Don’t do this, don’t do that. The seventies and early eighties are littered with “Don’t” movies; third-rate, B-grade horror flicks justifying an abundance of sex, violence and sleaze with a title offering healthy, practical advice for viewers who need it. Don’t Go in the House, it's way too hot. Don’t Answer the Phone or some big, fat, receding Viet-vet might pop round and give you a good seeing-to. Don’t Go Near the Park, the excitement might be too much. S.F. Brownrigg offered much more practical advice with Don’t Open the Door, and also with Don't Look in the Basement.
There must be something pretty bad down there if the residents of Fuckupsville asylum aren’t allowed to even take a quick peek. And what a bunch of residents – perhaps denizens is a more apt term – they are, waiting to greet their new nurse Charlotte Beale, flame-haired with eyes that are just a little too far apart. There’s Sam, a hulking, bug-eyed black lobotomee with the mind of an eight year old, the elf-like Danny, a repulsive shock of ginger pubic hair plumped atop his pimply, cackling face, and there’s Allyson (my favourite), a neurotic nymphomaniac with a permanent wide-on and a craving for love, whose understanding of her own mental condition is much more lucid than in should be. And there’s the token veteran, Sergeant Jaffee; it isn’t made clear just which war he’s trapped in – Korea or Vietnam – but the effect is still the same. The elderly, mean-spirited Mrs Callingham, living in “a number of different worlds” speaks with a voice like yellowed fingernails being dragged kicking and screaming down a reform-school blackboard. Being withdrawn, Jennifer is pretty boring, whereas Harriet on the other hand is much more exciting, being violently overprotective towards her baby doll. Dr. Geraldine Masters is the matriarch in charge of “The Family” now, taking over from progressive psychiatrist Dr. Stevens who was axed in the back only yesterday by the stammering schizophrenic, Judge Oliver W. Cameron.
“A feeling of unease crept over her…”, the tagline from the old UK video box is an accurate way of describing this. Far from being the gorefest its former Video Nastie status suggests, it manages instead to burrow deep under the skin like the second-hand heroin needle you bought from your brother’s boyfriend. Downbeat is one word for Don’t…’s general atmosphere; bad-feeling is evident in everything here, from the closing credits depicting the dead bodies of the worthless slabs of humanity Brownrigg calls characters to the blatant damp patches on the sanatorium’s stark, white walls – this desolate décor punctuated irregularly by mind-altering pools of acid-casualties’ vomit, doubling as bedspreads and curtains. Mmmm…, that’s just reminded me of Don’t…’s most grotesque moments; Sam licking and slurping with such wanton relish at his purple, phallic Popsicles.
Don’t… is pretty representative of grubby, grotty seventies drive-in movie fare and is occasionally hailed as something of a classic, albeit a very minor one, and for many encompasses the general aesthetic of golden-age Z-movie fare. It has certainly had a serious effect on some people; the parallels between the film’s closing moments (Masters being torn apart by the inmates) and those of William Lustig’s equally downbeat Maniac are much too close to be mere coincidence! A negative, bleak movie that’s very entertaining – and very amusing too if, like me, you’re that way inclined. A welcome drop of blackness in an otherwise grey world.