"After 13 years She returned home ... To a house of terror
There was no place to hide from FEAR or DEATH ..."
directed by: S.F. Brownrigg
starring: Susan Bracken, Larry O'Dwyer, Gene Ross (I), James N. Harrell, Hugh Feagin, Annabelle Weenick, Rhea MacAdams, John Steakley, Jeffrey Swann
"He isn't going to go after you in person - they never do ..."
Words of comfort fail
This is my first tussle with Brownrigg, the director of such titles as DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT, KEEP MY GRAVE OPEN and POOR WHITE TRASH PART 2, and after literally years of gathering dust on my shelves I decided to give this strange little psycho-oddity a go.
A young woman, Mandy (the excellent Susan Bracken), receives a mysterious phone-call from someone claiming to be looking after her Grandmother, who she hasn't seen for some thirteen years. The caller, who insists " don't tell anyone I phoned", tells her that her Grandmother is very sick and that she should come straight away- back to her hometown of Alterton.
Before she can leave she bumps into her doctor ex, Nick (Hugh Feagin), and confesses to him that: "I could never bring myself to go back to that town, and that house- that house of all seasons ".
With a montage of seriously creepy looking dolls the opening credits roll, and we find out the reasons for Mandy's reticence, with a flashback scene- taking place in 1962, where an shadowy intruder breaks into what we take to be her childhood home. The figure hovers by her bed and gently caresses the child's face before brutally stabbing her Mother to death, as she sleeps, with a carving knife.
The action resumes in the present (13 years later- as the titles tell us) with Mandy arriving at her Grandmother's house, a rambling gothic mansion. Inside she finds her Grandmother bedridden and delirious, who manages to hiss what we take to be a warning: "Go away!". Mandy then realises that she is not alone in the house when her Grandmother's doctor (James N. Harrell) walks into the room, soon followed by Judge (Gene Ross) (her attorney, who we see at the beginning of the film warning off the woman who phoned Mandy from doing so), and Claude (Larry O'Dwyer- who, very disturbingly is a dead ringer for THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMAN's Herr Lipp!), who we later find out runs the local doll museum. Mandy is concerned for her Grandmother and insists that she be moved to the nearest hospital. The doctor refuses- stating that it goes against her wishes; the other two pressing Mandy on financial matters, with Judge confiding in Mandy that Claude had been " hanging around like a vulture since she took ill". Disgusted, Mandy throws them all out and calls her ex to get his help in getting her Grandmother admitted to the nearest hospital.
Alone in the house Mandy begins to hear noises and explores the eccentric and ramshackle building, eventually finding herself at the room at the top of the house with blood red windows, which cast an eerie glow. She is also plagued by the unwanted attentions of Judge, who, when his attempts to get her to sign the house over to him fail begins to make thinly veiled threats: "A pretty little thing like you all alone in this rambly old house- you never can tell ", and finds herself creeped out by Claude when she visits him at his museum when he reveals the life sized doll of her Mother he has made in her honour. To make things worse she begins to receive strange phone-calls, the voice rasping and twisted, inviting her to " come closer to the phone, so I can hear you breathe"- to which she gamely retorts, "Oh, come on Buster!".
As things begin to take a turn for the surreal, and the unsolved murder of Mandy's Mother hangs like a shadow above all the characters, somebody armed with hammer and carving knife begins to whittle away the small town's population
To say that DON'T OPEN THE DOOR is a film like no other could be taken either way, but here it's meant as a compliment. Certainly it won't be for everyone (fast paced it ain't), but Brownrigg has crafted, with a practically nonexistent budget, a well acted, beautifully shot movie with unique style that exudes a genuine weirdness. Firstly, this isn't a HALLOWEEN clone- in fact, DON'T OPEN THE DOOR would seem to have more in common with the Southern gothic of, say, HUSH, HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE (with a pinch of PSYCHO) than it does with Carpenter's definitive slasher. Sure, it has a crazed killer whose identity is obscured for at least part of the film but Brownrigg takes the genre's clichés and force-feeds them acid tabs. Actually, seeing as the '13 years later' tag would indicate that the 'present day' (given that the prologue was set in 1962) would be around 1975, it wouldn't be beyond the realm of reason to wonder if the film was indeed made a few years before Carpenter's film, but released afterwards (the fashions certainly point to this earlier date, as opposed to the 1979/1980 date usually associated with it).
What sets Brownrigg's film apart is its lush perversity. He takes such
standard horror movie devices as the woman trapped alone in a house being
terrified by threatening phone calls and warps them beyond recognition.
In what is perhaps the film's most disturbing scene the killer forces
Mandy, by threatening her Grandmother's life, to indulge in some proto-phone
sex. As she touches her body, under his fevered direction, he, remaining
almost but not quite unseen, mimics her movements, molesting a doll of
her as a child. Add to this a seriously wigged-out drug scene and a denouement
where insanity becomes the norm, then you've got a potently bizarre, creepy
and curiously old-fashioned film which is, perhaps, only let down by occasionally
becoming unfathomable in its quest of the genuinely strange.