DIRECTOR Frank Henenlotter WRITER Frank Henenlotter; UncleBob Martin STARS Kevin Van Hentenryck DVD & STEELBOOK Now
Deliciously offensive, Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case truly lived up to its cult reputation, a schlocky piece of nonsense simply oozing with charm. A limited edition steelbook of it and its sequels is a sight for sore eyes; positively teeming with extras, no B-movie aficionado should be without this. Let this not mistake you in assuming a masterful effort in restoration. Basket Case was shot in 16mm and hi-def treatment can only do so much, but for this unashamedly low-budget B-movie sensibility, it is in fact a blessing.
It was a simple premise. Duane Bradley carries around with him his mutant Siamese twin brother, Belial, in a large basket case. Having been separated against their will as youngsters, revenge is now on the cards for the callous doctors who cared not for defenceless Belial’s plight, and the psychically bonded pair relocate to a disreputable Manhattan hotel for their murderous purposes. Duane transports Belial to the victims, patiently waiting outside as his brother tears them apart. And yet, they are not as close as they first appear. When Duane meets a girl and Belial reacts jealously, tensions come to the surface and the pair have a final showdown that would appear to result in their deaths.
It is easy to expand on the psychodrama present, of course. Duane could feasibly be the true killer, psychic communications merely schizophrenic voices in his head, Belial either his imagination entirely or a childhood memory provoking thirst for revenge. But, Basket Case is a film best enjoyed at face value, a face value that is made up of terrifically shoddy effects — Belial himself is essentially just a rubbery blob, while the stop-motion is hilariously bad — and some terrible acting, factors that merely elevate the fun to be had.
Basket Case 2 came in 1990, some eight years later, picking up where Basket Case left off, Duane and Belial now notorious killers. Rescued from hospital by Granny Ruth, a woman who protects a secret group of deformed freaks, the pair go into hiding, although Duane yearns for freedom and a normal life. When a pair of journalists discover the brothers’ hiding place and the group as a whole, the race is on to kill them before news spreads. The following year, Basket Case 3: The Progeny in turn picked up where the prior instalment left off, Duane having endured a nervous breakdown, recovering to discover that Belial is now an expectant father. Granny Ruth’s gang take a road trip for the birth, which results in disaster for the group, Duane’s desire for freedom bringing them the attention of the police.
These sequels are vastly different films to Basket Case. Armed with more budget and in his branching off to expand the brothers’ story, Henenlotter eschewed the original exploitation feel in favour of more straight comedy-horror that is devoid of the original’s dirty feel. In fact Basket Case 2 may be considered a stepping stone between the first and third films, the latter having shrugged off the horror entirely to bear no resemblance to the original whatsoever. The only real constant is Kevin Van Hentenryck’s slightly vacant portrayal of the naive Duane, but even this loses the underlying sense of sinisterness.
Regardless of this disappointment — which is not crushing; the films are still bizarrely entertaining — this is a trilogy that demands purchase, in no small part due to the superb extras on offer. The feature-length What’s in the Basket? is an excellent making-of, featuring Henenlotter and Van Hentenryck amongst others, and offers some wonderful insight — including regrets on Basket Case 3 — as does a commentary for the first film only. “In Search of the Hotel Broslin” is an amusing location visit, and all the other titbits you’d expect of a special edition are present in spades.