releasing Corp. released both movies, yet Don’t Look in the Basement is a far cry away from the exploitative nature of Wes Craven’s debut.

Instead, S.F. Brownigg and writer Tim Pope crafted something that resembles more of a psychological thriller than an exploitation horror flick. The bleak quality of the cinematography, a result of budget, is effective in creating an atmosphere that assists in diverting attention away from the film’s glaring weaknesses; the acting for example (with the exception of Bill McGhee charismatic performance). It is also likely the reason Don’t Look in the Basement was miscategorised as an exploitation film.

For me, Don’t Look in the Basement was an impulse buy on home video, spurred on by the film’s cult status and history as a ‘video nasty’. And yet it remained in my collection for years, collecting dust.

Don't Look in the Basement (1973)

So why now? Well, after recently rewatching Mario Bava’s A Bay of Blood (1971) and Joe D’Amato’s Antropophagous (1981), my interest in the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) list of 72 ‘video nasties’ was renewed, and into the depths of my collection I plunged. Don’t Look in the Basement is the ‘hidden gem’ of that era; a movie which is often overlooked in favor of the more controversial fare from the DDP list.

Cannibal Holocaust, Zombie Flesh Eaters and I Spit on Your Grave are far more visceral video nasties than Don’t Look in the Basement. Brownigg’s film still features moderate amounts of gore and sexual situations that prompted Don’t Look in the Basement’s inclusion on the DDP list, but the British Board of Film Classification’s (BBFC) updated UK rating of 15 is a telling indicator to the uninitiated.

Tame in comparison to both its drive-in/grindhouse pairing, and to its 71 partners in crime, Don’t Look in the Basement is still an effective thriller that is worthy of your attention.

Ken Wynne

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