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Don't Open the Door / Don't Look in the Basement
This Grindhouse Double Feature might be better termed a 'Lovers of Regional Cinema' Double Feature, due to the low-light status of director S.F. Brownrigg. Both movies included are relatively light-hearted entertainment as far as horror-thrillers go, while their presentations here aren't able to rise much past their low-budget origins. If you can look past the 'shocking' titles which don't live up to what you'd expect, and can find this at a good price, it might be worthwhile for your rainy-day exploitation shelf.
Don't Look in the Basement (AKA The Forgotten) gets your evening started as the inmates run a podunk mental hospital. Therapy includes letting a violent offender loose with an axe (results: typical) while otherwise indulging every crazy instinct available. I guess the idea is to drive the crazy people sane by letting them go totally crazy. When the ethos is thus; "Dr. Stevens didn't believe in the doctor-patient relationship" you can see why you might not want to look in the basement.
But rather than gory, violent depravity (there is some to be had) you mostly get overheated, maxi-gothic, regional cinema goofiness. Sturdy character actors like Bill McGHee, Jessie Lee Fulton, and Michael Harvey dive into their whackadoo roles with abandon, tossing out bons mots like "you've got a receptionist that ain't got no tongue" with conviction that can only be interpreted as comedic by the upstanding viewer.
That said, I bet this was a hoot to watch at a Drive-In in the American South, with a pint of moonshine and a good friend, but less-so on 42nd Street in New York, if one hoped to be shocked and dismayed. Given the right attitude, today's viewer will find Don't Look in the Basement both boring and delightful, with often-great cinematography and a musical score that bounces between cool and cliche. Neither shocking, nor scary, but with fun performances and a cracked script, Don't Look in the Basement gets this double feature off to an uneven start.
Don't Open the Door (AKA Don't Hang Up) continues the trend of getting butts in seats with an intriguing title, but again, fails to deliver much more than one would expect from a regional potboiler, turning what might have been a 'whodunit into a 'who cares?' affair. In this case, Amanda Post (Susan Bracken) moves in to take care of her doddering grandmother. For this act of charity, she's rewarded by entrapment with a homicidal maniac!
A truly terrifying credits sequence lures us in with moody images of horrifying dolls, while what sounds like a '70s television cop show theme plays in the background. Things look up for a bit when Amanda starts receiving really creepy, harassing phone calls. (Don't Open the Door came out in 1974, the same year as Black Christmas so any similarity in the creepy phone calls is likely coincidental, though remarkably prominent.)
Sadly, the person making the mysterious phone calls becomes almost immediately apparent, so most of the intrigue dries up pretty quickly. What we get instead are bits of recycled footage, like a murder scene replayed three times in a flashback, and other bits of time-and-budget-saving shenanigans to aggrieve those looking for cheap thrills.
Both Don't Look in the Basement and Don't Open the Door represent cheap, mild thrills, with an emphasis on the former. If you're not expecting the kind of horrors that the titles and era of these early '70s movies imply, then you won't be disappointed. However, this double feature will be of most value to serious fans of regional genre film-making, who don't mind lots of cheese, overblown performances, and little bang for their buck. If you haven't seen either of these before, this Blu-ray/DVD combo Double Feature is cautiously Recommended.
Don't Look in the Basement enjoys a new 1080p restoration, (per the box) and Don't Open the Door gets the new 2k restoration, while both retain that basement allure. The images contain plenty of grain, and are very often rather soft, while not exactly abounding in fine details. The 1.78:1 ratio presentation for Basement looks at times like the framing was slightly off, though I didn't notice such anomalies for Door. These films have been around the track many times in home video format, so while there isn't much in the way of film damage, thanks to the restoration process, we seem to be reaching the point of diminishing returns in terms of image quality.
The LPCM 2.0 Mono Audio tracks available for both Don't Look in the Basement and Don't Open the Door get the job done in perfectly adequate fashion, without distortion or damage, and all mixed together properly. The scores, problematic as they are, don't compete with the dialog, which is clean and clear. No raves, but no complaints either, as far as sound goes.
In addition to the DVD copy, you get a 2018 Commentary Track for Don't Look in the Basement with film writer David Del Valle and genre vet David Decoteau, which is wide-ranging and a lot of fun. Varied Original Theatrical Trailers and other Grindhouse Trailers round out the package.
Don't Look in the Basement and Don't Open the Door represent cheap, mild thrills, with an emphasis on the former. If you're not expecting the kind of horrors that the titles and era of these early '70s movies imply, then you won't be disappointed. However, this double feature will be of most value to serious fans of regional genre film-making, who don't mind lots of cheese, overblown performances, and little bang for their buck. If you haven't seen either of these before, this Blu-ray/DVD combo Double Feature is cautiously Recommended.
- Kurt Dahlke