Beware the House of the Seasons in the mid-’70s grindhouse stalker “Don’t Open The Door”

By on April 26, 2019

The 1974 cult classic Don’t Open the Door — now streaming on Night Flight Plus — is considered by many horror aficionados to be Texas indie auteur S.F. Brownrigg‘s best film, especially because of the inventive cinematography by his frequent collaborator Robert “Bob” Alcott.

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Our heroine “Amanda Post” returns to her hometown of Allerton, Texas, thirteen years after witnessing her mother “Rita Post” being brutally stabbed to death by an unknown slasher (the credits don’t list who played the mother or teenage daughter).

The adult Amanda is played by baby doll-faced actress Susan Bracken — the daughter of comic actor Eddie Bracken, star of two back-to-back Preston Sturges films of 1944, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek and Hail the Conquering Hero — in what was her only theatrical feature role.

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Amanda gets a strange answering machine message which says her grandmother “Harriet” (Rhea MacAdams) is dying and she really needs to come home to Allerton to care for her.

Shortly thereafter, Mandy departs from Dallas and travels back to her her dying grandmother’s “big, rambling old house.”

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There, she begins to realize there are very strange things happening in her grandmother’s Victorian-style manse, which should really be considered one of the film’s top-billed stars.

Known in Jefferson as the “House of the Seasons” for the upper floor’s candy-colored stained glass windows  — which actually represent Spring (green), Summer (amber), Autumn (red) and Winter (blue) — the house was built in 1872 and it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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Then, Amanda begins receiving lurid, threatening, sexually-charged phone calls from a “miserable, impotent freak” who keeps telling her that granny is about to die.

The poor girl doesn’t really know who to turn to for help, but ends up contacting an ex-boyfriend, middle-aged doctor “Nick” (Hugh Feagin).

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“Judge Stemple” (Gene Ross), “Dr. Crawther” (James “Jim” Harrell), and, strangest of them all, “Claude Kearn” (Larry O’Dwyer) — who hopes to inherit Harriet’s family heirlooms, furniture and clothing to add to the artifacts from her estate he’s already got in his antiques museum in town —  all seem to have nefarious plans of their own after her granny passes on.

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Then, people start showing up dead again in Allerton, murdered by an unseen stalker just like poor Rita Post was killed over a decade earlier.

Before long, Amanda becomes overwhelmed with paranoia and panicked by phone calls. She eventually finds herself trapped inside granny’s house with a homicidal maniac hiding in the attic, where sunlight pours in through the blood red windowpanes.

Don’t Open the Door premiered in Paris, Texas, on May 3, 1974, as Don’t Hang Up, which, frankly, makes more sense to us, since we often see Mandy on the phone.

It was also titled Seasons for Murder, but in 1979, when Capital Films picked up the film for distribution in small grindhouse theaters and drive-ins, the title was changed to Don’t Open the Door.

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We’ve also read that some of the actors who appeared in this obscure film didn’t get to see it until decades later.

Read more about Don’t Open the Door below.

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Like most of his low-budget independently-financed horror flicks, including the previous year’s Don’t Look in the Basement (also on Night Flight Plus), S.F. Brownrigg lensed Don’t Open the Door in his own hometown, Jefferson, Texas.

The Faulkner-esque Southern Gothic town — the oldest in the Lone Star State — sits along the bank of Caddo Lake near the border with Louisiana, and it provided Brownrigg with lots of creepy filming locations.

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Brownrigg’s no-budget production schedule included shooting Frank Schaefer & Kerry Newcomb’s script in just three weeks, mostly inside the House of the Seasons (which was actually the director’s original working title).

Cinematographer Bob Alcott really makes the most of the mysterious flitting shadows we see slinking in the corners of the house’s unique architecture and up and down the elaborate wooden staircase, his camera swooping along the stairwells and banisters and closing in on door knobs.

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Many viewers have likened some of Alcott’s clever camerawork here to what we’ve seen in films by Italian giallo maestros Mario Bava and Dario Argento, in fact.

There were also sequences shot in Jefferson’s Doll Museum (filled with all kinds of grotesque antique dolls) and a large custom rail carriage (Jay Gould’s Atalanta Railroad Car), which since the 1950s has been a tourist attraction in the town.

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Brownrigg’s low-budget slice of drive-in sleaze — easily enhanced by composer Robert Farrar awesome musical score — likely also influenced future filmmakers who were just as obsessed with maniac stalkers.

Director Wes Craven‘s Scream (1996), in fact, also featured prank phone calls and Brownrigg’s film’s title even appears in at least one of Scream‘s taglines: “Don’t Answer The Phone. Don’t Open The Door. Don’t Try To Escape.”

You could similarly make the case that having his freaked out transvestite talking to a life-sized female mannequin also predated Joe Spinell (as “Frank Zito”) in William “Bill” Lustig‘s 1980 slasher Maniac (that one’s also available on Night Flight Plus).

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The title — much like Brownrigg’s Don’t Look in the Basement and, our personal favorite title of his, Keep My Grave Open — is actually an instructive caution-filled warning of what not to do if you find yourself living inside a horror film, but does anyone in those films ever do what you think they should?

Watch Don’t Open the Door and other creepy low-budget horror flicks on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.