No, seriously, don't look in the basement. If this 1973 film had been made in the UK, it'd have been called 'DON'T LOOK IN THE CELLAR', and would more than likely have been about the horrors that lurk under houses all over this country: Old lawnmowers, half-empty tins of paint, wobbly step ladders and secret porn stashes. Yeah, that would have scared the pants of us.
As it is, 'Don't Look In The Basement' is a semi-notorious exploitation flick that demonstrates some spectacularly bad taste, as well as some spectacularly bad acting, direction and writing.
The basic hook of the film is that, as the saying goes, the lunatics have taken over the asylum. They have done so quite literally here. If poking an exploitative finger at mental illness is your thing, then you'll no doubt love this film, but for the rest of us, the treatment given to the mentally unstable in the film is much more horrific than the splatter and violence that is on show.
It is a remarkably badly made film, and not all that much loved in diehard horror circles. I do wonder of it was banned because it's so badly made, but that would be cruel of me really. I must say though, I'm kinda surprised that this hasn't had a cheap and nasty Hollywood remake done yet (aw hell, now I've said that, Platinum Dunes will probably leap on it and have one out by the end of the week).
The budget is plain to see, by which I mean there was barely enough budget to get the camera running, by the look of it. It's shot in a manner that says "Am I pointing the camera in the right direction?" and the cast have the feel of 70s porn stars to their delivery (Ironic really as the lead actress, Rosie Holotik, was a Playboy model), making for plenty of moments that are unintentionally funny.
But on the flip-side of all this is the violence of the film. It is with the violence, the blood and the screaming insanity of many of the inmates that leave a lasting impression with the viewer. Ridiculous as the film is, there are a few moments that are genuinely unsettling due to the unhinged nature of the characters. Actually, there has to be special mention made of Rhea Macadams, whose performance as a mad old lady is really quite unsettling.
Director S.F. Browning gained almost instant notoriety with this bit of sleaze, and you can see why. Chunks of this film are as insane as the characters, and possibly it is the big empty spaces of boredom between those chunks of delirious violence that make the shocks so effective. An incoherent, but interesting little film for the completists.