Don't Go in the Lightning Bug's Lair #7: Don't Open the Door (1974)
When I think about the phrase "Don't Open the Door" usually Mormons spring to mind almost immediately, but, today, I'm not here to talk about the bad news that someone is trying to give you the good news. I'm here to talk about S.F. Brownrigg once again. Earlier today, I talked about his film Don't Look in the Basement, a film which came to prominence when it was paired with Wes Craven's Last House on the Leftas a double feature. Like any good exploitation opportunist, Brownrigg didn't let a good thing go to waste. So he returned with another "Don't" title leaving him in the unique position of being the only director to appear on this countdown twice. It can certainly be said that when opportunity knocked S.F. did open that door. So join me as I place my hand on the knob of exploitation cinema (there's a terrible phrase for my U.K based readers) and dare to disobey the titular directions, Don't Open the Door.
Thirteen years ago, Amanda Post (Susan Bracken) was traumatized whenshe found her mother stabbed to death in their family home. She moved away to try and Reagan control of her life, but now, with her grandmother (Rhea MacAdams) on her deathbed, she dutifully returns home to care for the ailing matriarch. Once she arrives, she finds the vultures circling with the grandmother's doctor (James N. Harrell) refusing to give proper care, the county judge (Gene Ross) leering at Amanda, and the local historian (Claude Kern) wanting to get his hands on the house. Amanda soon finds the house full of mysteries, and she can't shake the fact that she feels like someone is watching her. This is pretty reasonable because someone is, namely a knife wielding killer who begins to stalk her though the house.
While two of Brownrigg's films fall at the center of the countdown, their order could have been entirely interchangeable. While Don't Look in the Basement was perhaps the more inspired film, Don't Open the Door edges it out slightly with better execution and a nice play on a standard tale. Neither of the films are bloody, but both are bolstered by the performances Brownrigg got put of his assortment of regulars, character actors, and first timers. There's a slipshod charm about his films that just screams mid-70s drive in fare where the movie was second billed to what was going on in the cars. The soundtracking was also particularly interesting and sounded like a Hammer film score interpreted by a free jazz combo,
The unsettling quality of Don't Look is continued in Don't Open, and due to a few familiar faces showing up, including Gene Ross appearing again as a "Judge" character and Rhea MacAdams as an ailing elderly woman, Don't Open feels like a spiritual predecessor in character as well as tone. Susan Bracken makes for an intriguing heroine, and even in the face of past trauma and current danger, she has a plucky determination that made her a strong center for the film. Claude Kern, looking like Artie Johnson's evil twin, provides a creepy enough heavy (no real spoiler there, Brownrigg ineptly spoils it himself with too much lighting early in the film), and I really enjoyed watching the cat and mouse fame that developed between Bracken and Kern.
That nearly brings us to the end of today's countdown of S.F. Brownrigg's oeuvre, and I hope that you all join me back tomorrow when I continue to countdown the next six "don't" films that he made. I kid. He only made four more. Ok, ok, this was the last one, but if any pair of film's typify what Edgar Wright was poking fun at in his Grindhouse trailer for "Don't" it seems to me that it was these two films. Tomorrow we will enter the top half of the list, and the big day is quickly barreling down on upon and the higher the number the bigger the warning. So until Halloween, a day that you surely want to open the door, join me back here as the "don't"s get better and better.