The basement of my house is one place you do not want to go. It’s not scary or anything, but it’s basically the family dumping grounds. If there is something we don’t want to deal with right now, it goes in the basement. Sadly it looks a wee bit like what I’ve seen on that show Hoarders. There is a small little area cut out of the clutter where I have two TV trays where I set my computer and record my podcasts. It’s my tiny little Fortress of Solitude…surrounded by junk. For all others, though, it’s best to heed the advice offered by the title of our film today…1973’s Don’t Look in the Basement.
The film takes place at a pretty messed up sanitarium run by Dr. Stephens. The good doctor has a strange idea of how to deal with the various psychological issues of the his patients. Basically, they are allowed free reign of the hospital and can act out on whatever delusions happen to float through their minds. I guess he figures eventually they’ll grow out of it. This strange type of treatment has become too much for the elderly head nurse to take and she tells the doctor that she is quitting. She tells Dr. Stephens this as a patient known as The Judge (Gene Ross) is chopping wood as a part of his therapy…problem is he suddenly decides to bury the axe in Dr. Stephens. Then another patient gets rid of the nurse by crushing her head in a suitcase as she packs. The death of the head doctor leaves Dr. Geraldine Masters (Anne MacAdams) in charge of the hospital.
Shortly after the incident, a new nurse named Charlotte (Rosie Holotik) arrives at the Sanitarium. She explains that she was recently hired by Dr. Stephens. Dr. Masters has no knowledge of this, but allows the young nurse to stay. Charlotte then begins to meet the strange inhabitants of the hospital. There is a woman who treats a plastic doll like it’s a real baby, and another woman who is a nymphomaniac who tries to seduce repairmen who come to the hospital. We also have a manchild named Sam who is obsessed with his toy boat, a former military man who still thinks he’s in Vietnam, and a cackling nutball named Danny.
Of course, strange incidents start to occur around the hospital, including one elderly patient’s tongue being cut out in the middle of the night. Charlotte begins to become more and more disturbed by what is going on, especially when bodies start piling up. But it turns out that evidence seems to point towards Dr. Masters having a hand in the murders.
Now, you may be wondering about something. The film is called Don’t go in the Basement…and yet I said nothing about a basement. Fear not, they do go into the basement for all of about three minutes toward the end of the film. That’s it! The basement does not play a major role in the story, so exactly why it was the basis for the title is a bit of a mystery. Sometimes this film is known as The Forgotten…as in, we forgot to make the basement an important part of the story.
Now, I am going to reveal a pretty big spoiler about this ultra-low budget horror flick. I can’t imagine that many will care, but if you do then don’t say I didn’t warn you. As we reach the conclusion of the film we learn that the old woman’s tongue was cut out by none other than Dr. Masters in order to keep the woman from telling the truth of the situation…that Dr. Masters is, in fact, a patient herself. Remember, the inmates are allowed to just keep living out their delusions. Masters is a patient who thinks she’s a doctor…so when Dr. Stephens is murdered, she jumps in. I actually think this device is pretty clever. However, this gimmick is about all the movie has going for it. For most of the running time the filmmakers clearly didn’t know what on earth to do. Most of the movie is over-scripted, horribly-acted filler material that is there just to kill time until we can reveal that the doctor is really loony tunes. Like I said, the idea isn’t a bad one. It might have worked as a half hour Twilight Zone episode, but trying to stretch it to an hour and a half feature feels a bit strained.
On a whole the film is quite sloppily made. There is very little thought put into the concept of visual storytelling. It could just be the transfer I watched, but one scene in which Charlotte and Danny are outside talking in a field of flowers is framed in such a way that the poor nurse’s head is completely cut off at the shoulders. But the work behind the camera is no match for the work done in front of it. Just like how the patients in the sanitarium are allowed to do whatever they want…these actors seem to have been left to their own devices as well. The entire cast comes across as severely undisciplined as they scream and cackle their way through this movie.
There are certainly those out there who will find some degree of enjoyment in Don’t Look in the Basement. Much in the same way that something like Manos: The Hands of Fate has a certain appeal. It’s really really really bad. The storytelling, the acting, and the filmmaking are all dreadful. So, I guess the first two words of this film’s title actually sum the film up quite wall…DON’T LOOK!