Sunday, August 23, 2020

Just Don’t Do It

It seems as if independent filmmakers/distributors of the 1970s and early ‘80s were obsessed with including “Don’t” in their movie titles. But wait a minute… This wasn’t simply a cheap way of riding the exploitation bandwagon, but a public service to warn us about the dangers of seemingly mundane actions. We’re reminded that the simple act of going outside and mingling with fellow humans could be a potentially life-threatening proposition. Perhaps we could learn a few timeless lessons from these films from the not too distant past, instructing us about the perils of not maintaining social distancing.

I think it’s only fair to warn you, dear reader, this isn’t a comprehensive list of every movie ever made with “Don’t” in the title.* Instead, for the purposes of this article, I confined my survey to theatrical horror/thrillers from the aforementioned era. I suffered (Ahem! I meant watched) through seven examples, to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff so you don’t have to.  

* Note: I previously reviewed Don’t Look Now (1973), which doesn’t quite fit thematically with the other films listed here. I excluded Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973), because A), It was produced for television; and B), I’ve previously seen this title, and wanted everything to be a first-time watch. And before anyone says, “But you didn’t cover Don’t Go Near the Park (1979),” this wasn’t streaming anywhere, and I wasn’t about to plunk down a $300 deposit at my local video store to rent their out-of-print copy.

Don’t Look in the Basement (1973) Charlotte Beale (Rosie Holotik), a naïve young nurse, accepts a position working at a private sanitarium run by staunch Doctor Geraldine Masters (Annabelle Weenick). Nurse Beale eventually discovers that everything isn’t as it seems in the asylum populated by colorful patients, including an elderly lady with a secret, a homicidal would-be judge, a nymphomaniac, and a man in a state of arrested development. It’s best not to ask why she’s so slow to catch on to the doctor’s secret, or why she didn’t leave early on. While short on logic, or a grasp of ethical mental health practices, S.F. Brownrigg’s low-budget, filmed-in Texas wonder features some interesting performances, and seldom fails to entertain.  

Rating: ***. Available on DVD, Blu-ray (on combo disc w/Chaos), Amazon Prime and Tubi

Don’t Go in the House (1979) After his domineering mother dies, Dan Grimaldi (Donny Kohler) a mentally disturbed man, hears voices telling him to cleanse the evil lurking inside people of the opposite sex. He lures women into his house and incinerates them in a fireproof room, and has conversations with their charred corpses. Kohler is effective as the delusional, socially awkward lead character. Director/co-writer Joseph Ellison does a good job of building tension, and depicting the main character’s psychological disintegration, which leads to an unnerving climactic scene. The film is somewhat undermined by its dubious explanation for Grimaldi’s motivation, reinforced in the final scene, suggesting a cause and effect relationship between parental abuse and homicidal behavior. Warning: prepare yourself for a gratuitous disco scene, bad polyester fashions, and the non-hit song “Boogie Lightning,” which plays twice.

Rating: ***. Available on DVD and Tubi

Don’t Open the Door (aka: Don’t Hang Up) (1974) S.F. Brownrigg strikes again! This one’s a step down from his previous effort, Don’t Look in the Basement, lacking the same level of uniquely eccentric characters and  demented sense of fun. A young woman (Susan Bracken) returns to her childhood home to care for her ailing grandmother. She squabbles with a judge about her inheritance, and argues with a doctor about her grandmother’s care. Meanwhile, she’s harassed by a perverted museum curator. Don’t Open the Door shamelessly steals from Psycho and Repulsion in equal measures, but somehow manages to fall short of generating any real suspense.

Rating: **½. Available on DVD and Amazon Prime

Don’t Answer the Phone! (1980) Writer/director Robert Hammer’s sleazy effort (based on a novel by Michael Curtis) stars Nicholas Worth as crazed Vietnam vet/photographer Kirk Smith, who stalks and strangles women in Los Angeles. He makes anonymous calls to a psychologist’s (Flo Lawrence) radio show, which become increasingly disturbing as he acts out his fantasies. The psychologist’s efforts are undermined by smug, mansplaining police lieutenant McCabe (James Westmoreland), who inexplicably becomes her lover. Don’t bother trying to link the misleading title to the story, since answering the phone isn’t really part of the killer’s modus operandi. Worth is appropriately creepy as the killer, who photographs his victims in their final moments, but there’s not much else to justify sitting through this film, featuring a protagonist just as misogynistic as the bad guy.   

Rating: **. Available on Blu-ray and DVD


Don’t Open Till Christmas (1984) A serial killer targets men dressed as Santa Claus, while inept Scotland Yard detectives scramble to find him. In one scene, the killer strolls into the police station and visits the lead detective, but he somehow manages to elude capture. If you’re looking for a slasher movie with a high body count, you’ve come to the right place. If you’re looking for a coherent story, competent lead characters, or a compelling plot, you should probably steer clear.

Rating: **. Available on DVD

Don’t Look in the Attic (1982) A cursed Italian villa brings death and calamity to several generations of a family in Turin, Italy. The current heirs to the property bicker and scheme, providing lots of opportunities for talky scenes that pad out writer/director Carlo Ausino’s supernatural mystery film. The 77-minute running time is mercifully short, but seems much longer, thanks to the film’s sluggish pace and loathsome characters. It’s such a confusing, boring mess that you probably won’t care what’s in the attic or likely be awake for the conclusion.

Rating: **. Available on DVD, Amazon Prime and Tubi

Don’t Go in the Woods (1981) Campers are dispatched one-by-one by a deranged mountain man (the film never delves into where he came from or why he kills everyone that crosses his path). The film is a showpiece for bad acting, bad dialogue, and terrible makeup effects. It’s also dreadfully short on scares, tension or nocturnal amorous activities typically associated with most movies of this ilk. And just when you think the film has reached new lows, there’s a scene with a man in a wheelchair struggling to navigate a dirt trail (accompanied by goofy music). A better title would have been Don’t Watch this Movie. On a side note: There’s a disproportionately inordinate amount of cast members wearing bright pink ensembles, leading me to wonder if the costume designer had a surplus of the cloth lying around.

Rating: *½. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Tubi


  1. This was a fun and funny post, Barry!
    I have not experienced any of these films and quite a number of them will probably never be experienced by me.
    However, I am disappointed to hear don't answer the phone doesn't live up to its great title.

    1. Thanks so much, John. I had a blast writing it (although not necessarily watching some of these turkeys). ;) I recommend Don't Look in the Basement or Don't Go In the House. I believe both are available on Tubi for free.

  2. Thanks for this installment of Don't Watch the Movie before you read Just Don't Do It. :) Don't Go in the House sounds pretty gruesome, but I might check out Don't Look in the Basement - love asylum settings in horror movies.

    1. Don't Look in the Basement is my top pick. It's not a great movie, but it's consistently entertaining.

  3. Great idea for an article (wish I had thought of it first). As you know I have a bit of a soft spot for Don't Look in the Basement. It's total schlock but not badly made schlock with a neat little idea at its core.

    I feel certain I've seen a couple of the others way back when but the titles don't lend themselves to long term memory.

    1. Thanks, Michael! I had a blast writing about this. Don't Look in the Basement was a clear favorite, although Don't Go in the House is worth a look as well. The others, well...