VCI Entertainment brings us a double-dose of '70s exploitation/Grindhouse with this release of "Don't Look in the Basement" and "Don't Open the Door".
While neither film is worth repeat viewings, "Basement" is the better of the two and at least boasts a grisly-but-seemingly-edited finale that makes it worth following til the bitter end.
"Don't Look in the Basement" (1973) concerns the goings-on at an isolated sanitarium for the insane where young Nurse Charlotte (1972 Playboy Playmate Rosie Holotik) has agreed to work for psychiatric expert Dr. Stephens. (I guess Claudia Jennings was busy filming her famous "Brady Bunch" episode the twelve days this turkey was filmed). Unfortunately, the good doctor has recently met with the sharp end of an axe by one of his patients, and his successor, the stern female physician Dr. Masters (a blonde Kathleen Freeman lookalike), gives Charlotte a stone-cold welcome.
The script tries to divulge the backstory of each of the residents during the office scene where Charlotte meets Dr. Masters, but there are too many secondary characters to be developed fully. Still, the screenplay does a fair enough job for a cheap, sleazy drive-in flick.
I was hoping in some way this would be one of the Holy Grail of Grindhouse such as "I Drink Your Blood" or "The Baby". Unfortunately, those two flicks set the bar so high I've yet to find anything that comes satisfyingly close.
"Don't Look in the Basement" has its moments, but it's no Exploitation Classic. Worth viewing at least once for fans of the genre.
The second movie on this set, "Don't Open the Door" is a totally unsatisfying experience altogether. But you may want to watch it as a companion piece to "Basement" since it was made by the exact same people, in Texas, and features many of the same actors, and you can spend a lot of the movie picking them out. "Judge" from "Don't Look in the Basement" even has the same name in this flick!
I will say it's a refreshing change-of-pace to see normal looking (aka "ugly" by Hollywood standards) people in the cast. If these were remade today, the lead would be a Maxim cover-girl-type.
The shoddy production stands out more in "Door" because the story is lousy and not as intriguing as "Basement". A strange opening credit sequence features the faces of some really ugly, bizarre dolls and ends abruptly. The poor editing is reminiscent of early '70s John Waters.
The harpsichord score is the same in both movies, and it's hard to believe this was released in 1979 because the score sounds like something from a decade earlier.
The plot revolves around 25-year-old Amanda, who receives an anonymous phone call to return to her Grandmother's house, because the old woman is in danger. When she arrives, she finds Grandma comatose and a shady doctor, judge and museum curator squatting in the large old house.
We see a flashback where a 12-year-old Amanda (who looks as different from her adult counterpart as possible) discovers her mother in bed, knifed to death. This somehow is related to the obscene phone calls she begins receiving at Grandma's, but we're not quite sure why or how.
And that's the main problem with this movie. It raises more questions than it answers. Why was Amanda's mother killed? Why are the town doctor, the judge and the museum owner so shady? What do they have invested in all of this nonsense? What is their motivation and how does it all tie in with the mother's murder? Don't ask because the script never bothers to answer.
As Amanda, the lead actress displays a nasty attitude right from the start, until the last bit of the movie where she simply switches from "angry" mode to "insane".
The films themselves look grainy and are not remastered (but did they really need to be?) and the audio is very low. The original trailers for both films are the only "Bonus Features" included.
Those interested in cheap '70s horror may want to seek these out, but aside from a few choice moments in "Basement" they may end up disappointed.