Don't Look in the Basement (1973)
DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT
WRITER: Tim Pope
DIRECTOR: S.F. Brownrigg
STARRING: William Bill McGhee as Sam
Jessie Lee Fulton as Jane St. Claire
Robert Dracup as Ray Daniels
Harryette Warren as Jennifer
Michael Harvey as Dr. Stephens
Jessie Kirby as Danny
Hugh Feagin as Sergeant Jaffee
Betty Chandler as Allyson
Camilla Carr as Harriet
Gene Ross as Judge Oliver W. Cameron
Anne MacAdams as Dr. Geraldine S. Masters
Rosie Holotik as Nurse Charlotte Beale
Rhea MacAdams as Mrs. Callingham
QUICK CUT: A new nurse arrives at a psychiatric hospital, but she soon discovers that things are not as they seem. The dead bodies were kind of a clue.
Charlotte - The new nurse, fresh off the boat, and being thrust into the deep end of methods at her new job. She may be a newbie, but she's competent, smart, and caring.
Dr. Masters - Not the boss Charlotte was expecting, but the boss she gets. She's hard-nosed, unconventional, and doesn't want to deal with a new nurse, but honours the commitment made by her predecessor...
Dr. Stephens - ...See what I did there? A very unconventional doctor, who believes its best to let his charges live out whatever their fantasies are to their fullest, in hopes that they break on through to the other side. He doesn't last very long.
Sam - The last patient Dr. Stephens performed a lobotomy on, damaging him into a childlike state. This is what drove the good doctor to try his more unconventional means.
Oliver Cameron - A judge who one day had a mental breakdown, and can now no longer speak in any other way than if he was still in a courtroom, and to announce his name. He has serious rage issues that he's trying to channel, as well.
Harriet - A poor young woman obsessed with a baby doll as if it's a real baby. It keeps being stolen by another patient, Danny. That's his major trait, so he doesn't get a separate entry. Suck it up.
Allyson - A bit of a sexpot, who wants to do it with every guy that comes into the hospital. I...may mix her and Jennifer up a few times. Move along and deal with it.
THE GUTS: Welcome back, and while we may be deep in the holiday season, I'm unwrapping a present from one of my massive sets of 50 movie packs; Don't Look in the Basement. If it makes you feel more Christmasy, just imagine that's where the presents are kept.
But this is a decidedly unChristmas movie, as we open up on Stephens Sanitarium and meet a few of the patients. We've got Sarge, a guy who never quite came back from the war. There's Sam who...well, Sam and Bubba would get along just fine, let's just say that. And then there's Harriet, a woman obsessed with her baby, which is in actuality a doll.
Aside from this colourful crew, there's also Nurse Jane, who has decided to take her leave of the sanitarium for her own safety. I guess letting the patients just wander around in their own realities doing whatever they want isn't the *best* idea. Whoda thunk it?
The nurse heads out to tell Dr. Stephens of her plans to leave, while he's giving some axe-related therapy to another patient, the Judge. See, hacking away at a piece of wood helps him work out his aggression issues, so he can be a functional member of society!
But he gets bored with the log and decides to see if killing Stephens will help his aggression issues out a little more.
And that would be why we don't give people axes if they have aggression issues!
One of the other doctors rush out to calm down the Judge and get the axe from him, and clean up the mess.
Amidst all the chaos, Harriet's baby gets taken. She finds her kid with the departing nurse, and assumes the worst. Harriet strangles the nurse, then crushes her neck in the suitcase she's packing.
But she was only five minutes away from retirement!!
Fortunately, we have a new nurse already on her way in, with the credits hot on her heels. Charoltte introduces herself to Doctor Masters, and nothing seems to be wrong at all!
We then get to endure the thrilling bureaucracy scene, where Masters tries to tell Charlotte she wasn't informed of her coming, and Charlotte says there must be some mistake! Don't Look in the Basement, everyone!!
But ultimately, Masters decides to keep Charlie around, and explains Stephens' beliefs and procedures with the patients, where he would let them live out their particular fantasies until they grew so large, they couldn't hold, and the patients would break free.
Yeah, how'd that work out for ya, doc?
She gets shown to her room, and told that the patients rooms are right next to hers. And there's no locks on the doors. I gotta say, Stephens' ideas of treatment are going from unorthododx to just plain, "What in the hell were you thinking?!" department.
Charlotte has a freaky encounter with one of the patients late at night, trying to warn her off, but Charlotte just brushes it off as typical scary stuff.
She meets some of the other patients the next morning, but then we move on to Sam, telling Harriet that he still talks to Dr. Stephens. He then heads out to stand guard duty while Sarge heads downstairs for a bit.
There's then a lengthy scene of Tell Don't Show with Masters and Charlotte going over the patients, while looking at little cards. Yeah, that's the least effective and most awkward way to tell us about everyone. The only notable thing is Masters slipping one of the notecards into her desk when no one is looking.
After a long first day, Chuck puts the patients to sleep, and nothing could be better! This is a great job, with great people, and nothing could ever go wr...
...Oh, they get up the next day and find one of the patients with her tongue cut out. So much for nice and normal.
She seems to be taking it well though, since she's up and about, if unable to speak, when some dude arrives to fix the non-working telephone lines. You'd think losing your tongue might at least lay you up for a few days.
The phone guy takes the patients wandering around pretty well, all things considered. Way better than Doc Masters takes the new arrival. She gets very protective of her charges and yells at the phone guy for coming out there unexpectedly. And if the movie didn't point out well, there's no phones for him to call, I would have!
He gets interrupted by one of the patients we've seen flirting with every guy she could get her hands on. And I swear, this is the plot of at least one porn. Hapless telephone guy comes out to check the wiring, and is accosted by the lady of the house? Yeah.
And surprise! That's pretty much exactly where it goes, as Jennifer closes the closet door on the pair of them.
It looks like Jennifer never came out of the closet, since after a few more scenes, Charlotte is getting ready for bed as the patient pops out and tries to kill her with a knife.
Now that she's done with the phone guy, Jennifer runs into Danny, who keeps trying to steal Harriet's baby...and does that sound like the plot of a soap or what? But I digress...
Those two start making out, but Danny plays a prank on her midway through, and sends her running off. While she cries, the Judge wanders in, and she starts hitting on HIM.
And then yelling at him, then hitting on him again. I'm getting a little dizzy just from all her dalliances.
Meanwhile, Masters finds her office has been ransacked. She seems a little disturbed by this, and its probably because the notecard she hid from earlier has gone missing. Hmmm, what *could* be on that??
Danny bothers the sarge a bit, and runs off as Masters comes along. She asks the sergeant what's going on, and spies the notecard and...gasp surprise! It's about HER!!
After she sets the card on fire, destroying the evidence, the plot thinnens as Sam visits Chuck and gives her a watch, babbling about secrets and how she'd understand.
Well, someone speak up, because I'm still in the dark about too many things!
Charlotte gets woken up one night by Danny climbing into bed with her, and there's also the judge standing over her with his axe. I'm honestly not sure which is worse.
This is also the reason why locks on the doors would be a good idea.
Some medicine goes missing, and the NotDoctor Masters finds them in Jennifer's room. We then see Sam finding SOMEthing, but the movie does not feel like sharing with the rest of the class just yet.
Jennifer rushes to find more medicine, and instead finds someone who shoves her face down on one of those note holder things, and it goes right through her eye. Nailed it?
Anyways, we discover that what Sam found was phone dude's body, and he shows it to another patient and she freaks out. She tells Chuck about everything; about phone guy, Stephens, that it was Masters who cut out the other patient's tongue to keep her quiet...not that she was making any sense *before* her tongue was cut out, but I guess you gotta watch out for these things.
Charlotte has her Luke Skywalker, "No, it can't be true, noo!" moment, but when she talks with the tongueless patient, she confirms everything. Funny how the person who *can't speak* is the one that convinces the nurse. Also kinda defeats the whole point of cutting out the tongue, but Masters isn't supposed to be sane.
As if that wasn't enough, the Judge also confirms it, and also tells Charlotte that gasp! SHE TOO is a patient here!
Masters is a patient! Charlotte is a patient! You're a patient! I AM A PATIENT THERE TOOOOO!! Ahaaaaahahahahaahaha.
Alyson wanders into the main office and finds Jennifer spiked to the notes, and tells the doctor she told Charlotte whats going on. The doctor starts rambling about how all she wanted to do was to help people, all the good she could have done, the person she could have been...
Yeah, I'd be all set for your 'if only I had given up one more gold watch, I could have saved more patients!" speech Doctor Schindler, maybe you shouldn't be stabbing patients in the face.
The phones still don't work, and Charlie finds a surprisingly still alive Alyson, saying everything is okay now as she washes blood off her hands. She then runs promptly into a screaming, laughing Danny.
Which the movie does way too often. They're like the proto-jumpscares. Someone turns a corner, and there's someone screaming straight down the barrel of the camera lens. Once or maybe twice I could live with, but the movie keeps doing it, and the screaming is way too shrill. A true scare is not just having people jump out of a doorway screaming.
Chuck runs upstairs and finds Alyson laying in bed with the phone guy's corpse, and that it's their wedding night. And confession time, I'm pretty sure I mixed up Jennifer and Alyson at least three times in this review. They're way too similar. But Jennifer is dead, Alyson is alive, and beyond that, I dunno.
She checks on the patients in various states of life and death, and finds Sam, who gives her a note from Stephens. She follows Sam to the basement, and I thought we weren't supposed to look down there!!
On the way down, she picks up Sam's toy boat, which is good because she gets grabbed herself, and uses the boat to beat the person to death.
And since it was Doctor Stephens, I guess that's beaten to death *again*. He was alive again for all of five seconds just to get beaten like a kaiju.
That's when NotDoctor Masters wanders downstairs and finds Charlotte, declaring her sick, filthy, etc, and has her sent to her room. Without supper, even!
Sam holds down the nurse, angry that she broke his boat...er, and killed the doctor. Masters shows up to perform the same sort of lobotomy that turned Sam into a childlike state, which just causes him to flashback to that moment, and Masters' own culpability in it.
He grabs Chuck and runs off, as the rest of the patients all wander in and greet Masters with various weapons of choice.
Sam helps Chuck out of the hospital, ironically through the basement, considering the title. He then runs back upstairs and stops the murdering of the NotDoctor.
He grabs the axe from the Judge, and uses it on the old man, and it seems like the rest of the patients, but the movie cuts away.
As Chuck runs away, we see the results of Sam's axe swinging, and he heads downstairs to enjoy a Popsicle. As one does after a spree killing.
The best part about the ending of the movie is everyone's credit being over a shot of their dead body, where applicable.
Video: The typical 50 pack disclaimer applies here, but that said, it's bearable, if on the lower side of that. I can't help but think better video would've helped the clarity just a hair.
Audio: 50 pack disclaimer! Oh, to not sound like it was shot in a tin can...
Sound Bite: "Up the airy mountain, down the rushy glen, we dare not go a hunting, for fear of little men!" One of the more coherent bits from Mrs. Callingham before she loses her tongue.
Body Count: With how slow the movie takes to get going, I'm surprised it had as many bodies as it did. But then, Sam DID kill most everyone in the last ten seconds.
1 - Seven minutes in, and Dr. Stephens gets hacked in the back by the Judge. He comes back, but it's so brief, and he shoulda been dead from that axe. And the bleeding. And the basement.
2 - Nurse Jane follows soon after when another patient strangles her and crushes her head in a suitcase.
3 - After a long period of the movie wandering around the sanitarium, Jennifer gets a spike in the eye.
4 - We eventually find out the phone dude got killed for trying to do his job.
5 - Doctor Stephens gets even more dead when his face gets crashed in by a toy boat.
6 - Masters is finally put out of her misery by the patients.
7 - Sam takes the axe and kills the judge.
8 - We later see Sam also killed Harriet.
9 - And Danny.
10 - AND Alyson
11 - *AND* the Sarge.
Best Corpse: Would you be surprised if I said Jennifer? Those loose paper holders are dangerous, and don't get used often enough.
Blood Type - C: Falls into the okay but not much category.
Sex Appeal: Allyson has trouble keeping her clothes on.
Drink Up! Every time the Judge says his name.
Sights and Sounds: Masters' tortured screaming, and the cool procession of the patients coming in to exact a long overdue revenge made this a shareable moment.
Movie Review: This was a surprisingly straightforward affair. The twists were fairly obvious, and I don't THINK Charlotte was really a patient. I almost wish she was, as that would've been better. But I guess Shutter Island and other such films have covered this ground much better in the past. There's a perfectly good idea of a doctor with unorthodox methods having his hospital taken over by the patients, and a new nurse coming in that is totally unawares? Yeah, I like that idea, and I genuinely like this movie. It ain't great, it's cheaply made, but it's got that old charm to it. But it's got nothing much going for it beyond some good ideas. Two out of five toy boats.
Entertainment Value: Charlotte's actually pretty good in this, and a few of the patients too. Callingham is wonderfully creepy, Sam's great, and the Sarge does a good job. There's some appropriate scenery chewing, especially by Masters as her plan falls apart, culminating in her demise... But it could've been better and stranger on all fronts. But I was entertained, but found the movie lacking. Three out of five note cards.