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S.F. Brownrigg Grindhouse Double Feature (1973-1974)

VCI Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/14/2018

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/10/2018

The term "independent film" has lost a lot of the meaning which it once had. With the advances in technology, most anyone with the drive can use a digital camera (or their phone) to shoot a movie, edit it on their laptop, and then show it at a digital film festival or simply post it on-line. It's easy to forget that there was once time when aspiring filmmakers would have to rent equipment, buy film (which was very expensive), edit said film, and then find a place to show their film, which was often the drive-in. Texas-based director S.F. Brownrigg was once such maverick and two of his early movies are now available on Blu-ray Disc as a double-feature.

Don't Look in the Basement takes us to a private mental health facility which is run by Dr. Stephens (Michael Harvey). On the same day that Nurse Jane (Jessie Lee Fulton) decides that she can no longer handle the job, one of the patients -- Judge Cameron (Gene Ross) -- kills Dr. Stephens during a radical therapy session. The next day, Nurse Charlotte (Rosie Holotik) arrives to start her new job at the clinic and is informed of Dr. Stephens' death by Dr. Masters (Anne MacAdams). Charlotte decides to stay, but she finds herself uneasy. Not only are the patients unpredictable and seemingly unsupervised, it becomes clear that a killer is on the loose.

As noted above, Brownrigg was an independent filmmaker and this, his first movie, certainly has an independent look. OK, that's a euphemism for cheap. And thatís one of the biggest things holding Don't Look in the Basement back. The ďprivate psychiatric facilityĒ in the movie simply looks like an old house because...itís simply an old house. (Iíve actually visited private psychiatric facilities (for business purposes) and they donít look like this.) For some audience members, it's going to be difficult to look past this. There is also some issues with the acting. Just as mental health hospitals don't look like the one seen here, all patients don't act like the characters in the film, so we get some shameless overacting.

These setbacks are unfortunate, as Don't Look in the Basement has some potential. The basic premise isn't all that original, but the setting makes it feel somewhat new (for the time). The first act contains some surprises, and the finale is well-staged, although the final twist is somewhat obvious. Kudos to Screenwriter Tim Pope for creating a group of characters each of which have unique traits. Seen today, the movie seems pretty tame, so it's surprising to learn that it was on the list of second tier "Video Nasties" in Britain. For better or for worse, this is a great example of the kind of movie which haunted drive-ins during the 70s.

Don't Open the Door introduces us to Amanda Post (Susan Bracken), a young woman who seems very happy with her life, as she has a nice apartment and is dating Nick (Hugh Feagin), a doctor. However, her life is shaken up when she receives an anonymous phone call stating that her grandmother is quite ill and that she must return home. This is a challenge for Amanda, as she has not been back there in 13 years -- not since her mother was murdered. Upon arriving at her grandmother's house, Amanda finds that Judge Stemple (Gene Ross) and Dr. Crawther (Jim Harrell) are looking after her grandmother and not doing a very good job. Much to the chagrin of these men, as well as local museum curator Claude Kearn (Larry O'Dwyer), Amanda takes control of the situation. But, she soon learns that grandma's house is prime real estate and that everyone is out to get it.

The first thing that jumps out about Don't Open the Door is the weird segue into the opening credits where it looks like a doll suddenly starts sharing a memory with Amanda. The second thing which jumps out about the movie is that actor Gene Ross is playing a Judge here, just as he did in Don't Look in the Basement. Those two things stand out because they are unavoidable, but also due to the fact that Don't Open the Door is such a lackluster movie.

Older movies can often seem slow when compared to more modern fare, but nothing happens in this film. Amanda arrives at her grandmother's house, meets the other characters, and then gets a series of harassing phone calls. And that's about it. There is some mild action and a twist in the last few minutes, but we are then left with a vague ending. The real surprise here is that lead Susan Bracken, whose father was veteran actor Eddie Bracken, didn't appear in more films, as she's quite capable. It's not clear exactly what Brownrigg was going for in Don't Open the Door, but the movie feels half-finished and is certainly unfulfilling.

Don't Look in the Basement sports a new 1080p restoration on Blu-ray Disc. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains a 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 28 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, but there is some mild grain at times. The image sports some mild defects from the source materials and, while the colors are good overall, the picture can look washed-out in some scenes. The Disc carries a Linear PCM Mono audio track which runs at 48 kHz and a constant 1.5 Mbps. The track provide clear dialogue and sound effects. There is some mild popping during cuts here, but otherwise the track is well-balanced and the music doesn't overpower the actors.

Don't Open the Door delivers a new 2K restoration on Blu-ray Disc. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 28 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing some mild defects from the source materials. The level of grain is kept to a minimum here and the colors look good, most notably Amanda's pink outfit. The Disc carries a Linear PCM Mono audio track which runs at 48 kHz and a constant 1.5 Mbps. Being a mono track, we don't get any dynamic effects here, but the actors are always intelligible and the score sounds fine.

The S.F. Brownrigg Double Feature Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. Viewers can watch Don't Look in the Basement with a AUDIO COMMENTARY from Film Historian David Del Valle and Filmmakers David Decocteau. The Disc contains five DELETED SCENES from Don't Open the Door which run about 6 minutes. There are no new characters or subplots here. We also get "Production Notes" from Don't Open the Door, which show a breakdown of how certain scenes are to be shot. The extras are rounded out by TRAILERS for both films.

Review Copyright 2018 by Mike Long