We often refer to movies as “Brownriggian” when we watch films on Saturday nights all night with the Drive-In Asylum Double Feature on Facebook Live. There’s no better example of what this word means than S. F. Brownrigg’s 1973 shocker Don’t Look in the Basement AKA The Forgotten AKA Death Ward #13.
Dr. Stephens, the main doctor at Stephens Sanitarium has a theory that patients should be able to freely act out their insanities in the hopes that someday they will snap back to reality. You know, if I’ve learned one thing about asylum doctors from, well, Asylum and Alone in the Dark, it’s that they’re all just as insane as their charges.
Before one of the older nurses can retire, we have the Judge (Gene Ross) chopping the doctor with an axe and Harriet (Camilla Carr) smashing the nurse’s head inside a suitcase. So when Charlotte Beale (Rosie Holotik, the cover girl of the April 1972 Playboy, as well as appearances in Horror High and the ghostly hitchhiker in Encounter with the Unknown) shows up for a new job and things seem weird. Or Brownriggian. In short, everything feels off. Hallways and stairwells seem like passageways to other dimensions and sweaty horror lurks sleeping like some kind of Southern gothic force of dread and menace.
This is a place filled with human children, killer women obsessed with sex, an elderly woman who thinks that flowers are her kids, a military man who lost his platoon in Vietnam and more. Even the sane are driven mad just by being in their presence.
There are plenty of people who decry Brownrigg’s movies, but I’m certainly not one of them. They invite you to worlds that are not our own and seem to come from a dimension far from here. For that and the vacation to the psychotronic that they offer, we should celebrate them.
For an added treat, check out JH Rood’s journey to the set locations, which you can download from the Internet Archive.