Don’t Look in the Basement | Varied Celluloid

Don’t Look in the Basement

Posted by Josh Samford On August - 26 - 2008
Originally written by Prof. Aglaophotis


Plot Outline: Dr. Stephen’s Sanitarium – a recovery home for the mentally ill where the patients are granted various liberties to roam freely around the home, granted they stay close, do their chores and adhere to the good doctor’s unique method of treatment that doesn’t so much as cure them par-se, but enables them to push their insanity levels around so they can categorize them; they may have their old tendencies, but they would be much less harmful to others in society than before their extensive treatment. This is where our story begins, when the only other supervisors are left to look after the patients after Dr. Stephens is distracted and accidentally killed by being struck in the back with an axe during the patient Judge’s personal stress relieving treatment. Unfortunately what distracts him was the nurse who had been planning to leave within the remains of the day. However, after the patient Harriet is enticed into thinking that the nurse took her baby (a doll she continuously treats like her own child), she attacks the nurse eventually killing her. Soon after, the new nurse Charlotte Beale arrives to be introduced to the sole surviving supervisor of the three in the staff, Dr. Geraldine Masters as well as the other patients residing in the home: Judge Cameron, Harriet, Sam, Danny, Allyson, Jennifer, Sgt. Jaffee and old Mrs. Callingham. However, during her stay, some of the patients try to warn her of something terrible going on there that is beyond control. As terrible things continually happen there, Charlotte realizes that the patients know what they’re talking about and she finds herself dedicated to finding the truth…but truth is certainly stranger than fiction now isn’t it?


  

The Review
Personally, I have always enjoyed the persona of a twisted human being. In fact, not just one individual, but many twisted people; it almost seems as though in a play or film, the actor can almost never go wrong when displaying such a person, partly due to the fact that they are real and that they are made the way they are in real ways. I’ve found that there really is something truly remarkable about a movie consisting mostly of the mentally ill and chronically dangerous; the way each individual acts, how their own personal stories consist of traumatizing events and self-pity that is depressing and sometimes too fantastic to believe, but alarmingly down to Earth. That’s certainly a primary aspect that Don’t Look in the Basement has going for it that it uses fully, yet oddly omits in various little portions like a nearly completed puzzle. And yet, the final result is still marveling to gaze at; it’s a different look through the doorway of the human mind and how far it can be pulled out before it finally gives. The movie obviously has a limited budget, but it was used fairly well as the movie itself did not entirely require the advancement of an actual hospital, although it might have skipped out on some clarifying scenes, it still takes what it has and uses it with remarkable potential (not the best potential, but still remarkable). One of the only real complaint coming from me however is the simple fact that the movie states a warning: ‘don’t look in the basement,’ and yet the warning is almost never evident in the movie. It seems to take a minor role instead of actually taking the full setting of the movie (such as Don’t Go in the House, but I digress).

With a story as obviously huge as Jason and the Argonauts turns out to be, you would probably expect it to have a relatively relaxed pace and go the usual route of a true epic, but the film doesn’t hold to such standards. Rather, it moves along at a jaunting speed at just over 104 minutes, and never once proves to be boring which suits the film extremely well. Rather than trying to discern every little fact of the story to the audience, the director chooses to give us the juiciest details and always skips to the good stuff, which is exactly what an action adventure yarn like this should do. It may not go for the jugular in presenting an authentic Greek tale, but it more than delivers in the entertainment department, which is truly where the film was meant to shine. After Jason initially sets out on his quest for the Golden Fleece, the film just feels like adventure after adventure, and that is exactly what it turns out to be. It loses only an ounce of steam when Jason is introduced to a romantic interest (sad to say, but every film has to have one), but quickly picks things back up with Harryheusen delivering some of his most mind blowing work of the era. Jason fighting with the hydra was a standout, but the biggest bit of animation is obviously when the argonauts take on a team of skeletons who are awaken from the grave to do battle. The scene is quite famous by now, and for good reason. The skeletons may not be the largest or most mind blowing creatures The Argonauts fight in the film, but from a technical scale it’s probably the biggest achievement. The claymation and the live action are well placed together and it proves to be the most realistic battle in the film. The skeletons have shadows that dance around them as they fight, and it actually looks as if the swords really do clash. It’s a beautifully orchestrated dance that proves to be one of those crowning achievements that are never forgotten. Whether Harryhausen will be remember for the duel or the actual film is debatable, but if you ask me, it truly is an achievement in cinema from all corners and deserves to be remembered as so.

The cinematography was amazingly well crafted as the close ups of the patient’s faces seemed to emit a brief sense of claustrophobia as they ranted on vociferously and creepily. The music seemed to consist of peaceful notes from a flute that would shift appropriately to easy long shakes of a maraca and some mystique arose through the picking at the strings of a sitar. The diction was somewhat nerve-wracking, but in no way incredulous as it fit the personalities of the crazy characters nicely, from the impetuously obnoxious laughter of Danny to the screams of loneliness from the bipolar Allyson. I say nerve-wracking only to implicate the vociferousness of all of the loud characters or the ones with the most dialogue (even Judge contributes to this for when he’s not continually introducing himself and treating life like a court room, he’s looking surprisingly creepy and talking vaguely, yet simultaneously threatening). With this in mind, the acting was surprisingly convincing, the only down fall being that a single lobotomy patient Sam, as childish as he acted, still had normal actions and dialogue after his surgery which seemed a little questionable and even the climax seemed slightly questionable only due to a lack of different scenes that would clarify the vagueness, but even those aspects did not entirely deter from any lack of enjoyment. There also seemed to be an evident sense of research done for the characters in the movie as (although not entirely elucidated on) most of the disorders of the patients seemed to connect well with actual disorders, mostly intermittent explosive and posttraumatic stress disorders. Everyone else, though somewhat vague, are inferable due to the depth of the characters; their individual behavior, dialogue, facial expressions and the like; so much to the point that the viewer can easily get a vicarious sense of sympathy for some of them. Perhaps another great aspect about this film was the violence involved in certain scenes. Although if the budget was higher, I’m sure the violence would all be onscreen, but what was put on screen was rather effective as I could recall briefly cringing in discouragement (and delight) at the violence employed.

The Conclusion
Despite its uniqueness, Don’t Look in the Basement might not get entirely well recognized over the years, but it certainly is entertaining to watch. I’m sure there are many ways that it could’ve been done better, particularly the further depth of each character so that the audience can actually become more familiar with everyone rather than a select few. But what it does have to offer it uses fully and makes for very interesting and creepy low budget psychological horror/mystery. What’s more, it also has a strong level of believability with the crazy characters introduced, no matter how shallow their pasts were presented. If you’re looking for something obscure, unsettling and with a good use of character credibility, Don’t Look in the Basement wouldn’t be a bad choice.


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Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.

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