• S.F. Brownrigg Grindhouse Double Feature: Don't Open The Door / Don't Look In The Basement (VCI Entertainment) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: VCI Entertainment
    Released on: August 14th, 2018.
    Director: S.F. Brownrigg
    Cast: Susan Bracken, Larry O’Dwyer, Gene Ross/William Bill McGhee, Annie MacAdams, Rosie Holotik
    Year: 1979/1972
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    Don’t Look In The Basement / Don't Open the Door - Movie Review:

    VCI brings together two of the late S.F. Brownrigg’s better-known low budget features in this two-disc set.

    Don’t Look In The Basement:

    Up next, Brownrigg’s 1972 masterpiece, Don’t Look In The Basement. The movie follows a pretty young woman named Charlotte Beale (Rosie Holotik) who takes a job as a nurse at a rundown mental hospital in the middle of nowhere called the Stephens Sanitarium.

    When she arrives, she learns that Dr. Stephens was murdered by one of the patients and under some rather suspect circumstances. Unfortunately for Charlotte, his replacement is a very stern woman named Dr. Geraldine Masters (Annabelle Weenick), is not particularly friendly. She’s also not at all interested in taking on a new nurse at this point in time. Begrudgingly she lets Charlotte take the position but poor Charlotte soon finds that things are not going to be easy. The patients are more or less given free reign and they do nothing but make life difficult for her. Eventually, however, the truth comes to light as to why Masters is so closed in regards to how she runs the place and how she treats the patients.

    While the bulk of the storyline follows Charlotte and her plight, so much of what makes this movie work so damn well as it does is the supporting cast, specifically, the patients. Haryette Warren is excellent and surprisingly sympathetic as the man-starved Jennifer, liable to do anything it takes to get attention from any man she can. Hugh Feagin as the disturbed veteran Sgt. Jaffe is also great, whereas Bill McGhee as Sam steals pretty much every scene that he’s in. A massive hulking black man (the only character in the film who isn’t white), Sam is treated as an imbecile by many around him but while he may be slow, he’s important to the story in many ways and is actually very well written and acted.

    In typical Brownrigg fashion, the movie features some successfully skuzzy photography that somehow manages to make the movie far more effective than it would be had it been a glossier production. The sanitarium itself, essentially a massive and aged rundown house, is the perfect eerie location for the story to play off of and it’s shot and lit very well here, with lots of great shadows hinting at what’s to come. The movie is paced very effectively, running just under ninety minutes and wasting very little time. Some moderate gore and sexual situations add some welcome sleaze to the affair earning the film an R-rating (the other feature was PG). The film was also released as The Forgotten, which in a lot of ways is a more appropriate title given the story of the film – but nowhere near as attention grabbing as Don’t Look In The Basement!

    Don’t Open The Door:

    Amanda hasn't been back to her small home town in thirteen years, and with good reason as she has an odd past there. When she was a girl, she was awoken one night when she heard her mother screaming. When she went in to her mother's room to investigate, she found her stabbed to death.

    Cut to the present, or at least, what was the present back in 1979 when the film was made. Amanda finds out via a phone call from a mysterious stranger, that her grandmother is on her deathbed. Being the dutiful granddaughter that she is, Amanda heads off back to her hometown and finds herself involved in some pretty eerie circumstances.

    It turns out that the museum curator wants the belongings of the grandmother’s house to go to the museum, for their historical significance to the town’s history is invaluable. The local Judge also wants the house for himself. Everyone seems to want a piece of it, but Amanda insists that no one is going to get anything out of it who isn't family.

    When Amanda goes against the town doctor’s orders and has her grandmother admitted into the local hospital, things take a turn for the worse. She starts receiving sleazy 'breather' calls at odd times during the day from someone who claims to know a little more than they really should about her past and about the events surrounding her mother’s death, while one by one, the supporting cast starts getting knocked off.

    Don't Open the Door is seventies drive-in fare at its best. Obviously made with little to no money, its low budget roots don't take away at all from the films sleaze factor, and its decent cinematography and odd characters save it from mediocrity. Director S.F. Brownrigg makes great use of shadows in the old house, and even if most of the cast and characters aren't really the most convincing thespians you're likely to encounter on the screen, at least the movie is interesting and moves along at a relatively decent pace. The film also successfully pulls you in through its use off strange imagery, particularly the porcelain dolls that are used throughout the film in different scenes.

    Don’t Look In The Basement / Don't Open the Door – Blu-ray Review:

    VCI presents both features on a single 50GB Blu-ray disc taken from what are claimed to be, on the packaging at least, new 2k scans. Both films are framed at 1.78.1 widescreen and presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Let’s start with Don’t Look In The Basement. The scene that takes place before the opening credits is very soft with some distracting haloing, faded colors and mild print damage. Things do look better once the credits pass, but there’s still a definite softness to the image and it looks like some DNR has been applied here - on top of that, the image is vertically stretched. Colors never look better than mediocre and blacks can be a bit smeary. This surpasses the VCI DVD presentation, but is still less than ideal. Don’t Open The Door looks a bit better with sharper detail and better color reproduction but still suffers from poor black levels and noticeable DNR. Again, this is better than what we had on DVD but not by a particularly impressive margin.

    Audio for each picture is handled by way of an LPCM Mono track. Optional English subtitles are included. Audio quality is fine, not remarkable but fine. Dialogue is easy enough to understand though these movies have always sounded a bit flat. There’s some mild hiss present in a few scenes but nothing too distracting.

    The main extra is a new commentary Track On Don’t Look In The Basement from film historian and David Del Valle and filmmaker David Decoteau. There’s lots of talk here about Brownrigg’s place in the Texas filmmaking scene of the era and the cast that he used in the picture, made up of some of his stock players as well as some new recruits. They discuss the titling of the film and its marketing, some of the themes that it exploits, the locations and the score.

    VCI also includes a deleted scene from Don’t Open The Door that runs six minutes and spends more time with the introduction of Amanda’s character in the film, the appearance of two local men, some excited material with Stemple and a few other characters – interesting to see. We also get original theatrical trailers for both features and an assortment of other ‘grindhouse’ trailers (Night Of The Bloody Apes, Beast OF Yellow Night, Terror, Bad Georgia Road, Dixie Dynamite and Hillbilly's In A Haunted House – all of which, save for Terror, would appear to be coming soon from VCI).

    As this is a combo pack release as we also get a DVD version included inside the clear Blu-ray case that also includes some nice reversible cover art.

    Don’t Look In The Basement / Don't Open the Door – The Final Word:

    Don’t Look In The Basement and Don't Open The Door are strange little movies with some effective camera work and some great sleazy moments. Fans of 70s drive-in movies should enjoy the films. VCI’s Blu-ray presentation leaves more than a little room for improvement.

    Click on the images below for full sized Don’t Look In The Basement / Don't Open the Door Blu-ray review screen captures!

    Comments 5 Comments
    1. VinceP's Avatar
      VinceP -
      Vertical stretching is noticeable on Basement. Faces and circular objects appear more oval in shape.
    1. John Lyons's Avatar
      John Lyons -
      Quote Originally Posted by VinceP View Post
      Vertical stretching is noticeable on Basement. Faces and circular objects appear more oval in shape.
      You know what's even more noticeable on BASEMENT? The fact that it's an upres...
    1. VinceP's Avatar
      VinceP -
      Quote Originally Posted by John Lyons View Post
      You know what's even more noticeable on BASEMENT? The fact that it's an upres...
      If it is, I wonder from what source. Their old dvd didn't have the vertical stretch or that title card. Sad that there are now three "HD" blus of this out there and none of them can get it right.
    1. John Bernhard's Avatar
      John Bernhard -
      Quote Originally Posted by VinceP View Post
      If it is, I wonder from what source. Their old dvd didn't have the vertical stretch or that title card. Sad that there are now three "HD" blus of this out there and none of them can get it right.
      I have to think someone has a decent source for this, and can get it scanned, somewhere in the world.

      So if this is a new a source with a title card we have never seen before, and it's an uprez of a SD copy....
      where did that come from?

      VCI is truly 'special'.
    1. Darcy Parker's Avatar
      Darcy Parker -
      There’s some odd references in the Basement portion of the review, was it copied over from another set’s review without cleanup?