Retro-review: New on Bluray/DVD as an S.F. Brownrigg Grindhouse Double Feature: Ultimate Edition from MVD Visual/VCI Entertainment; help me out and pick it up on DVD/BluRay here on Amazon!


Directed by S.F. Brownrigg
Written by Frank Schaefer, Kerry Newcomb
Starring Susan Bracken, Larry O’Dwyer, Gene Ross, James N. Harrell, Hugh Feagin, Annabelle Weenick, Rhea MacAdams

The filmmaker behind the sleazy and disturbing 70’s grindhouser DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT returns with DON’T OPEN THE DOOR aka DON’T HANG UP, which is just as sleazy and disturbing. S.F. Brownrigg is kind of a uncelebrated gem of the grindhouse era, establishing a lot of tropes that would later be used in much more popular movies. Most likely, an era of filmmakers grew up watching these films and they left so much of a mark that they showed up in many iconic films you most likely have seen. Still Brownrigg was one of the first to do it and I’m glad this double feature of DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT and DON’T OPEN THE DOOR has been released so these schlockers might be discovered all over again.

DON’T OPEN THE DOOR is about a young girl named Amanda who discovers her mother’s dead body one night and is shipped away to the city. Thirteen years later, she returns to the house she grew up in, now as an adult (played by Susan Bracken) to attend to her dying grandmother. As soon as she returns, she begins getting obscene phone calls from a whisperer who claims to see her in the house. Several suspects are lined up as to who the killer might be. Is it the groundskeeper with leering eyes named the Judge (Gene Ross), Amanda’s old lover and doctor Nick, Judge’s mysterious wife Annie, the grandmother’s doctor who insists she stay in the old house instead of going to the hospital, or maybe it’s the friendly neighbor who has a creepy collection of dolls and mannequins…

I think I just gave the mystery away, but the film really doesn’t keep the mystery of it all that secret. What this film does excel at is maintaining a level of unnerving creepiness throughout. From the opening sequence, featuring odd looking dolls against a black background to the odd museum filled with mannequins and dolls to the obscene phone calls Amanda continues to receive. The atmosphere of this one is fantastic with Brownrigg really taking advantage of natural lighting, heavy shadows cast all over the inside of the old gothic southern home the film takes place in, and the feeling of humidity and heat as seen from the sweat dripping off of all of the actors. All of this is indicative of the grindhouse low budget feel of the piece that relies more on where the horror takes place and use of sound (such as echoes and harpsichord) than over the top gore. The suggestion of the sleaze works so much more than simply showing it. One scene in particular has the stalker fondling a baby doll while talking on the phone with Amanda. Creepy stuff.

The film ends rather darkly, as would be expected, but does so in an unconventional manner that reminded me a lot of SCREAM, Argento’s Giallo films, and even BLACK CHRISTMAS and SILENT NIGHT BLOODY NIGHT. You most likely won’t recognize any of the actors in this film (unless you’ve seen other Brownrigg films), but all of them do great. Susan Bracken is fantastic as Amanda and is able to be both likable, coy, and feisty all at once—even though she is a little too comfortable talking with the creeper on the phone. Gene Ross, who is in many of Brownrigg’s films, is equally great as one of the suspects, as is Larry O’Dwyer in one of his only roles in film. Both prove to be absolutely great and distinct creepazoids to terrorize the young lass to the edge of her wits and beyond.

I loved this film and paired with DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT, I’m saddened that Brownrigg didn’t make it bigger in the industry and that there aren’t many more films of his for me to see. Check this double feature out. Lovers of grindhouse and low fi horror won’t be disappointed.

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