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Warning: The following is a review for Don’t Look in the Basement 2. In order to properly review this film, I am forced to reflect back to key aspects from the original 1973 film. This includes divulging the ending. While I would prefer to avoid disclosing any such spoilers, I am unable to do so as the plot of Don’t Look in the Basement 2 plays directly off of the original’s closing moments. So, if you have not seen Don’t Look in the Basement, please be warned of these upcoming spoilers.
That said, the film is 43 years old. You’ve had more than enough time to see it, so I don’t feel too bad about spoiling anything. And really, if you haven’t seen the original, chances are that you don’t give a shit about the sequel either. Carrying on…..
In 1973, director S. F. Brownrigg released his first feature, Don’t Look In the Basement (aka The Forgotten). The film starred former Playboy model & Horror High co-star Rosie Holotik (RAWR!!) as “Charlotte”, a young nurse newly hired to work at Stephens Sanitarium, a secluded mental hospital in rural Texas. Upon her arrival, Charlotte is shocked to learn that Dr. Stephens, the hospital’s head doctor (and the man who hired her), was killed days prior by one of the hospital’s patients, a deranged former magistrate referred to as “Judge” (Gene Ross, who would also appear in Brownrigg’s later film, Don’t Open the Door.)
She is met by Dr. Masters, the only other doctor apparently on-staff at the hospital. Masters claims to not be aware of Charlotte’s recent hire and attempts to promptly dismiss the young nurse, but eventually begrudgingly allows her to stay on. She is soon introduced to the patients residing at the hospital. This includes the shell-shocked Sergeant, the schizoid nympho Allyson, the elderly Mrs. Callingham, the emotionally co-dependent Jennifer, Harriet (Camilla Carr) and the doll that she thinks is her baby, prankster Danny, the aforementioned Judge, and a lobotomized man-child named Sam (Bill McGhee).
Through a series of shocking events, Charlotte soon discovers that things are not what they appear at the sanitarium. Are the inmates the ones really running the hospital? Chaos explodes within the sanitarium’s cramped quarters in the film’s final act, concluding with Sam helping Charlotte escape before killing his fellow inmates with an axe.
While not a huge commercial success, the film has developed a significant cult following over the decades, even if it still doesn’t receive much praise or respect from critics. The film reached new audiences through its inclusion (albeit in edited/cut versions) in multiple budget-priced multi-movie collections, as well as being featured on Elvira’s Movie Macabre. Being included on the UK’s notorious “Video Nasties” list undoubtedly helped it garner some attention as well. Despite it’s acquired fanbase, it’s probably safe to say that most fans had probably given up any thought of seeing a sequel, especially in these days of dime-a-dozen remakes.
Now, more than 40 years later, a sequel has surfaced. Directed by Anthony Brownrigg, son of the original film’s director, Don’t Look in the Basement 2 takes us back to Stephens Sanitarium, now renamed Green Park Clinic. While the hospital’s renaming was presumably to distance itself from the events at Stephens’ those years prior, the majority of the characters seem to be blissfully unaware of the hospital’s sordid history, a plot point of importance later in the film.
After a brief recap of the original film’s ending, featuring new actors cast as the corpses of those ill-fated characters, the sequel opens to find “big city doctor” William Matthews (Andrew Sensenig – Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, I Love You Phillip Morris) settling into his new position at Green Park. This involves acquainting himself with fellow doctors White (Frank Mosley) & Mills (Arianne Martin, here credited as “Arianne Margot”), the patients, and the hospital’s other staff, including Emily, the hospital’s director. Fans of the 1973 film may get a kick out of seeing original cast member and S.F. Brownrigg “regular” Camilla Carr return for the role of “Emily”, a character with no relation whatsoever to “Harriet”, her character from the original film.
Emily is excited to inform her staff about a new patient being transferred to Green Park. That patient is soon revealed (unsurprisingly, to anyone that watched the trailer or read the back of the case that the disc came in) to be Sam, now played by Willie Minor (Born On the Fourth of July, I Come In Peace). As doctors don’t do the “menial” jobs, the task of preparing a room for Sam is given to the head nurse, Jennifer (Megan Emerich, who also co-wrote the script). She, in turn, assigns the job to Billy (indie-horror writer/director/actor Jim O’Rear) and Bishop (actor and Ghost Hunter Scott Tepperman), the clinic’s bumbling male nurses.
Matthews is assigned to Sam’s case. He welcomes the challenge, if only to impress his new boss. White also seems to take a strong interest in the case, which Matthew’s perceives as some expected healthy competition.
Sam arrives. From the moment that he enters, a dire change takes place over the entire house. The first noticeable difference is with White, the man becoming more forceful with his manner of “treatment”, as well as hostile towards his colleagues. More personality changes begin to manifest in the other staff members, as well as the patients. Things soon take a drastic turn for the worst when a normally harmless “intellectually disabled” man kills a fellow patient in gruesome fashion.
More disturbing instances occur. Events and personalities start baring an eerie similarity to those 40 years prior. Just what is happening at Green Park Clinic? How is Sam involved in all of this? How does all of these events tie in to the original film?
I went into Don’t Look In the Basement 2 with the lowest of expectations. Quite honestly, I was fully prepared for a shitstorm of suckitude before even watching the trailer. Maybe it was the hundreds of craptastic, modern-era indie horror films that I’ve allowed myself to sit through that made me ready for the worst. Maybe it was the flood of recent remakes and re-imaginings that generally fail to match the quality of their predecessors, although those are usually only made to capitalize on nostalgia and morbid curiosity. Maybe it was because the film was being distributed by a company called Legless Corpse, and really, that sets at least at certain level of predisposition.
Whatever I expected was most assuredly not what I received.
Don’t Look In the Basement 2 chooses to rely on the strength on its story and performances and not on gimmicks or gore, although there is definitely some of the latter. In terms of “story”, the film is mostly successful. For the first two-thirds, the film feels like a fitting continuation of the original. However, where the original could be described as a “psycho-thriller”, the sequel is more of a supernatural shocker. The gore is limited to just a few scenes which is to the film’s benefit as too much would seem out-of-place with the tone of the film.
Performances are generally strong throughout, with a standout showing coming from Mosely as the seemingly unraveling “White”. O’Rear and Tepperman provide arguably unnecessary comic relief, but as the duo play wonderfully off of each other, the humor never comes across as over-zealous or obnoxious. The two also factor into the plot, making them more than tacked-on time-killers, an approach taken far too often by low-budget horror films.
Only Minor’s performance as “Sam” raised any issues for me. While Minor definitely does not deliver a poor performance, he just isn’t able evoke the same level of empathy for the character that McGhee created years. In his defense, he isn’t given much to do with the character other than sitting around, so he never has a real chance to develop the character. While Sam may a catalyst for the events unfurling around his, he plays a decidedly passive role in their actually happening.
A. Brownrigg admirably presents an original concept instead of just rehashing scenes from the original to appease presumed expectations from fans. While not all of the ideas work, the passion for the project is evident throughout. Fans of the original may not love Don’t Look In the Basement 2, but should be pleased by the respect shown to the original film and its legacy. Those CG bullet holes could have been left out though.
Before we close, it’s worth noting that one of the selling points for the film’s home video release is that it includes an HD transfer of the 1973 original as a bonus feature (as well as a behind the scenes documentary from O’Rear). As I’ve already stated, I originally had low expectations for the sequel, so having an HD transfer of the original included was the deciding factor in making the purchase.
It’s a good thing that Don’t Look in the Basement 2 was an unexpected pleasure…. because the original has received a god-awful transfer. Detail is improved, but the print is in such poor shape that any upgrade in image clarity is smothered in damage like biscuits get smothered in country gravy. If that weren’t bad enough, I noticed 3 different instances of severe compression artifacting. In other words, the screen was covered in massive digital breakdown, pixilation, and distortion. One particular instance was comparable to what you got if you didn’t have the cart lined up properly before pushing power on your NES. Don’t Look In the Basement deserves a better transfer than this.