Back in 1972 a film by director S.F. Brownrigg, titled Don’t Look in the Basement, hit the silver screens, in what would be the first of five low-budget films from the independent director. Shot on a budget that hovered around 100k in Tehuacana, Texas, the film revolved around the accidental murder of Dr. Stephen’s the lead doctor at the mental health facility Dr. Stephen’s Sanitarium. Having never seen this film– only heard of it– I sat down to watch it before watching the sequel and was thoroughly impressed by the film’s style, direction, dialogue, and acting. Brownrigg‘s film is marked by its prolonged scenes of silence and melancholy that drape the film like an overbearing tarp, it is taut and well-acted, a film that slowly escalates towards its bloody finale.
Who would guess that this film would spawn a sequel, especially 44 years after-the-fact, by the son of the original film. That’s right, Tony Brownrigg son of S.F. Brownrigg has gone on to write (with Megan Emerick) and direct the follow-up sequel, titled, Don’t Look in the Basement 2
The film begins where the 70s film left-off 40 years ago with a modern update of the original film’s final moments; a vicious scene of carnage. Then the film cuts away propelling us to the present as if to leap away from the legacy of S.F. Brownrigg‘s original film, a testament to what Tony Brownrigg is capable of as a director in the 21st century.
Now, Stephen’s Sanitarium dons a new name– the much gentler and serene Greenpark– a new staff, and new patients (at least for now). This whole makeover is problematic, because unbeknownst to the employees of the facility, Greenpark is the site of the original Sanitarium, a secret painstakingly hidden and buried throughout the decades. In its new rendition, everything appears normal enough, there are even two charming and funny low-rung employees that work at the home, Billy and Bishop, comically played by Jim O’Rear and Scott Tepperman, respectively.
The film revolves around the return of Sam, a returning character from the original, who was under the loving care of Dr. Stephens. In the original Sam is played wonderfully by the late Bill McGhee, this time around Sam’s innocence and simplicity is played just as well by Willie Minor. When Sam is assigned to Dr. Matthews (Andrew Sensenig), poor Sam still thinks that Dr. Stephen’s is alive– a motif in the original. Sam’s return raises speculation as an unaware Dr. Matthews delves into the the truth of Dr. Stephen’s Sanitarium, the murders, and Sam’s role in all of it, slowly bringing the truth to light. However, missing history is not the only problem at Greenpark, ever since Sam’s arrival, things have gotten weird, the patients begin to lash out and act strangely, bringing to light the hidden and lost history of Greenpark.
The past is important in this film– melding fluidly in the story– and by bringing the character of Sam, as a returning soul to the tortured ground’s that was once Stephen’s Sanitarium, the film recalls and reels in its undeniable past, but also feels entirely new and refreshing in the process. Take for example the film’s use of flashback. They are presented as snippets of rapid-fire black-and-white sequences from the original, that showcase the murders from the original, infusing it into it’s own haunting narrative. The past is even entwined to the lore of the Brownriggs and the familial connection between the two, filmically separated, and at the same time connected, by an ocean of time of 40 years. This film is the synthesis of the old and the new coming together under the banner of independent horror, at once holding the past in reverence while moving forward in the process. Nevertheless, despite being tethered to the legacy of his father, Tony Brownrigg manages to craft an interesting, enjoyable, and much deserved sequel.
Don’t Look in the Basement 2 is a crowning standalone achievement from Tony Brownrigg, as well as a respectful homage to Don’t Look in the Basement and the film’s of S.F. Brownrigg. It never feels like an overt and superficial homage to his late father’s 70s cult classic, but instead is able to capture the melancholy and mood of the original in his own story. A difficult task, but one that Tony Brownrigg has no problem in recreating, the director evokes similar pacing and atmosphere in his sequel comparable to the work of his father. Don’t Look in the Basement 2 is a well-made slow burn horror film, celebratory of the horror films of the 70s, all the while manifesting an aura of modernity, and a film that fans of the original will undoubtedly enjoy.
The film had it’s premiere at the Dallas International Film Festival in April 2015.
If you’re like me, a film completionist, I recommend watching the original film. If you’re an Amazon Prime Member you can stream a very low-res quality of the film. But the film is good enough so the quality of the print is no problem and worth a watch.