By Andrew Buckner
Rating: *1/2 out of *****.
Director S.F. Brownrigg’s Don’t Look in the Basement, or The Forgotten as it was formerly titled, was an unusually effective thriller. Released in 1973, the Bill Pope penned and Bill McGee starring vehicle turned its $100,000 dollar budget into gold. The grainy, washed out quality of Robert B. Alcott’s cinematography, alongside a winning combination of 70’s horror exploitation charm, made the feature a minor cult classic. Brownrigg milked the asylum setting, which was still rather common back then, and made it feel fresh. Fast forward forty-two years later to the release of the long-awaited sequel. It is predictably titled Don’t Look in the Basement II. Now, such an institution is incessantly manipulated. This is to the point that even the concept of it being used again in another fearful undertaking is more terrifying than anything those behind said production can put on screen. What’s just as threadbare is the concept of the aforementioned location being overrun by sinister forces. Despite the fatigue of these components, they are no match for the various wrong-headed moves Anthony Brownrigg, the director of the past affair’s son, makes in the follow-up.
Brownrigg, who co-wrote the hackneyed and strictly serviceable screenplay with Megan Emerick, tells the aftermath of the slaughter at Stephens Sanitarium viewed in the first go-round. The lone survivor of the atrocity, quiet and introverted, arrives at a shelter. It eerily resembles that in the preceding outing. As if greeting the man’s presence, the patients and employees of the area beginning to act strange. They hear and see things. Such incidents slowly unnerve them and make them question their own sanity. It isn’t long until these events become worse. From herein, the specters attached to the place reach out. This is when the slaughter commences again.
The often too gradual pace Brownrigg and Emerick, who also winningly plays Jennifer, mirrors the erstwhile Don’t Look in the Basement well. There’s a slow build until the last half hour that is welcome and refreshing. It largely radiates an air of competence to 2/3 of this silver screen travesty. This makes the stock characterizations and routine arc bearable. Yet, it has difficulty with engagingly delivering exposition. Instead of the ghosts applied for genuine scares, they often provide lengthy dialogues about their own backstory. This could be interesting. That is if it weren’t distributed in such an accessible fashion.
What is just as trite is the emphasis Brownrigg has on reusing footage from the last installment. He turns these segments into gritty, briefly glimpsed black and white bits. Likewise, they are used to fill in the countless flashback sequences herein. It is a jab at David Lynch style avant-garde artistry. Such is interposed far too frequently into the attempt. This is attention-getting when it is displayed as the earliest sight of the composition. But, when the notion is repeated invariably throughout the effort, it becomes increasingly dull. In the end, it is simply a worn trick meant to be eerie. It doesn’t succeed. Such makes the exertion feel much more protracted than its otherwise short eighty-two minute runtime suggests. It also makes the genuine lack of meat on the narrative’s bones all the more obvious.
There’s a noticeably low body count. Regardless, some of the deaths are well-staged. A possessed woman who slits her own throat is where this is mainly evident. Such depictions build suspense temporarily and satisfactorily. Yet, it only serves to remind us what could’ve been. Moreover, it allows us to realize how little intensity Brownrigg and Emerick’s other cracks at trepidation generated. Actually, one of the supremely haunting images is one of the tried and true. This is when a window is spied slowly shutting and locking itself in the second act. It also gets credit for the way it hides an otherwise obvious ‘secret’ about the location of the tale itself. This successfully distracts its spectators from such a reality until just the right moment. Furthermore, it interplays a major twist from the primary item well into the action.
Additionally, the performances are solid. Arianne Margot as Dr. Lucy Mills, Andrew Sensenig as Dr. William Matthews and Frank Mosley as Dr. Lance White round out a watchable and talented cast. Screenwriter and actress Camilla Carr, who played Harriett initially, enacts a character named Emily terrifically. The cinematography by Chuck Hatcher and music by Gordy Haab and Kyle Newmaster is proficient and impressive. Yet, it is indistinct. They fit the modern approach Brownrigg is striving for well. Despite this, it is never memorably so. The same can be said for Daniel Redd, David Rennke and Brownrigg’s editing. The art direction by Bryan Wailor and set decoration by Alec Gates and Lance Martin are beautifully issued. The special effects from Matthew Ash, Marcus Koch, Brownrigg and Rennke are credibly etched. We are also given an outstanding contribution from the make-up and sound department.
But, these technical aspect can’t overcome the uncertainty in Brownrigg’s direction. This is especially noteworthy in how many occasions he tries to align this second dose to the 1973 endeavor. Worst of all is its whimper of a finale. It is one which incorporates more head-scratching than anything resembling a chill.
That is one of the largest problems with Don’t Look in the Basement II. The Legless Corpse Films and RDM Productions release from 2015 simply isn’t scary. This is despite the tone being consistently serious. Such is much in line with its contemporary bravura. It also isn’t B-movie fun like the freshman entry in this series. Instead, Brownrigg’s recent offering is a misfire. It is a bland exercise sprinkled with several visually intriguing incidents. There’s potential here. It is just weighed down by its insistence on reams of re-iterated details from the previous picture. Though this isn’t as heavily utilized as it was in the unbearable Silent Night, Deadly Night II from 1987, it seriously injures the proceedings. Also, it’s window dressing. This is meant to allow the audience to think there is more depth and plot bulk than what Brownrigg actually provides.
If you do insist on going back in the basement again, you are better off re-watching the original. Afterwards, come to your own conclusions what might happen in another installment. I assure you it will be far more satisfying than what we find in Brownrigg’s hollow account. As it is, the novelty of finally getting this opus after four plus decades, and seeing some familiar faces and sights, wears off quickly. What we are left with is a few well-done instances breaking up another underwhelming, routine genre piece. There’s little here to set it apart from its similarly themed peers. Ultimately, Brownrigg’s continuation is forgettable. Considering how well the drive-in feature that came before it is preserved in the memory of fellow cinephiles, this could be the most disappointing element of all.