Color, 1973, 89 mins.

Directed by S.F. Brownrigg

Starring Rosie Holotik, Jessie Kirby, Annabelle Weenick, Rhea McAdams, Bill McGhee

Format: DVD - VCI (MSRP $24.95)

"To avoid fainting, keep repeating to yourself, 'It's only a movie... only a movie...'" Wait, isn't that the tagline from Last House on the Left? Yep, but that didn't stop the distributors, Hallmark, from recycling the come-on line from their earlier Wes Craven/Sean Cunningham drive-in hit. In fact, the posters even claimed Basement was "from the makers of Last House on the Left" -- about as useful as claiming that The Blair Witch Project is from the makers of Earth Girls Are Easy. Nevertheless, Basement amassed a small but devoted following over the years. Though little more than splattered paint, the heavy gore quotient manages to sustain interest throughout, and fans of Jack Sholder's excellent Alone in the Dark may be intrigued to see an earlier horror treatment of the same theme. On a technical level, this one makes H.G. Lewis look like Dario Argento, but a few clever touches here and there and a suitably claustrophobic final twenty minutes should make this worth a look for viewers in an undemanding mood.

Following a disorienting precredits sequence in which a doctor and nurse are dispatched by their patients, Nurse Charlotte Beale (Rosie Holotik) arrives at a secluded, privately run Florida psychiatric institute. The inmates are now under the control of Dr. Masters (Annabelle Weenick), following the axe murder of the prior doctor by one of the patients, "Judge Oliver W. Cameron." Dr. Masters explains that the doctors and patients consider themselves to be one big family and don't even have locks on the doors for protection. Smart, eh? Charlotte roams around and makes the acquaintance of the various inmates, beginning with Mrs. Callingham, who warns Charlotte of impending danger and incessantly quotes William Allingham's "Faeries" ("Up the airy mountain / Down the rushing glen..."). Mrs. Callingham winds up with her tongue cut out for her trouble, but the others are no less peculiar. Sam, rendered imbecilic by a lobotomy, slurps on popsicles and plays with toy boats all day. Allyson, a raging nymphomaniac, just wants to be loved no matter what. Sergeant Jaffee, believing he's still in the middle of a war, presides over his neighbors night and day. Unfortunately, after the death of a visiting telephone repairman and a few other peculiar incidents along the way, the truth begins to emerge, and Charlotte finds herself fighting for her life.

Not surprisingly, VCI's DVD presentation of Basement is highly imperfect, given the fact that this was shot for zero money in the middle of Florida on 16mm. The clarity is fine, though some of the colors look a little too reddish for comfort in some shots. The replaced title card indicates this may have had a different title at one point or perhaps just kept changing distribution hands. However, the source material is generally clean, and the sound is rendered accurately enough so that you can actually hear the camera running in a few scenes. The DVD also includes a nifty trailer reel containing Gorgo, Blood and Black Lace, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, and The Night Visitor. No trailer for the film itself, though.

Mondo Digital Reviews Mondo Digital Links Frequently Asked Questions