Cast your mind back, if you will, to early 1980s. If your mind doesn’t cast back that far (and mine barely does, being born in 1982), you may still have heard of the DPP39. If not of that, then the more visceral sounding ‘Video Nasties’ may ring a bell. In the early 1980s, home video technology was very new and very exciting to the people of Britain. While the VHS player is a mere punch line for many folk these days (although you will have to prise mine out of my cold dead hands), back then it was like DVD and Blu-Rays (and probably Laser Disks) rolled into one, rather unwieldy, fantastic package. Amazingly, Hollywood wasn’t quick to tap into this remarkable new market that would allow the public to watch films in the privacy on their own homes, believing it to be flash in the pan and a needless expense of converting their films to VHS that wouldn’t reap any profit. Wrongity wrong. VHS players were hugely popular, and the demand for new titles was high. Cue many video distributors popping up to help out in this regard. Often simple operations based in people’s garages and the like, they set about buying in the cheapest titles, often from Europe, and distributing them via their own labels. Horror films, cheap to make and buy, were an obvious way to make the most money. Another advantage was that the BBFC didn’t have any power over video distribution, so films that may have been denied a certificate when submitted (a costly procedure) could be released on VHS instead, at no extra expense to the film makers. Everything ticked along merrily for a couple of years and then… PANIC! DISGUST! OUTRAGE! And let’s not forget that old favourite, everyone shout along now; WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?! Video Nasties had arrived. Pursued mercilessly by the press, politicians who really should have had more pressing matters to attend to and the Mary Whitehouse brigade (lead by the lady herself) horror films which otherwise would never have been heard of other than by a handful of people were thrust into the limelight and vilified for all the countries ills, especially children’s exposure to them. Video shops up and down the land were raided for ‘obscene’ titles, that were seized (including, in one memorable police mix-up, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas). Eventually, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) very kindly decided what the unwashed plebs of the UK were permitted to watch, and the films that would turn us all into raging maniacs were consigned to a list, eventually whittled down to 39 titles (the aforementioned DPP39). Distribution of these films was illegal, video shop owners and the people who sold these films to them would face jail sentences if they were found guilty of doing so. And people did. That’s right. People went to actual jail for this. The words ‘fucking farce’ spring to mind. Because it was basically, a horror film witch hunt. And how many of these so called ‘evil’ films did Mary Whitehouse, her cronies and the folk on the panel assigned to this bollocks actually watch? None. They saw clips, out of fucking context clips, and that was enough apparently. The rancid assumption that they, as fine up standing (mostly upper class) citizens, would not be affected by watching this ‘filth’, but the general populace of chumps would surely mentally snap if they saw Evil Dead all the way through is frankly hypocritical and insulting, and also a whole different rant for another day. And believe me, Video Nasties is a topic I can go on for days about (Yes, I am great fun at parties. Thank you for asking). You may have gathered, if you made it this far into the cultural history lesson, that today I am going to be looking at a film that was caught up in the Video Nasties hysteria. It isn’t part of the DPP39 (films that were prosecuted), but was part of the wider list, the DPP72. Many films on both lists have been discussed to death already (I still can’t get over the fact that Evil Dead was on it. A film, by the way, had actually been approved by the BBFC and released at cinemas way before this whole sensationalist bullshit started). Today’s film, children, and I hope you are sitting comfortably, is Don’t Look In The Basement, also known as The Forgotten, made in 1973. Will merely watching it turn me into a raging murderous time bomb? Let’s find out shall we? Spoilers to follow.
While The Film Poster May Have A Familiar Tag Line, The VHS Cover Looks Like A Book Written By R.L Stine.
We open on a tasteful and respectful view of the mentally ill…ha, who am I kidding? This was 1970s exploitation cinema! It’s a stereotypical nuthouse. In the first 10 seconds we are introduced to a crazy soldier, a mental woman who thinks her doll is a baby and a childlike black man, Sam. His favourite nurse, Jane, is quitting, which upsets Sam. Next in the tableaux of the damned we met Judge, who is outside chopping into a log with an axe. Looking on is Dr Stephens, who runs the sanatorium. Stephens is convinced that all this chopping is helping Judge, tapping into whatever nightmares are held in his subconscious. Nurse Jane comes up to Dr Stephens, and tells him that she’s quitting, as she can’t continue going along with his methods. Maybe she doesn’t agree letting a crazy have access to an axe is a good idea. She is immediately vindicated in these thoughts when Judge axes the Stephens in the back. Jane is saved from being next on the hit list by the arrival of another doctor, who calms Judge down, as Sam takes the axe away from him. Blonde doctor says she is going to take charge ‘of the family’ now. Hmm, wonder if she’s a crazy as well? I get the feeling they won’t be calling the police about Dr Stephen’s death. Harriet, the thinks a doll is her baby lady, finds her doll missing again and screams through the hallway looking for it. She finds it in Jane’s room. Incensed that the nurse ‘stole’ her ‘baby’, she attacks Jane and forces her head into her open suitcase, and slams the lid down on her head, killing her. Really? Fucking really? Well I for one am glad that the fucking government saved many folk (not forgetting the precious little children) from seeing that disturbing, gratuitous scene of wicked horror. Sarcasm levels set to high, by the way, in case print wasn’t getting through my fucking contempt for these people.
I Would Have Thought ‘Not Turning Your Back On A Crazy With An Axe’ Would Be Rule One When It Came To Running A Mental Hospital.
As the credits play a pretty young thing makes her way to the institution. When no one answers her knock at the door she makes her way inside, calling for Dr Stephens. Blonde women, calling herself Dr Masters despite clearly being as crazy as the rest of them at the hospital (this is already shaping up to be the worst twist ever), greats the new arrival and takes her to her office. The new arrival is Charlotte Beale (played by Rosie Holotik, who, as every review of this film I read is duty bound to impart, was once in Playboy magazine). She was offered a job at the hospital by Dr Stephens when she contacted him after becoming interested in his ‘unusual’ techniques. Yep, I would call allowing yourself to be killed by one of your patients pretty unusual. Dr Masters tries to fob her off, telling her that Dr Stephens is dead, and that she is in charge now and she has no use for Charlotte. Charlotte isn’t going to be put off so easily though and tells Masters she left another job (at a regular hospital that wasn’t populated entirely by loons and set in an isolated nowhere straight out of a Peckinpah film one would assume) to come and work here. She shows Dr Masters a letter Dr Stephens sent her. Once Masters realises that Charlotte could go back to her old job and tell them of what happened here she changes her tune and says she can stay. No alarms bells ringing yet Charlotte? Aren’t you meant to be a psychiatric nurse? Dr Masters explains some of Stephens more unorthodox methods. They basically involve letting the patients be as senseless as they like, all the live long day. Embrace the insanity and rely on the patients inner strength to get rid of it is the theory. Genius. And who cares if the inner strength is helped along by an axe or two right?
Mad As A Box Of Very Deranged Frogs. The Cuckoo Has Officially Flown Over The Nest.
Dr Masters shows Charlotte to her room, which is surrounded by the patient’s rooms. And there are no locks on the doors. Still sure about this job Charlotte? As Charlotte gets ready for bed she runs into a Friday the 13th’s Crazy Ralph’s Mum, who warns her to leave. Speaking of, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the makers of Friday 13th Part 5; A New Beginning had seen this film, and took some inspiration from it. And just as in the denizens of Camp Crystal Lake, Charlotte doesn’t heed this very sage advice.
The next morning Dr Masters shows Charlotte around the hospital. Sam tells Harriet that he speaks to Dr Stephens and that he is upset about the changes in the hospital. And being dead I would have thought. Sergeant makes Sam stand guard outside his room for some reason. Masters shows Charlotte all the patient’s case histories, all of which can apparently be fitted onto one index card. She also hides one of the cards, hmm, I wonder who’s that could be? All of the patients receive their five minutes of exposition time. Sergeant is crazy because of the war (Vietnam I guess) when his platoon was all killed because of something he did. His ‘prisoner’ is Jennifer, another patient who keeps trying to escape (marking her out as the sanest one of the lot in my book). Sam is a childlike figure. Dr Stephens operated on him 4 years ago, curing him of…something, but giving him the mentality of an 8 year old. And then there’s Allison, who craves love, having been abandoned and/or pimped out by every man she’s ever been with. Who the fuck is this anyway, we’ve not met anyone called Allison…oh there she is, hitting on Judge, wittering on about strawberries and wearing ridiculous blue eye shadow. She tries to get him to shag him. He refrains, calling her obscene. She screams at him intelligibly. ‘Rejection can be tough’ rejoins Charlotte, as if she knew the previous scene had occurred.
And Who Wouldn’t Want A Piece Of This Hunk Of Man Flesh? Right Ladies?
Dr Masters suggests that Charlotte takes Crazy Ralph’s Mum (Mrs Callaghan) for a walk to see her children (aka the flowers). She still won’t tell Charlotte why she should be getting the fuck out of dodge but seems quite insistent that she should. Listen to her Charlotte; don’t end up like those stupid Friday 13th teens. As if to prove Mrs Callaghan’s point, an unseen hand cuts the telephone wires. Sam comes to see Charlotte, chatting about Dr Stephens, and about something he had to tell her. So Dr Stephens is in the basement of the title then. Is this film even trying with its twists? When Charlotte goes to tell Dr Masters about her phone not working she finds Jennifer cowering next to her desk. ‘Is she beyond help’? asks Charlotte, showing the sensitivity which I’m sure is very important in her profession.
The next morning when Charlotte checks on Mrs Callaghan she finds her lying on the floor, bloodied. ‘Your tongue’s been cut out’ cries Charlotte. Not for the benefit of the stricken old lady, who I’m sure was aware of the fact that her fucking tongue was missing, but for the audience, who wouldn’t have had a clue what had happened as the budget didn’t stretch to tongue extraction scenes (not that such quibbles ever stopped Blood Feast). Dr Masters tells Charlotte that Mrs Callaghan cut her own tongue out, but she probably didn’t feel it as she was too mental so it’s fine.
They Say Other Senses Kick Up A Gear When You Lose One. This Women Is About To Become Amazing At Charades.
A repair man has come to fix the telephone (how he was called in to fix the thing is anyone’s guess) and is met by Mrs Callaghan (up and about remarkably quickly) and Judge. Despite surely knowing he was coming to a loony bin, and despite both these two being clearly deranged, it takes a long time for the repair man to twig that they are patients. Dr Masters meets the repair man and gives him the third degree, shouting and bawling like a loon. Which makes sense. Because she is one. Turns out telephone companies can tell on their voltage meters when a phone line is down and will send someone out to repair it straight away. That’s the craziest thing this film has come up with so far. Begrudgingly Dr Masters shows the repair man where to find the phone lines. While he works, needy nympho Allison finds him and goes about seducing him using that classic technique of being really creepy. He isn’t keen oddly. She won’t be stopped, so she goes right ahead rapes him in the closet, I think. It isn’t clear and let’s not dwell on it.
Charlotte is attacked by a knife wielding Jennifer while she does her ironing. Dr Masters comes to her rescue. Unsurprisingly, Charlotte wants to leave, but Masters won’t let her. Just leave in the middle of the night love. That house from Texas Chainsaw Massacre is probably just down the road, take your chances there. Judge tells Sam a story about eagles or something daft. Judge doesn’t think Dr Masters can help him. Sam tells him Dr Stephens can, and since Charlotte talked to Stephens Judge should talk to Charlotte. And because Stephens is still alive and in the basement. Can’t forget that little detail. The film makers sure won’t let us. Dr Masters interrupts them before the scintillating chat can go any further and tell Sam to go and sweep the kitchen floor. Sam asks for a Popsicle as a reward. He sure loves those things. The way they keep going on about them I hope someone gets stabbed with one in the heart by the end.
This Is Sam. He Likes Popsicles. Thoughts On Green Eggs And Ham, At This Point, Unknown.
Danny, a ginger freak who’s a cross between Carrot Top and Chucky from Child’s Play, seduces Allison and then laughs in her face when she takes her top off. He has a piercing, annoying laugh like one of the deformed hillbilly killers from Wrong Turn. Narrow escape to be honest love. Judge returns Allison’s top to her and keeps repeating his name. He does that a lot, and it doesn’t get less irritating over time. Allison appeals to him for love, which he refuses. She screeches at him for a bit and then asks him for help for finding the telephone repair man I think. She either mumbles or screams her lines and I wasn’t sure. Dr Masters finds her desk ransacked and the file she hid missing. Danny, whose main crazy trait is being as annoying as possible, pisses off Sergeant, their shouting brings Dr Masters, who in turn shouts at Sergeant about respecting her authority. She spots the missing index card and burns it in his hand (why didn’t she just throw it away earlier?)
The next morning Sam goes to Charlotte and tells her Dr Stephens is worried about all that’s going on at the hospital. He shows her a watch, with Stephen’s initials engraved on the back. A fact she doesn’t pick up on straight away and she still thinks Sam is crazy (well, he is, but not about this). Charlotte then tries to get through to Danny, to find out the root of his deep seated punchability. He gives her a flower, which she promptly chucks away. Cold hearted bitch. That night as Charlotte sleeps Danny and Judge assail her. Charlotte isn’t very appreciative of Judge stopping Danny from raping her. But he was sweating right in her face and wittering on about stuff. And he still has that axe. Why hasn’t someone removed the axe? Or yeah, they are all psychos. Every one of them. Especially Dr Masters. And Dr Stephens is in the basement. I mentioned that right?
Ringing For A Clue? This Girl Couldn’t Connect Two Pieces Of Lego.
There are some drugs missing the next day, that Dr Masters finds in…someone’s room. Sam finishes sweeping the kitchen floor and rewards himself with a Popsicle, he finds something horrible in the closet. The missing drugs were in Jennifer’s room. She’s basically catatonic all the time, apart from when she’s trying to randomly stab nurses and it’s really hard to give a fuck about her. She tries to get more drugs but finds the cupboard locked. Luckily, some more drugs have been left out on the table, as she tries to get them open she is pushed eye first onto a sharp pointed thing (I think it might have been one of those deelies you keep bits of paper on) and dies. Sam takes Allison to what he found in the closet. Its telephone repair guy, with his throat slashed. Cue another melt down from Allison. Charlotte tries to calm Allison down, and Allison tells Charlotte the whole story. That Masters is a fake, a patient and murderer. Charlotte, since she is fucking stupid, doesn’t believe her. However Mrs Callaghan manages to convince her, even without a tongue. But then she asks Judge. ‘I’ve got to hear it from everyone’ she cries. Why? Because the word of six crazies equals that of one sane person? Judge tells Charlotte she is a patient as well.
Allison finds the dead Jennifer, and Dr Masters. She faces her down about the whole thing, and tells her that Charlotte knows the truth, that Dr Master’s is a patient at the hospital (Still can’t quite believe she needed crazy Allison to tell her this like). It seems that Dr Master did actually train to be a doctor, before changing her mind and becoming a head case. She tries to inject Allison but somehow gets injected herself. The phone is still dead. Or dead again. Not sure how far repair man got with fixing it. Charlotte finds Allison, washing blood off her hands. She refuses to say what she did to Masters, and is still convinced her and the repair man have a future. A future in necromancy maybe, as Charlotte finds her and the corpse in bed together.
Remember Kids, Hygiene Is Everything. Always Wash Your Hands Before Having Sex With A Corpse.
Charlotte stumbles around finding horrible things and screaming. There’s a front door you idiot. Go through it. But no, she has to go round all the mentals and have one last chat. First she finds Sergeant, and then Sam, who says that Dr Stephens says she should met him. She finally, finally gets that Dr Stephens is still alive. Dr Masters has come round and is prowling the place looking for Charlotte. She doesn’t seem to be bleeding from anywhere, despite Allison washing the blood off her hands earlier. She finds Judge who continues to prattle on and on about due process. Dr Masters in turn prattles on about still being in charge. It’s a veritable contest of the uninteresting. Charlotte eventually makes her way to the basement of the title, calling for Sam all the while. She arms herself with Sam’s toy boat, finds Dr Stephen’s body and freaks. If he was still alive he isn’t now as Charlotte beats him to death with a plastic toy boat. Yet another brutal scene I’m glad the DPP saw fit to censor. Who knows how many copycat incidents that might have incited?
Dr Masters arrives and declares Charlotte insane and gets the trusting Sam to take her back into the house. Charlotte tries to get Sam to help her. But to no avail, he’s angry that Charlotte smashed his boat and finished off Dr Stephens. Maybe she should have offered him a Popsicle, seems to work wonders. Masters arrives and tells Sam they are going to cut the sickness out of Charlotte, ‘like you’. This proves to be an unwise choice of words as Sam has a flashback to his own (probably illegal) operation, remembers not liking it one little bit, shoves Masters over and helps Charlotte escape. As Masters cries for Sam the remaining inmates surround her, a la the end of classic 1930s horror film Freaks, and kill her with various rubber knifes and axes, the head of one of which actually flies of during the carnage. Sam shows Charlotte the way out, then returns to kill all the other patients. Because…he’s crazy and thinks Master’s is his mum, or something. Job done (although both Danny and Harriet were definitely still breathing) he rewards himself with one last Popsicle. Fin.
The Killer Sooo Should Have Been The Doll. Et Voila – Terrifying Film Guaranteed.
Bit of a mixed bag this one. I actually quite liked it. The direction was decent. And I loved the music as a perfect example of schlocky 70s exploitation horror score. The most important plot point, that Dr Masters was a loony, was signposted way too early on. With her second line or something. Although it would have always been predictable, a little tinkering with the script could have helped maintain some ambiguity to her character. The other inmates, I found mostly annoying. That makes me sound like a bit of a twat I realise. It’s hard to feel sympathy when all they did was screech and mumble about the same things over and over again (and in the case of Danny, have a really fucking annoying laugh). Like many films of the time, it was obviously done on a tiny budget, but they did quite well with what they had. The hospital building itself was fairly imposing and claustrophobic. The bright and garish 70s colour patterns of the patients rooms (and clothes, in some places) jar well with the atmosphere of menace the film manages to build up. Not quite Dario Argento levels, but none the less it’s well done. It’s snappily paced, not one wasted shot. The effects weren’t great but had that 1970s charm. And was this film a horrific example of revolting, dangerous cinema that never should have been inflicted on mankind? Was it bollocks. Of course the real dirty little secret about many so called video nasties is that they just weren’t very good films, that have now for better or worse been assured a place in cinematic history, which so much more than some of them deserve (Island of Death anyone?). I honestly can’t see anything in this film that would warrant it to be prosecuted/banned, or even placed on a list that would cause it to possibly done so. It’s a tightly made, although predictable, fun piece of schlock. Don’t Look In The Basement is now rated a 15 and was released fully uncut on DVD in 2005. Times, as Bob Dylan told us, a-change and now the main thing people see when they watch a video nasty is an ineptly made film. Some of the most notorious titles on the list, such as Last House On The Left and I Spit On Your Grave have now been remade, with persistent rumours of a Cannibal Holocaust one on the way. Of all the films on the DPP list, only 10 remain ‘banned’ in the UK. And that is mostly because they were never resubmitted for video classification when the Video Recording Act came into existence, which meant that all films released on VHS had to have a classification in the same manner of films released at the cinema. Even in todays ‘supposedly’ enlightened times censorship of horror films remains a red button issue, mostly by people who have never seen them. As recently as this year, the Human Centipede sequel was denied a classification from the BBFC for a time (which I’m sure delighted the film makers, publicity money couldn’t buy). Of course ‘banning’ films these days achieves the sum amount of absolutely fuck all, as people will simply download it, and be far more likely to do so, it’s human nature to want to see things that have been forbidden to us. The only thing I personally find objectionable in any of the video nasties is the real-life on screen animal killings that were prolific in many of the Italian made cannibal films such as Cannibal Holocaust (Click on link for a great review of this film, by the way) and Cannibal Ferox. It was cruel and unnecessary. And as for the rest, its fiction darling, and as such can’t hurt you.
One last thing before I sign off, in 1993 the tragic murder of James Bulger occurred. Childs Play 3 was apparently a film the killers had seen and tried to imitate. The film was subsequently banned for a time. There is absolutely no evidence what so ever that the killers ever saw Childs Play 3 (in fact one of the killers actively disliked horror films). However, in the years that followed when Childs Play 3 was re-released, or another tragedy happened that could tenuously be linked back to a horror film, the press would contact James Bulger’s mother and bother her for a quote, on a topic that she was probably entirely unaware of. They would pursue and harass her just in order to get a head-line grabbing quote to sell more newspapers and fuel the self-righteousness of the self-appointed ‘moral’ high ground. And that, to me, is more disgusting than anything you will find in a mere horror film.