Exploitation films

Lurid horror, women-in-prison movies, blaxploitation, etc.

Don’t Look in the Basement

Not nearly as fun as Etta James’ floor shaker, In the Basement, this is a movie that’s ostensibly got something to do with a basement. And it kinda does. Very very tangentially, and not nearly as much as James’ song. Don’t Look in the Basement is also known as The Forgotten, which is a real soft ball title to lob a critic’s way.

Stephens Sanitarium is an understaffed healthcare facility overseen by one (almost literally one) Dr. Stephens. When he’s given the axe, so to speak, by one of the patients, the place is short-staffed. That’s where Charlotte Beale (Rosie Holotik from Horror High) comes in. She’s a nurse and new hire, who’s (barely) shown the ropes by attending physician Dr. Geraldine Masters, a possible veiled reference to researchers Masters and Johnson perhaps? Dr Livingstone we presume?

This is a genre one might call, “psychsploitation” in that the treatment of the mentally ill is rather…how shall we put it? Out of fashion. Then again, the psychiatric profession has a lot to answer for. Not to get all Tom Cruise, but it’s not too many generations ago where lobotomies* were the order of the day.

That might be an explanation as to why this thing is so odd. Of course, this was the 70s and that was definitely an “experimental” time for movies. And we’re just talking about the drugs.

In Don’t Look in the Basement, poor African American Sam, in a state of perma-infantalization, suffered through the hideous lobotomy procedure (though the ice pick was not depicted on screen). He’s left to play with a toy boat.

The rest of the hospice residents are filled out with a guy who thinks he’s a judge (played by Gene Ross of The Goonies), a nympho, a crazed ginger, an elderly lady with unhinged coif there purely for Margaret Atwood hair jump scares, a man who lost his platoon and still thinks he’s at war, and assorted other out-of-date and yet fascinating depictions of the mentally ill.

This movie is quirky and definitely worth a look.

*** (out of 5)


[*Editors’ note: Surgical pioneer Walter Freeman, even drove around the countryside in a mobile / recreational vehicle doing the grisly procedure!]




Dolemite is my name and f*ckin’ up other mutha f*ckers is my game! Who could not love a rhyming couplet like that?

Doing serious pen time for trafficking in illegal furs (really) as well as half a mil in blow, Dolemite (Rudy Ray Moore) is offered a way out by the warden: in exchange for his release, he has to take out drug kingpin Willie Green, responsible for bringing the “4th Ward” of whatever fictional city this is, to its knees, in cahoots with a corrupt white mayor…The only people in on this plan, the warden, whorehouse madame Queen B and an unnamed FBI agent.

Once the deal is done, and following unnecessary flashbacks and some shaky exposition, Dolemite doffs his peels for a dapper jumpsuit, not even waiting to get home to change: he strips down to his tighty whities right outside the prison gates, brought to him by limo by his bitches (This, as the less than impressed guards call out: “you’ll be back, Dolemite!”).

Meanwhile, the newly freed warrior is harassed by two cops on the take while he goes about his business.

He gets the lay of the land from Creeper, aka, The Hamburger Pimp, a shuffling base head who’s promptly assassinated. We learn that Willie Green has taken over Dolemite’s Dolemite-themed nightclub and big D has to get rid of WG, an original OG. Along with this colorful cast of characters — a reverend who runs guns, a karate-kicking all-female militia force, dancer Chi (short for Chicago) — the omnipresent boom mic is a character unto itself, , at the top and the bottom of many a frame (hey, this is an extremely low budget affair).

DOLEMITE_filmAt the center of the mess, Dolemite, who carries BB King’s girth and drops Grandmaster Flashes’ rhymes, an urban poet who delights assembled street toughs and captive audiences alike with parables about monkeys and lions as well as what might’ve gone down on the Titanic had the racial politics been different.

But there’s business to attend to, including avenging his nephew Lil Jimmy’s murder. He lays waste to much of the 4th Ward’s criminal element with half-baked karate chops and elephantine spinning back kicks.

The semi-comatose Dolemite, is still good for the odd line like “You no good rap soup eatin’ honkey mutha f*cka!”

Where can you dine on this specialty? Nobody knows for sure but Rudy Ray Moore has a gift of gab, and a grab bag of put downs that could skewer a dozen Yo Mama wannabes. See, we have skills too.

As an introduction to blaxploitation, Rudy Ray Moore is no Ron O’Neal, can’t hold a lighter to Fred Williamson and sure as hell ain’t Richard Roundtree (though he’s plenty round).

As inept as it is hilarious and beguiling, Dolemite is kinda must-see material — basically an excuse for Moore to showcase his less-than-stellar stand-up, his band and the Dolemite Dancers.

***1/2 (out of 5)