What is the deal with Films from the Basement? It’s a pretty typical story, actually. Since early 2000, I have been locked in the basement of what would eventually become The Nerd Mentality offices. I never saw sunlight or ate real food in that entire time, but I did have an allowance of $3 a week. I used this money to buy films to preserve my sanity. Unfortunately, with the budget being so low, I was only able to afford the cheapest, most terrible films and instructional videos available to mankind.
The majority of people have never seen or even heard about these films. Now that I have been released from the basement, I will be able to unleash these monstrosities and take over the wor … er, I mean, I will be able to share them with the world by the power of the internet. Join me, won’t you, as we delve into Films from the Basement! This time we will be looking at the 1973 film Don’t Look in the Basement!
I’m from the basement, this movie is about a basement (or at least not looking in there), so it would be a natural fit right? Well, our buddy Rich thought so, and because of that he sent me this little movie to watch.
To start the movie off right, you need a couple of crazy people inside a house pretending like they are in the military. Yep that’s right, Don’t Look in the Basement starts off in the sanitarium. All the crazy stereotypes are here. Besides the stern but fair nurse, there are: the military guy, the nursing mother with no baby, the mentally challenged guy, and the writers of this movie. I mean they’d have to be insane right?
Of course it’s a sad day in the mental ward because the head nurse is going away, and that means that people can’t play with their boats any more. I don’t know why (plot), but the head nurse decides to tell some of the crazy people that she is going away before talking to the head doctor. Of course, this upsets them and kind of starts the whole series of oddities going on there. This is the kind of movie that sort of feels like having to watch a stranger’s kid while they go to the bathroom. Except, they are gone for almost 2 hours and the kids are really weird and don’t listen.
Within the first 5 minutes of Don’t Look in the Basement, we already have an ax murder, so you know it’s going to be good (bad). It’s very much one of those movies where no one is necessarily likable or well written but you just keep watching to see who and how the next person to die will be. At least I hope to learn why we should not be looking in the basement.
Someone takes the fake baby and the mom freaks out of course and starts choking the nurse that wanted to leave from this beautiful place. So, apparently she crushes the nurse in her own suitcase. I think the film would be a little more interesting if we were shown a bit more. It seems to cut out all the interesting parts. This makes the murders appear a little more surreal than what they should. Is the movie trying to tell us something?
From that point on we get the jaunty little title sequence and a new leggy blond nurse fresh from nurse academy coming to take the place of the dead people. Apparently, no one at the nurse replacement institute thought it was weird that people were murdering nurses. That, or these crazy people are way smarter than we give them credit.
Don’t Look in the Basement was shot in 12 days on a budget of less than $100,000, and it really feels like it. I mean, it feels like 12 days already watching it and it’s only been 10 minutes. Through the whole credit sequence we get the new nurse just knocking on the door of the asylum and saying “hello” in a very dainty accent. Of course no one is expecting her, probably because they are all already dead. We get to spend hours upon hours listening to dialogue about the confusion in the nurse’s office. This is what is known in the industry as “padding out the film”. The nurse “fights” to stay at the hospital and of course they let her, or it would be a very short film.
Don’t Look in the Basement kinda just plods along. Minute after minute ticks by on what seems like a set up for a television drama. Of course we already know that this is going to be a horror film, so what are they waiting for? Charlotte, the new nurse, gets scared at every crazy person that she sees. But at the same time she seemingly does fine multiple days with the crazy people. It kinda seems like an after school special with special people.
Apparently crazy people need loving too as they seem to throw themselves at other members of the hospital. Other movies would use this as some sort of soap box to talk about the issues at hand. This film just sort of clumsily tries to juggle the issues that the insane must face and then drops it completely. It is very melodramatic. It is this seriousness that makes the movie hard to enjoy because the mood and tone don’t match the competency of the film making. However, with a few cold beverages and the right group of friends it could be turned into an enjoyable experience while waiting for the ending.
The old lady keeps warning the new nurse to get out while she can. In part, I think she is also warning the audience to turn off the movie while we can, but just like the nurse I didn’t listen. This would have made a great MST3K film because of all the pauses in dialog and ridiculous things going on. The script is so bad that one of the characters even gets their tongue cut out so that they don’t have to talk any more in the movie. Of course the film makers still give her lines to say.
No one ever calls the police or notices anything wrong. It has to all be kept secret. There is a nice 5 minute part about the phones being broken and a telephone technician comes by to fix it. He talks to the crazy people and the old woman with no tongue who just mumbles everything. I can’t tell if it is supposed to be funny or spooky or inept.
While the telephone guy is there, the sex crazed loony lady tries to come and seduce him. This is the part of the movie where I thought it was going to turn into a porno. The guy rejects her obvious advances and she completely goes off on him inside the closet and then we hear nothing about it until much later in the movie. Did the phone company not remember they sent him out there? Oops, best not to think too much here.
There is a fight over a watch and an ironing scene. There is a knife attacker jumping out of a room and lots of crying. Everything is solved with a good old fashioned slap from the head nurse though. The movie is delving into incoherence at this point. I don’t know whether to laugh or turn the movie off; I feel like I am the one going insane. I have had a thought at the back of my head ever since Don’t Look in the Basement started, but surely a plot twist this obvious would not be what the film is going for…
I don’t know if the cruel and unusual punishment is just restricted to those in the movie. This film is pretty boring in parts and really takes the first hour to even get going. Perhaps if I was actually insane it would mean more to me? I might not be the target audience. I think Don’t Look in the Basement might be the Trainspotting for people with mental illness. It’s only interesting or meaningful if you are on Heroin. Especially with 20 minutes of the film left, when the big “reveal” is made. You’d never guess this, but the crazy people are really crazy.
Surprise, what a twist! Of course this makes so many plot holes it doesn’t even make sense, but that’s OK because the movie was made for crazy people. Also, I never really found out why no one was supposed to look in the basement. I thought it would be a more central point to the film. It seems like everything was saved up for the last few minutes of the movie to go out in a bang, and therefore everything seems rushed. I sincerely hope that One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was made in answer to this film.
Things I learned from Don’t Look in the Basement:
Alternate titles of the movie were The Forgotten and Death Ward #13
No one has ever seen military people coming. (insert your own joke here)
People like for you to guess how many types of soup they have eaten.
There are no orderlies in this place.
Don’t tell crazy people that you will be leaving.
I wont be able to put my boat in the water.
The filing system at a hospital is set up exactly like a box of recipes.
To be carnally minded is death.
No one ever needs to lock doors.
You shouldn’t interrupt crazy people on their wedding night.
It’s hard to find the outside door when you are just a nurse.
Final Verdict on Don’t Look in the Basement:
Is Don’t Look in the Basement supposed to be a war allegory with some sort of an artful look at people in psych wards? No, it seems like a zero budget excuse to kill people on screen. But you have to wait so long to slog through the movie to get to that part, you might not enjoy it very much. The characters are unrealistic and it certainly cannot handle any questioning scrutiny. However, I have seen much worse, and if you just want to see a cheesy drive-n trash flick about mental illness then this might be fun for you. This film gets 1 and a half baby rattles. Only pick this up if you are insane yourself or if you get it really cheap in one of those DVD multi-packs with something else that you know you like. Thanks a lot Rich.