70s movies

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for Margaret Atwood hair jump scares, a man who lost his platoon and still thinks he’s at war, and assorted other out-of-date and yet fascinating depictions of the mentally ill.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)

[CHECK OUT OUR PODCAST DISCUSSION OF DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT ON THE REALLY AWFUL MOVIES PODCAST!]

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

Meatballs

Summer camps in these parts function as a dumping ground — parents unload their kids, and breathe a sigh of relief for a few months sans brats. Meatballs is a fairly accurate representation of the summer camp experience — the frequently awkward gender dynamics, raging hormones, idiotically competitive mandatory “fun,” and crappy food.

Summer camp in Southern Ontario was a mixed bag for the authors of this site. It was frequently a rewarding, eye-opening experience featuring all sorts of novel activities, from kayaking to sack races… However, there was a dark side too, especially if friends weren’t immediately made.

And the summer camp / prison similarities weren’t lost on us: In both, people are sent there against their will; there are fractured group dynamics; cliques are formed for self-preservation; lunch is a large, communal experience (with frequently bad food); authority figures are looked at askance; and there are strictly enforced curfews…

In the 1979 Ivan Reitman production that is Meatballs, we catch a small glimpse of the movie star Chicagoan Bill Murray would become. Here he’s Tripper, an aging wiseacre camp counselor who treats his job with as little earnestness as he can possibly muster, who openly mocks the kitchen mystery meat during his morning camp announcements.

He befriends loser/social outcast, Rudy (Chris Makepeace), a slight, effeminate wallflower who’s picked on by his Lord of the Flies fellow campers. Together, they play small-stakes card games (literally, for “peanuts”) and bond over long-distance running. All the while, Murray’s Tripper amuses his young pal with age-inappropriate jokes that’d be kiboshed in today’s era of hyper-sensitivity.

And like period kid movies, Meatballs features the usual assemblage of near-80s archetypes: jocks, hot girls, nerds, fatties, loners, etc.

Dueling camps (and their counselors/counselors-in-training) go at it for all the glory, Camp North Star (the relatable middle-class good-guys/gals) VS. Camp Mohawk (the stuck-up, attractive, older, richy-riches).

Ultimately, Rudy comes out of his shell to win it for our heroes.

Meatballs recedes when Murray’s not in the frame, but when he is…things come alive.

*** (out of 5)

[Listen to our podcast about Meatballs on the Really Awful Movies Podcast]