Friday, 7 March 2008

Don't Look in the Basement

Director: SF Brownrigg
Writer: Tim Pope
USA 1973

It's difficult to know where to start this blog -- I've seen a few of the films from the Video Recordings Act 1984 list already, but feel it would be cheating to write reviews years later without watching them again. On the other hand, as anyone who has watched much low budget exploitation cinema knows, sitting through some of them twice would be akin to torture.

So I've decided to compromise, and review the last Video Nasty I saw before drawing a line under my previous viewing and starting again, repeats and all. Funnily enough this happened to be a film I wouldn't have minded sitting through again.

"Don't Look in the Basement" is a 1973 film by maverick Texan director SF Brownrigg. Set in a lunatic asylum complete with a domineering matriarch head nurse, the film aimlessly follows a handful of patients before delivering a twist that makes the whole thing worth while.

For a number of reasons "Don't Look in the Basement" is perhaps the ideal film to start this blog with, being a great example of what gives exploitation cinema its appeal. So low budget it appears to have been filmed exclusively in someone's house, this constraint nevertheless creates a sense of claustrophobia that fits the subject matter perfectly. The amateur actors have a great laugh playing the lunatics, and there are some funny over the top performances.

But the most interesting thing about "Don't Look in the Basement" is that deep inside there is a serious arthouse film trying desperately to burst out. Out of necessity, young directors of the time often dressed serious work in gore and blood to get financial backing and a viable release. In the case of "Don't Look in the Basement" this is laughable -- tame, hurriedly made gore scenes have been tagged on at the beginning and end, and when its status was finally reviewed by the BBFC in 2005 the film was only awarded a 15 certificate. The film's original title, "The Forgotten", has a resonance lost on backers who changed it to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

Not to say the film isn't challenging to watch. Much of it is rambling and pointless, with most of the dialogue seemingly inserted just to fill time (which it quite possibly was). A misogynist streak typical of the era ruins a lot of the humour, and the acting is of course atrocious. However, the ideas behind the film, claustrophobic atmosphere and obvious passion with which it was made make "Don't Look in the Basement" a film worth seeing.

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