Director: Frank Henenlotter
Starring: Kevin Van Hentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, Beverly Bonner, Judy Grafe, Annie Ross, Gil Roper
Running time: 259 minutes
DVD Release Date: 22 Oct 2012
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (the 1980s), films like Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case were the staple diet of pale-faced video shop junkies looking for their next fix of weird horror mayhem. But times have changed and instead of ultra-low-budget, lovingly crafted, intelligently written midnight movies, we now get bland, mass-produced rubbish about giant sharks crossed with giant octopi clogging the cheap-jack cable channels.
To put it plainly, Basket Case is an absolute hoot. Filmed in a gritty, sleazy style that would cost Tarantino and Rodriguez a small fortune to replicate, Henenlotter’s debut feature deftly juggles strange comedy, gore and pathos in a way that produced Grindhouse gold. Shot on weekends whenever money could be raised, with no crew and a cast made up of local non-actors and amateurs, the film is the very definition of shoestring filmmaking.
Duane is a lonely guy, a low-rent Travis Bickle who drifts through downtown NYC with nothing but big hair and a wicker basket to his name.
“What’s in the basket?” asks a procession of seedy lowlife characters in the filthy rooming house (The Broslin Hotel) where he rents a room. But Duane isn’t telling. He has his own agenda, and what is in the basket is part of an elaborate plan to take revenge on those who have wronged him in the past.
Duane is out for payback against the doctors who separated him from his deformed Siamese twin, Belial, when they were children. He wants them to pay for what they did, and he won’t stop until he has justice.
Now can you guess what’s in the basket?
Things get complicated when Duane meets a doctor’s receptionist with whom he falls in love, side-tracking him from his business. The resultant mayhem is funny, twisted, touching, and at times very bloody. If you’re one of the few horror fans yet to see this film, put that right as soon as you can. It isn’t legendary for nothing.
Basket Case 2
A much better looking film, this first sequel clearly had a bigger budget, better actors, and some proper special effects from the talented Gabe Bartolis.
After a time-filling repeat of the closing scenes from the first film, Duane and Belial escape hospital and are taken in by Granny Ruth and her granddaughter Susan, who run a kind of care home for ‘Unique Individuals’ on Statten Island. Granny Ruth claims to have been a friend of their late aunt, and was asked to help out if the boys ever needed her.
One member of the weird community is Eve, who is basically a female version of Belial.
Meanwhile, an unscrupulous New York reporter, Macy Elliot, is trying to track down the brothers to exploit their story. She traces them to Granny Ruth’s house and discovers that she is protecting the boys. But Granny Ruth isn’t all that she seems – she has a dark side of her own.
The bloodshed is played down in this second film, but the dark comedy is driven up a notch. There’s a strange kitsch appeal to these films that gets odder with each subsequent instalment, and it makes them irresistible to those who are willing to buy into the fact that they’re basically pure bunkum and go along for the ride.
The grungy NYC locations of the original are a big miss, but there’s a sense of suburban oddness to take their place. Bartolis’ freak designs are wonderfully surreal, even on a limited budget. Duane’s character is given room to develop – he senses freedom away from Belial, possibly in the arms of Susan. Belial begins a relationship with Eve (their love scene is a real jaw-dropper). Could the two boys finally start to build proper lives for themselves?
In the freakish world of Basket Case, nothing is ever that simple.
Basket Case 3
The third film in the series begins with an unnecessary re-run of the final five minutes of the last film. Perhaps they needed to pad out the running time.
After this, the film cuts to Duane locked in a padded room, where Granny Ruth has kept him for the last three months. Eve is pregnant; Belial is going to be a father. The community of freaks is planning a road trip to visit Uncle Hal in Georgia, the only doctor Granny Ruth can trust to examine Eve and bring Belial’s progeny into the world.
En-route, there is a surreal musical number, which is thankfully short and just too silly for words. Things plunge rapidly downhill from there.
Once the community arrives in Georgia, Eve’s waters break and Little Hal – Granny Ruth’s son, whom she abandoned years ago – is drafted in to perform the delivery.
At this point, the film lurches from absurdity to absurdity; Little Hal’s inventions (which pay off towards the end of the film), a ridiculously staged multiple birth, and Belial going berserk when he has a flashback to his and his brother’s initial separation.
During all this mayhem, Duane escapes and tries to enlist the help of the sheriff’s sexually deviant daughter. The weird-looking Kevin Van Hentenryck’s performance is worse here than it was in the first two films, making his character less believable as the film progresses.
Two local reward-seeking policemen recognise Duane and head off to Uncle Hal’s place, where they kill Eve and kidnap the babies.
The stage is set for some weird retribution, the standout scene being Belial’s assault on the police station, where he kills off the officers in elaborately bloody set-pieces. The ending is beyond absurd, more ridiculous than anything the films have presented before. Little Hal’s inventions combine with Belial’s brute rage to offer a finale that goes so far over the top it almost falls flat on its face.
What began as a crude, funny and effective little black comic caper has now descended into pure farce. The first film is a low-budget classic, but this third instalment is simply a freak too far, and despite delivering a smidgeon of inappropriate fun, it really does become a bit of a slog.
The truth is you’ve probably never seen anything quite like Basket Case 3; no doubt you’ll never want to see anything remotely like it again.
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