Wednesday, May 30, 2012

In short: Don't Open The Door (1975)

After an anonymous phone warning that something evil is afoot with her grandmother, so-spunky-she's-actually-just-rude Amanda Post (Susan Bracken) returns to her ancestral home where her mother was murdered twelve years ago.

Grandmother really is in dire need of help too, for her doctor (James N. Harrell) is keeping the sick old woman so drugged she's never conscious anymore. The doc is working for the local lawyer Judge (yeah, they call the lawyer judge for some - probably southern-ness induced - reason) Stemple (Gene Ross), who wants granny's house for himself even though he is living in an awesome rail wagon (with a train sound effect tape!).

Because these Southern gentlemen are less than subtle about their plans, Amanda soon realizes what's going on, packs her granny off into a hospital and decides to stay at the house for a while to spite the Judge.

That isn't such a good idea, though, for a creepy caller begins to bother Amanda, a caller who seems to know way too much about what's happening in the house, and who might have had something to do with her mother's death.

But who is the mysterious caller: the Judge? The creepy, manikin-loving owner of the local history museum (Larry O'Dwyer)? Amanda's ex-boyfriend (Hugh Feagin)? Whoever it is, he won't stop at just using the phone to terrorize the not easily terrorized Amanda.

S.F. Brownrigg's Texan Gothic thriller is a bit weaker than his first film Don't Look in the Basement, because the comparative lack of crazies doesn't play to Brownrigg's strengths that lie more in creating a mood of strangeness than in creating a tight, suspenseful thriller plot.

It's not that Don't Open's suspense scenes are bad, though. In fact,  there are some rather effective moments shot in a style that reminds me of a very cheaply produced giallo, which surely is the best Brownrigg could hope to achieve in a strictly local production as this one; there's even a staircase of the kind Bava and Argento did love so dearly, and it's even put to a use these two would have approved of. Brownrigg's problem aren't these scenes, but rather his problems connecting them through some very awkwardly staged dialogue scenes - whose quality isn't improved by the fact that Susan Bracken's character may be more resilient than you'd expect but she just isn't a good enough actress to convince me of it - that stop the film dead in its tracks instead of keeping its plot moving forward.

It's a shame too, for whenever Brownrigg allows his weirdo actors O'Dwyer and Ross (who also played a mad judge in Don't Look) to chew scenery, or allows himself to speak in his very own visual language - a language strong enough to make a basically silly threatening telephone conversation feel at least somewhat creepy - Don't Open becomes a very compelling movie. These scenes don't come quite often enough to completely make up for the drab dialogue scenes and moments of nothing of import happening, but they keep the film worth watching to anyone not afraid of a bit of boredom and awkwardness.

Brownrigg's brand of off-handed creepiness and very personal feeling weirdness aren't something you get to see every day, after all.


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