Director(s): S.F. Brownrigg/Tony Brownrigg

DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT – the original "DON'T" film – makes its way to Blu-ray with the director's son's 2015 sequel courtesy of BRINKvision.

Nurse Jane (Jessie Lee Fulton, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW) has had all she can take working at the Stephens Sanitarium where the patients are allowed to wander freely and Dr. Stephens (Michael Harvey, THE VELVET TRAP) eschews surgery and drugs in favor pushing them to the extremes of their obsessions. When purity-obsessed Judge Cameron (Gene Ross, HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS) accidentally sinks an axe in Dr. Stephens' back, Dr. Geraldine Masters (Annabelle Weenick, DEADLY BLESSING) quickly takes command only to learn that she is soon to be short-staffed. Someone hastens Jane's departure by planting murderously protective mother Harriet's (Camilla Carr, LOGAN'S RUN) among the nurse's belongings. Masters is also surprised by the sudden arrival of nurse Charlotte Beale (Rosie Holotik, HORROR HIGH) who Stephens hired to replace Jane. Masters is against taking Charlotte on until she realizes she would have to explain what happened to Dr. Stevens if Charlotte returns to her former position. Charlotte barely has time to settle into the sanitarium's routine before elderly Mrs. Callingham (Rhea MacAdams) is warning her to leave and childlike Sam (Bill McGhee, QUADROON) – whose lobotomy was Dr. Stephens impetus for adapting a more radical approach to mental illness – is ostensibly under orders from the dead doctor to protect her. When Charlotte discovers Mrs. Callingham with her tongue cut out after once again warning her to leave, Masters insists that the hallucination-prone woman bit it off herself. Charlotte, however, is continually unnerved by the behavior of the other patients – including nympho Allyson (Betty Chandler), shell-shocked Sergeant Jaffee (Hugh Feagin, IN THE YEAR 2889), withdrawn Jennifer (Harryette Warren), and the childlike but more mischievous Danny (Jessie Kirby) – and finds it all but impossible to leave (as does anyone else who wanders in from the outside world).

Although horror fans familiar with Edgar Allen Poe's "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether" – and Juan Lopez Moctezuma's baroque film adaptation MANSION OF MADNESS – might think early on that they are one up on the filmmakers and the heroine, DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT's scripting and debuting S.F. Brownrigg's direction is actually good at keeping the viewer in suspense as to whether the inmates have taken over or if Masters is just a sadistic tyrant making a power grab (or both). After the relatively tight set-up, the middle meanders a bit but in such a fashion as to give depth to each of the inmates – in their interaction with Charlotte, Masters, or with each other – demonstrating that they do not all share or accept each other's delusions and engendering sympathy for them (particularly Sam) while also acknowledging how dangerous each can be. The third act's attempt at delirium is only so-so, but it does become considerably more vicious, bloody and creepy (even if the actual visit to the basement is not the highlight suggested by the title). The late Brownrigg got his beginnings working as a sound and film editor for fellow Texan no-budget exploitation auteur Larry Buchanan (ZONTAR: THE THING FROM VENUS) with whom his productions shared common cast and crew members. Holotik, Ross, Harvey, and Weenick would also appear in the Texas-lensed Rod Serling-narrated anthology ENCOUNTER WITH THE UNKNOWN in a dreary, drawn-out retelling of the hitchhiking ghost girl urban legend. Ross and Feagin would also appear in Brownrigg's DON'T OPEN THE DOOR! and Carr would also appear in his SCUM OF THE EARTH before taking center stage in KEEP MY GRAVE OPEN (which also featured Fulton).

Originally titled THE FORGOTTEN, the film was released in most U.S. markets by AIP-offshoot Hallmark as DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT (as well as reissues as DEATH WARD 13 and THE SNAKE PIT) – with the same kind of splotchy background replacement title card seen on their THE HOUSE THAT VANISHED retitling of SCREAM AND DIE – utilizing the "only a movie" tag that also appeared on their trailers for LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, THE HOUSE THAT VANISHED, DON'T OPEN THE WINDOW (aka LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE), and Mario Bava's BAY OF BLOOD (as TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE). The film was released on VHS by Gorgon Video and VidAmerica in the 1980s. It made its digital debut courtesy of VCI's DVD which featured a colorful fullscreen transfer that would serve as the source for several budget DVD releases from Alpha Video, Diamond Entertainment, Brentwood, St. Clair Vision, and Mill Creek among others (as well as presumably the source for its airing on the short-lived "Elvira's Movie Macabre" revival series). VCI would reissue the film in a two-disc set with DON'T OPEN THE DOOR in a 16:9 transfer that was less colorful but otherwise fair (they later reissued the double feature as a single disc "Scream Theater" release). When Film Chest announced a digitally-remastered DVD, one would have hoped for something along the lines of their SILENT NIGHT BLOODY NIGHT but their interlaced transfer looked like another rip of the original fullscreen VCI disc with additional compression from an MPEG-2 re-encoding, excessive sharpening, and ghosting.

BRINKvision's HD master is purported to be transferred from the only surviving 35mm print (although this is doubtful given VCI's different transfers), and the archival element – which opens with a Cine Globe Incorporated logo – is presented at 1.37:1 in a pillarboxed MPEG-2 1080p24 encode that is full of scratches, arc burns, dents, dings, jump cuts, and some brief slowing down of the image too keep the sound in sync when there are missing frames; that said, the HD image (which has undergone some digital cleanup as shown in the minute-long silent restoration split-screen demo) is a step up from the VCI discs and a major upgrade over the awful Film Chest disc (rumor has it that Code Red has done a new HD master which may prove the more satisfying option if they announce it for Blu-ray). Audio is lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 mono and it is largely clean but the optical track source is subject to the defects of the image track with pops, hiss, and dropouts during the jump cuts. The film is accompanied by an audio commentary by Brownrigg's son Tony who was four years old when the film was made and conveys a genuine affection for the film and its stars (particularly Weenick, Carr, and Weenick's mother MacAdams), a few of whom he would act with on the stage in later years. He reveals that his father had wanted to make a sequel to the film and had developed one with a paranormal theme in the eighties but it was never filmed, and he discusses the details in the film that he used as jump-off points for his sequel. Each appearance onscreen of a performer leads to anecdotes and trivia, and he reveals that Holotik is working in real estate now (and did not want to get back into acting for the sequel) while Chandler works in high-end antiques. The disc also includes the original trailer (1:36).

While BRINKvision originally announced DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT as a solo release, the subsequent BD50 disc turned out to be a double feature with Tony Brownrigg's DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT 2. Forty-odd years after the Stephens Sanitarium massacre, lone survivor Sam (Willie Minor, I COME IN PEACE) who was lobotomized and has the mentality of a child but was held responsible for the murders of the other inmates is transferred to the Green Park Clinic in Tehuacana, Texas. "Dragon Lady" administrator Emily (a returning Camilla Carr) assigns his case to New York transplant Dr. William Matthews (Andrew Sensenig, WE ARE STILL HERE), much to the consternation of colleague Dr. Lance White (Frank Mosley, UPSTREAM COLOR) to whom Sam has gravitated. Whether Sam has brought ghosts with him or they were always there in the dreaded room four in which he is housed, the other patients start behaving more aggressively and the staff more strangely. This is first noticed by orderlies Bishop (GHOST HUNTERS INTERNATIONAL's Scott Tepperman) and Billy (Jim O'Rear, VOLUMES OF BLOOD) as Matthews and White believe colleague Dr. Lucy Mills' (Arianne Martin of Brownrigg's debut RED VICTORIA) sudden promiscuity to be a side effect of a supposed alcohol problem, the sudden psychotic break of Dr. Westmore (Earl Browning III, HATE CRIME) the onset of delayed PTSD, and Will's own hallucinations involving his dead wife seem to be grief exacerbated by the change of environment. Tightly-wound nurse Jennifer's (voice artist Megan Emerick) sudden "babying" of Bishop, on the other hand, is harder to explain as is Lucy's spiral into nymphomania. Looking into Sam's past, Will discovers too late that the Green Park Clinic was originally the Stephens Sanitarium and Sam's room is where the murders occurred as the doors and windows lock themselves and it is up to rest of the staff to contain the patients while Will ventures into the dreaded basement.

Far from a cheap cash-in, the sequel is no sleeper on the level of the first film but it does appear to have been a passion project that is better thought out than it seems on the surface. Without overburdening the film with exposition and a minimum of grainy black-and-white flashbacks from the original, it should become apparent to viewers with a more than vague recollection of the first film that the patients and staff members seem to take on the personalities of the patients from the earlier film when possessed, and there are novel reversals of expectation when it comes to the identities of two characters who are not inmates running the asylum but have other reasons for their actions than the likely ones ascribed to them by others. Brownrigg is less successful when striving for emotional resonance with regard to Will's mourning or in making the film's patients anywhere as dimensional, sympathetic, or pitiable as those in the original film. The presence of O'Rear and Tepperman was not an encouraging sign given their earlier collaborations on the execrable HOSPITAL films, but Brownrigg shows restraint with regard to gore and violence and the performances are overall likable enough that one wishes a bit more script had been devoted to character before things kick into autopilot for the climax in which various characters wander around in pairs to be attacked and/or killed before Will discovers the new secret in the basement. Whether or not Brownrigg Sr. would have been proud of the sequel as it turned out, it is not a bad companion feature for the superior original (as opposed to the first BD-R release of the sequel in which the original was an extra).

Shot on one of the Red model cameras, DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT 2's HD image looks slick on the disc's 1080p24 MPEG-2 2.40:1 widescreen encode while the lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 track does a serviceable job with the identikit modern horror movie sound design. The film is also accompanied by an audio commentary by Brownrigg who discusses the development of the sequel, his attempts to carry over elements and cast members from the original (necessitating turning Carr into a different character since her original one was killed), Tepperman contacting him and offering to do anything else on the production in order to get to be in it as an actor because of his love of the original film, the cast which includes some voice actors and other indie film writers and directors, and shooting in the same location (although the climax necessitated a different location for the basement scenes). The seventy-minute behind the scenes featurette is actually a series of video diaries by O'Rear and Tepperman for each day of production with their commentary over behind the scenes video. We get a look at the location without the film's moody color correction, the bedrooms in which the cast and crew camped out during the shoot, the cast joking around, and proof that Tepperman did indeed geek out as he explored the house. The disc also includes the film's trailer (2:01), a slipcover, and a seven-page booklet. (Eric Cotenas)