Bloody Seventies Grindhouse From S.F. Brownrigg
The name S.F. Brownrigg may not ring an immediate bell for most people, even horror fans. Brownrigg was a regional filmmaker in Texas that directed grindhouse movies at their cinematic height in the 1970s. His genre movie career only consists of a few films. VCI Entertainment has paired two of his better known films together for an old-fashioned grindhouse double feature. Don’t Look In The Basement and Don’t Open the Door were produced and directed by Brownrigg, employing largely unknown actors outside of Texas.
Don’t Look In The Basement was often paired with The Last House On The Left back in the day. Somehow the movie slipped into the public domain, giving it a kind of cult status among grindhouse enthusiasts. It’s been released under a variety of names, from The Forgotten to Death Ward #13. Starring a former Playboy centerfold, Rosie Holotik, the gory movie is an off-kilter horror piece about a nurse working in a sanitarium for the criminally insane.
The mental institution run by the unorthodox Dr. Stephens becomes a living nightmare for a young nurse when he’s brutally murdered by one of his patients. This happens in the lurid prologue that opens the movie. Left in charge is Dr. Masters to oversee this menagerie of patients with severe and dangerous psychological problems. A young nurse, Charlotte Beale (Holotik), shows up looking for the job promised her by Dr. Stephens. Even after learning that Dr. Stephens has died, Charlotte accepts a job working there. Hindsight is 20/20, but this is not a wise career choice.
… it’s also rather tame for an underground movie from the 1970s
… it’s also rather tame for an underground movie from the 1970s
The movie is driven by the strange behavior of the mental patients and how they increasingly bother Charlotte. One woman does nothing but dote on a doll all day, thinking it’s a real baby. Another patient has been lobotomized, rendering him like an eight-year-old in the body of a man. The danger for Charlotte grows the longer she stays at the institution, leading to the patients completely melting down. To Brownrigg’s credit, the mental patients range from creepy to sad. It’s a nice mix of the psychotic and deranged.
Don’t Look In The Basement actually has a solid plot going for it and the unheralded cast work fairly well in their roles. I think re-working the script with more action would have been an immense improvement. The opening act is awfully dull once Dr. Stephens is murdered. But it’s also rather tame for an underground movie from the 1970s. Some scant topless nudity and a few uninspired murder scenes really don’t make for a grindhouse classic. It’s a decent cult movie, helped by the oddball performances and competent filmmaking on a budget.
VCI Entertainment has been known as an erratic label when it comes to videophile concerns, issuing problematic transfers on Blu-ray that some labels wouldn’t touch. That tradition continues with Don’t Look In The Basement as part of this S.F. Brownrigg Grindhouse double feature. Crediting a “new” digital restoration by Blair & Associates, this closely resembles an upscaled presentation from an inferior source, possibly even standard definition.
Even by DVD standards, this release has uneven picture quality with major issues. The blurb on the back indicates a “new 1080P restoration.” Which tells me it’s not from the usual 2K film transfers common to genre Blu-rays.
Let’s start with the positives. As a low-budget genre movie that has slipped into the public domain, Don’t Look In The Basement has been issued by several different distributors on DVD and even Blu-ray. Most of them feature a chopped-up 1.33:1 presentation. VCI Entertainment did strike a widescreen transfer at 1.78:1, close to the movie’s native 1.85:1 aspect ratio. That is important if you want to approximate the director’s intended approach.
While the film elements used for whatever transfer they originally struck are presentable, the image has been obliterated with processing. From massive ringing to smeared resolution, the transfer is a mess. Shown in 1080P video, it lacks any consistent detail. The picture is also soft and smooth as butter. If there is any true Hi-Def picture quality in this presentation, it’s hard to pick out.
The two included main features share a single BD-50. Don’t Look In The Basement runs its uncut 89-minute length, encoded in AVC at steady bitrates. That doesn’t prevent massive chroma noise and other compression anomalies, struggling to keep up with the crushed black levels and noisy grain structure.
Both included films on this Grindhouse double feature come with adequate 2.0 PCM in mono. All things considered, the soundtracks have held up fairly well with intelligible dialogue decently recorded and presented. The scores are low-budget affairs, revealing limitations in fidelity and clarity. Let’s call this serviceable audio that fits right into the grindhouse ethos.
Optional English SDH subtitles appear in white fonts for both movies.
VCI Entertainment actually provides new special features for these cult S.F. Brownrigg grindhouse films. You get both Don’t Look In The Basement and Don’t Open The Door. The films have nothing to do with one another besides being directed by Brownrigg with many of the same production members.
It should be noted that Don’t Look In The Basement is in the public domain and has seen several other releases on DVD and Blu-ray from other distributors. It also should be mentioned that this double-feature set doesn’t include Tony Brownrigg’s commentary found on the Brinkvision Blu-ray. VCI happens to be the only label that has put out Don’t Open The Door on home video.
Both grindhouse movies come on a single Blu-ray in a clear case. Reversible cover art is included. This happens to be a Blu-ray and DVD combo set.
Don’t Look In The Basement 2018 Audio Commentary – Film historian David Del Valle and genre director David DeCoteau (Puppet Master III) discuss drive-in movie theaters and Texas genre filmmaking in this commentary. It’s a friendly, engaging chat. Their focus does drift away from the movie itself once their knowledge of the film is depleted.
Don’t Open The Door Production Notes (02:46 in HD) – A silent featurette that allows the audience to read the script and production notes on screen.
Don’t Open The Door Deleted Scenes (05:58 in HD)
Don’t Look In The Basement Theatrical Trailer (02:10 in upscaled HD)
Don’t Open The Door Theatrical Trailer (02:03 in HD)
Grindhouse Trailers And Promos (12:39 in HD) – Some gloriously cheesy trailers in classic grindhouse tradition. A couple of them are apparently upcoming VCI releases. Includes Night of the Bloody Apes, Beast of the Yellow Night, Terror, Bad Georgia Road, Dynamite Dixie, Hillbillys in the Haunted House.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray release was provided to us for review by the label. For information on how we handle all review material, please visit our about us page to learn more about DoBlu’s editorial policies.
Don't Look in the Basement
Don’t Look in the Basement is a cult movie from regional filmmaker S.F. Brownrigg that exemplifies the low-budget grindhouse films of the 1970s.
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