Retro Review: DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT or You May Find Another Horror Cult Classic at The Plaza

Posted on: Apr 12th, 2013 By:

DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT (1974); Dir: S.F. Brownrigg; Starring Rosie Holotik, Bill McGhee, Annabelle Weenick; Fri. Apr. 12-Thurs. Apr. 18; The Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

It feels like I’ve been writing a lot about the Plaza Theatre lately, but there’s a damn good reason for that. When ownership at the Plaza recently changed hands, the new owners’ first act was to remove the old 35mm film projectors in favor of a crisp, clean but decidedly digital presentation. For cine-junkies like me, this was supposed to be the kiss off, but the Plaza, as it turns out, knows their market. While the face of the Plaza changes, the heart of the old girl still beats the same, maybe even stronger, as the theatre has gone absolutely nuts with its programming, booking all kinds of rare gems and oddities to its screens and convincing the film nerds to withhold judgment just a little longer. With recent full runs for THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, REEFER MADNESS, RE-ANIMATOR, and FLESH GORDON, The Plaza is now the best spot in Atlanta to catch a vintage film pretty much any night of the week.

Joining the roster of “holy shit” this week at the Plaza is DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT (1973), otherwise known to horror fans by the way-less-awesome title of THE FORGOTTEN. Filmed in Texas in that same sweltering, gritty grindhouse style that THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) would make infamous one year later, DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT concerns a young nurse named Charlotte (Rosie Holotik) who starts a new job at a mental asylum, only to learn that the head doctor has been murdered by the patients. The new doctor in charge, Dr. Masters (Annabelle Weenick), tries to help Charlotte settle in, but the unruly, batshit patients begin to target and harass their new nurse. There’s plenty of blood, a dark secret or two, and an absolutely ludicrous third act twist. The filmmaking is less than impressive, but the overall effect is enough to rake you over the coals a bit, if that’s what you’re into. There’s a reason this movie still gets play 40 years after its release.

DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT is a grinding little workhorse of a horror film, made all the more famous by its associations with other horror classics. One year earlier, Wes Craven’s grimy THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) dropped a nuke on the horror scene with its near-snuff approach to tale of rape and revenge. That movie had one of the most famous taglines in film history, and well-earned: “Just keep repeating to yourself; ‘it’s only a movie, it’s only a movie, it’s only a movie…” The next year, distributors tried to pass DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT off as being from the same batch of people by showing it on a double bill with LAST HOUSE, but the films have no real connection. Instead, DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT comes from the mind of S.F. Brownrigg, a journeyman of the Texas horror circuit who had a flair for amazing titles, like DON’T OPEN THE DOOR! (1975) and KEEP MY GRAVE OPEN (1976). He also had a role in creating THE EYE CREATURES (1965), later made infamous by MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATRE 3000.

DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT is not a film that comes to screens very often, and when it does, maybe it plays more for the devoted than for the unconverted. But that’s what’s been so impressive about the new scheduling at the Plaza. There are plenty of catalog titles that could draw in the mainstream, but the Plaza is in the middle of an all-out bid for the cultists and movie fetishists, and the theatre is working hard to plant themselves at the center of Atlanta’s developing film culture. I, for one, hope there’s more like this in the basement.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game writer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He writes at www.thehollywoodprojects.com and hosts a bimonthly screening series of classic films at theaters around Atlanta.

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