Wednesday, August 26, 2015



More 70's Sweaty Gothic Terror from Texas Low Budget Auteur S.F. Brownrigg 

     Texas filmmaker S.F. Brownrigg made a series of four horror/exploitation films in the 1970's (one of which 1976's KEEP MY GRAVE OPEN I've covered here before) with others being DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT (aka THE FORGOTTEN 1973), SCUM OF THE EARTH (aka POOR WHITE TRASH II 1974) and this unsettling little gem, also from 1974. Brownrigg's movies are fascinating exercises in low budget film making. Filmed in small towns around east Texas they all feature spooky southern Gothic ambiance filtered through 1970's drive-in horror. They played for years on double and triple bills snaking their way through various distributors and leaving an indelible impression on many a movie goer.
    Brownrigg's first feature DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT was originally titled THE FORGOTTEN but the title changed when it went out on a double feature with Wes Craven's LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT where it shared its tagline "To avoid fainting keep's only a's only a's only a movie". For this second feature Brownrigg most likely thought thought to capitalize a bit from his first run with Last House, a tile theme he would continue with KEEP MY GRAVE OPEN in 1976. Although he does plays the total pent up atmosphere a bit of his earlier efforts, DOOR contains all the classic Brownrigg elements - a small Texas town, a seemingly isolated house, close-ups of sweaty characters with bad complexions and yellow teeth (all driven by dubious motives, greed and/or twisted sexual desires) and a claustrophobic humid setting.

     Pretty Amanda Post (Susan Bracken) receives a mysterious phone call asking her to return to her family home as her grandmother is extremely sick. Thirteen years ago Amanda's mother had been brutally murdered in that same house with Amanda sleeping in the next room and perpetrator never having been caught. Arriving at there she discovers her grandmother a bedridden invalid (only able to utter "Go now...Go now...") along with Dr. Crawther (James Harrell) who refuses to admit her grandma to the hospital and who appears to be under the orders of "Judge" Stemple (Brownrigg regular Gene Ross who was also in Charles B. Pierce's LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK). In addition there is Claude Kearn (an unsettling wonderful performance by one and done actor Larry O'Dwyer) who runs the local historical society and museum. All three seem to engaged in an unexplained conspiracy that has them angling to gain control of the house (along with the judge and Claude practically drooling at the sight of Amanda in her tight pink tank-top).
      Accepting an invitation by by Claude to visit the museum, Amanda disturbingly finds a mannequin dressed up as her mother along with many items from their household and a creepy doll collection (which Browrigg had used to great effect in the opening credits & makes references to throughout the movie). Claude also makes some squeamish remarks alluding to Amanda as a child and his attraction to her with some not so too subtle allusions to past molestation. Wanting to get her grandmother into a hospital Amanda calls her boyfriend (who luckily is a doctor) and gets her admitted. Once back at the house alone (the boyfriend has handily stayed at the hospital) she begins to receive increasingly creepy and obscene phone calls from someone who appears to be watching her.

     The calls increase with at one point in a highly disturbing fashion the caller threatening Amanda's grandmother and forcing her to caress herself while he does the same to a doll he's foundling. Like other of Brownrigg's films the identity of the protagonist is caller is revealed early (although its fairly obvious) but the tension in maintained with a slowly ratcheting sense of terror. Brownrigg always seemed to have an affinity for finding great acting talent for his small films (probably finding them in local theatre) along with getting above average performances from virtually unknown talent. He usually worked with the same few regulars with Gene Ross also appearing in SCUM OF THE EARTH and KEEP MY GRAVE OPEN and later going on to a long career in TV. Annabelle Weenick who appears here in a small was a regular in S.F.'s films and earlier in some of Larry Buchanan's impoverished Texas production upon whom Brownrigg also cut his teeth as a filmmaker.
    Unlike his previous productions Brownrigg does show us a bit of the outside world with the Judges odd railroad car house and the museum. The house itself although well lite and neat in appearance has an unsettling atmosphere and supposedly crew members on the film did reported odd happenings during the shoot. Unlike his usual stationary camera focused on unsettling faces, Brownrigg sets up some wonderful prowling shots (in particular one that follows Amanda up floor by floor as she ascends a wrap around staircase). There some hallucinatory Mario Bava lighting used in a scene in an upstairs attic (that unfortunately is  over saturated on the DVD). Brownrigg's usual composer Robert Farrar contributes an off setting score with flutes and chamber music interspersed with distorted guitar.

     With the negative most likely destroyed at some point and 35mm prints that have been dragged through countless drive-in projectors Brownrigg's catalog has always been problematic on home video as his features (in particular BASEMENT) seem to show up in less then stellar quality on every one of those bargain multi pack sets. VCI is the best bet for DON'T OPEN THE DOOR & DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT as their available in a nifty dbl. disc set that can be had for less then $10.00. DOOR is widescreen and both have about the best quality you're going to find (Every so often a rumor surfaces about a new edition of BASEMENT, but it only turns out to be the same full frame master). 
    DON"T GO IN THE HOUSE can be looked at as a bit of an early slasher (1980's DON'T ANSWER THE PHONE seems to have borrowed a bit from it) and some folks have mentioned that perhaps Craven cribbed a bit from this for 1996's SCREAM.



  1. I haven't seen this one, though I have wanted to for some time. I really enjoyed Don't Look in the Basement. And I am a sucker for Southern made horror and exploitation.

    1. Hi Rob,
      I love these movies - I want to do Basement at some point. Your right, there is something about Southern horror (maybe it's the sweat ??). Thanks again !

    2. And you know, I think you have to live in the South, or have lived in the South, to really get it. So few non-Southern film makers can capture that Southern vibe. Rob Zombie being a rare exception.

    3. Rob Zombie is excellent at it. I think Tobe Hooper caught the vibe the best in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It's all about family and your land.

  2. I love Don't Look in the Basement - an overlooked gem. I haven't seen Brownrigg's other movies but I'm actively on the lookout for that double feature set you mentioned. Great review, Dick!