The latest DVD release of Don’t Look in the Basement has the picture quality of something recorded off TV thirty years ago from a channel with poor reception, then transferred to a second tape with some handy home duplicating technology. It’s terrible. It makes you feel as if you’re suffering double vision or somehow wearing someone else’s glasses. That’s as good as it gets and there’s nothing you can do about it. For extra fun? Bring on 89 minutes of stark raving screaming crazies.
Set in an insane asylum in the early 70s, Don’t Look in the Basement cuts right to the chase as an inmate hacks Dr. Stephens (whom we’ve only just met) to death with an axe. You know, cause sometimes you take mentally ill people out into a field for…unsupervised chopping therapy? Without hesitation, the controlling Dr. Geraldine Masters (Annabelle Weenick) takes over his position. No need to call the authorities. No need to revisit the sharp objects policy. Life just hums along as usual in Ye Olde Looney Bin. Residents of the asylum include a woman who thinks a doll is a real live baby, a nymphomaniac, a guy with clown hair who pretends to be normal but always starts laughing maniacally at the last second, a man who believes he’s still in the military, and that psycho with the axe. There is also a gentle giant and a withered old lady who don’t actually seem like they need to be there.
The plot thickens when an ambitious young nurse named Charlotte comes to work for the illustrious (?) but dead Dr. Stephens. She’s already given up a good job to be there, so Dr. Masters has little choice but to let her on board. She does so grudgingly, and gives Charlotte a room right next to the patients. This makes for some odd and slightly alarming encounters in the hall, but Charlotte is made of strong stuff. She powers on, even though the old lady warns her to “Get out! Get out and never come back!”, and she still stays, even after someone cuts out the old woman’s tongue.
After this point, the movie is basically a blur of insane yammerings and random acts of violence. Oh, and once in awhile the nympho gets her boobs out. A phone repairman comes, but doesn’t seem to know it’s a sanitarium or that he’s talking to patients instead of employees. And Dr. Masters has a fit, because she didn’t give him permission to come in and who needs a phone anyway?
We never really learn why this hospital has fallen so far off the grid or why it’s run so poorly. Are the inmates running the asylum? Is Dr. Masters just a nutter in a uniform? Who knows! Don’t Look in the Basement is basically a movie where everybody dies that can be defined by its overabundance of gibberish and blood. With a few motives and a little character development it could be something more, but you can’t really blame all the mayhem on the fact that it was a mental hospital. Crazies will be crazies, but what’s up with management? And did they have to give them knives? Just because a movie is set in an insane asylum doesn’t mean it can’t make any sense.