It has been 42 years since S.F. Brownrigg’s drive-in classic Don’t Look in the Basement was released, and in all that time, the gritty tale of a small, experimental asylum and the lost souls that reside within has yet to lose its edge. Rough and unmistakably indie, the original Don’t is a rare gem of 70’s low budget horror and, although often underappreciated, Brownrigg’s first feature is a solid favorite among fans of 70’s cult cinema.
I fell madly in love with the grainy classic when I caught a slightly censored version of it on late, late night tv during a particularly long bout with insomnia in my teens. To a young girl with a passion for horror, Don’t Look in the Basement was my first, perfect taste of a different brand of the genre, and like any effective starter drug, it hooked me hard.
Of course, like many fans of this flick, I never considered a sequel possible (or all that necessary), but I must admit that there is something inherently magical about this particular sequel. Firstly, it’s been more than 40 years since the first film was released, so it’s nothing short of amazing that someone would think to continue a story after so much time has gone by. Secondly, the fact that the director, Tony Brownrigg, is the son of the original filmmaker S.F. Brownrigg, makes the whole project feel very much like a tale gone full circle.
Set and filmed in the same building as its predecessor (which made me giddy with glee), Don’t Look in the Basement 2 takes place 40 year after the bloody events at Stephens Sanitarium, which saw all but one of the asylum’s patients dead. That patient was Sam, the gentle and lovable simpleton who was the only one among his cohorts who did not take part in the bloodshed, but was nonetheless thought responsible for the slaughter that occurred.
In this film, Sam returns to his former home, now renamed the Green Park Clinic, and with him come the spirits of his dark past, spirits ready and willing to spill blood and re-enact the horrors that Sam survived so long ago. And hell if blood doesn’t flow freely in this atmospheric and very worthy tribute to the original film.
A strong cast bring to life some wonderfully believable characters, even the smaller roles are flawlessly executed, and much like the first film, one might be inclined to believe that we are watching a band of lunatics go about their day rather than a cast of actors. Willie Minor is particularly well cast as the sweet, elderly Sam, taking over the role from originator Bill McGhee, who unfortunately passed away in 2007. Sam is as lovable as ever, and Minor genuinely conveys the same innocent sweetness that McGhee brought to his performance, making his Sam an utterly convincing replacement for the original.
Of course the stellar casting doesn’t end there, as fans of the 1973 film will no doubt recognize Camilla Carr (Harriett, my favorite, from the original) in the small but pivotal role as the directress of the institution. Carr shines in her part, especially when sparring with hotshot city doctor William Matthews (an excellent Andrew Sensenig) and her head-strong character Emily made me long to re-visit some of her earlier films where her roles were meatier and she got the screen time she so richly deserved.
Also honorable mention must be given to the film’s comic relief, asylum orderlies Billy and Bishop (Jim O’Rear and Scott Tepperman), who I at first thought were going to ruin the film with their clowning around, but who in fact add a bit of levity to this fright flick without distracting from the story. You may not crack up whenever these guys are around, but you’ll definitely find yourself smiling during their scenes.
All in all Don’t Look in the Basement 2 will satisfy fans of the first film who won’t be disappointed by how the son has expanded on and, in fact, enriched his father’s legacy with this accomplished work that brings closure to the tale of a beloved character. Sam needed an end to his story, and fans of Don’t Look in the Basement needed it too, we just didn’t know it.
I’m not sure when this movie will get a wide release as it seems to still be making festival rounds, but if you get a chance to check out Don’t Look in the Basement 2, do it. Its a fun and freaky indie and you will probably find yourself giddy, grossed out, jolted and maybe even a little bit cheerful near the end, but one thing you most assuredly will not be, is disappointed.
Lemme know if you’ve caught this sequel and what you thought of it horror fans, and if you like what you see here at A Girl’s Guide to Horror then be a peach and click that Like button.