Don’t Look In the Basement (1973)

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I delve yet again into the dark pit of Video Nasties, only to pick out Don’t Look In The Basement (AKA The Forgotten) (AKA Death Ward #13) to watch. Don’t Look In the Basement was made independently and released onto the Drive-In/Grindhouse Cinema circuits alongside Wes Craven’s The Last House On The Left; hence why both movies share the tagline ‘to avoid fainting, keep repeating “it’s only a movie”‘. However, whilst The Last House On The Left became semi successful over the years due to Wes Craven’s later successful projects, such as Nightmare On Elm Street, and a Last House On The Left remake in 2006, Don’t Look In the Basement became forgotten to the annuls of time.

I do have to say, though, that Don’t Look In the Basement is one of the cheapest films I’ve ever seen. The film is shot on one location – an asylum that suspiciously looks like an American Bed & Breakfast – with a cheap camera on poor film stock.The film just has this really cheap and nasty feel to it that is accentuated by utilizing really uncomfortable camera angles, especially shots that are too close to a character’s face during a demented episode, and these are a common occurrence throughout the entire film. In terms of story, Don’t Look In The Basement is very toned down as far as horror movies go as the majority of the film is mainly made up of character studies on each of the patients and their individual quirks. It’s not until the crazy finale does the film start to show it’s horror colours, and the when the horror starts, the blood flows. However, the film does take quite a while to get into the horror elements, and whilst a viewer waits for the horror to begin, the film meanders along the lives of the patients and their quirky mental disorders. So meandering, in fact, that the film is quite dull in places. At times whilst watching Don’t Look In The Basement I just sat there, waiting for something to happen, waiting for the plot to evolve, waiting for the film to give me something fulfilling instead of replaying scenes of mental patients talking to each other about irrelevant nonsense.

Don’t Look In the Basement does have a few positive aspects that stand out amongst the rest, though. The majority of the film’s characters are portrayed by unknown actors; well, aside from ex-playboy model Rosie Holotik, who portrays the protagonist nurse, and Anne MacAdams who had already starred in quite a few low grade horror movies such as It’s Alive! and Curse Of The Swamp Creature before starring in Don’t Look In The Basement. However, as amateur as these actors may be, they are quite good as portraying their entertainingly crazy, yet sadly sympathetic characters. Throughout the film, each character has their own story arc that evolves and by the end of the film, it’s quite evident that a lot of thought went into the writing of each of these characters.

However, Don’t Look In The Basement is infamous in England today for being part of the infamous “Video Nasties” list. The film may not have been actually prosecuted as part of the 1984 Video Recordings Act, but it was still liable to be confiscated by police for being ‘too obscene’ for the general public. In my opinion, Don’t Look In the Basement isn’t as deserved of the title ‘Video nasty’ as much as the many other films that were prosecuted. My thinking of what happened may be: either the censors mistook it for being as graphic as other ‘Don’t’ films – Don’t Go In The House, Don’t Go In The Woods, Don’t Go Near The Park etc – or it was seized because it just looks so cheap and nasty. It can’t be because of the gore because the effects are very minimal: just a few splatters of fake blood thrown on an actor to show that they’ve been killed.

Over the years, Don’t Look In The Basement obviously garnered a cult following because in 2015, the son of the original director decided to make Don’t Look In the Basement 2, starring some of the original actors from the first film. In my opinion, the original Don’t Look In The Basement may have a few redeeming elements, but it doesn’t live up to the hype that the Video Nasty title bestows onto old exploitation films. The film doesn’t stand out amongst other films on the Video Nasty list, nor does it stand out amongst other horror films that were released in 1973, because 1973 was a fantastic year for horror that gave us such classics as Theatre Of Blood, The Crazies, and the seminal The Exorcist. In conclusion, I don’t believe that Don’t Look In The Basement isn’t a ‘must see’ film, and it can be easily skipped.

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