Director: Frank Henenlotter
Script: Frank Henenlotter
Cast: Kevin VanHentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, Beverley Bonner, Robert Vogel, Diana Browne, Lloyd Pace, Bill Freeman, Joe Clarke
Running time: 91 minutes
The first time I saw Basket Case was at a house party as a teenager and I remember demonstrating my nerd credentials by thinking to myself at the time that I’d prefer to turn up the sound and actually watch the movie rather than ‘party’ with the equally spotty oiks I was drinking Woodpecker cider with! Remember Woodpecker cider? Apparently it’s still brewed by Bulmers, but you don’t see it around as prominently as it was back then. Anyway, I digress; I remember thinking at the time that this looked like a cool, if rather surreal film, with its tale of Siamese twins looking for revenge against the doctors that had separated them many years previously.
Beginning with a wonderful guerrilla shot sequence on New York’s infamous 42nd Street we follow Duane Bradley as he arrives in the city looking for a place to set up as a basecamp for what he and his deformed brother feel compelled to do. After spending time relaxing, watching some dodgy movie in a flea-pit cinema, Duane and his mutant brother, Belial - who he carries around in a large wicker basket - find the sleazy, rundown Hotel Broslin and check in. Obviously, everyone seems fascinated by ‘what’s in the basket’, resulting in some occasional collateral damage carnage in between the deliberate assassinations of the surgeons who performed the back street operation on the two brothers.
Without dwelling too much on the details things get decidedly ugly and, well, just plain wrong, when Duane meets a nice receptionist, Sharon, and tries to date her, much to his mischievous mutant brother’s jealous annoyance. Belial goes on a rampage as a result and ‘takes’ the poor girl for himself (in a pretty disturbing scene), before killing her, resulting in an understandable rift forming between the two brothers. Their story does not end prettily…
Originals are often the best and, in the ‘Basket Case’ universe, I would have to class the first film as being the best overall, even though it was clearly shot on the lowest budget and is the most amateur of the three movies. It just has that scuzzy X-factor that appeals to fans of exploitation/horror cinema.
Considering the lack of resources he had, director Henenlotter does a great job of keeping things interesting, and has chosen a diverse and quirky cast to people his shadowy world with. Lead actor Kevin VanHentenryck is excellent throughout and really sells his character and, even though he does bad things he receives much of the audience’s sympathies due to his fragile naivety and having essentially a ‘good heart’.
The special effects aren’t so special, but that’s part of their charm, and fortunately the filmmakers kept the same ‘style’ of effects throughout the trilogy and I’m glad that they did. I particularly enjoyed Henenlotter’s ropey stop motion work animating Belial in this first film; it almost doesn’t work, but I kind of liked it and regretted that he didn’t do more of it in the sequels.
As with the sequels, Basket Case is a very black comedy, only even darker in nature than the follow-ups, which tend to be more intentionally jokey. There aren’t many jokes as such, more an all-round craziness that pervades the film, such as when the hotel manager exclaims: ‘This isn’t a hotel – this is a nuthouse!’
Basket Case 2
Director: Frank Henenlotter
Script: Frank Henenlotter
Cast: Kevin VanHentenryck, Anne Ross, Kethryn Meisle, Heather Rattray, Jason Evers, Ted Sorel
Running time: 90 minutes
‘What’s in the basket NOW?’ ‘This time he’s not alone!’ Screamed the poster tag- lines for this rather belated sequel to the early eighties original.
Grannie Ruth (Anne Ross) and her grand-daughter Susan (Heather Rattray) run a home for freaks in the suburbs, and when they hear that Duane and his murdering brother Belial have been captured by police they head to the big city to try and help them. Duane and his little bro manage to escape the hospital, where they’re being kept, and are swiftly picked up by these two well-meaning ladies.
Back at Granny Ruth’s palatial home the brothers are introduced to the rest of the freaky family, which includes shy mutant Eve, who is very much like Belial in terms of both size and structure. While Belial and Eve start to hit it off, Duane struggles to integrate with the rest of the freaks, who all live in the attic; freaks like Frog Boy, Brainiac, Platehead, Toothy, Worm Man and Mouse Face.
Meanwhile a nosy reporter is hot on the heels of the two wanted brothers and she recognises Duane when she calls in at Ruth’s house on a hunch based on an old news story from many years before. Wanting the scoop and reward for herself, the reporter makes the mistake of only involving her cameraman and a PI in order to take down the brothers, rather than go to the police.
Basket Case 2 had a much bigger budget than the first film and it shows, with everything being writ on a much larger scale. However, a bigger budget doesn’t necessarily make for a better film, as is the case here. That’s not to say that this first sequel is a bad film; far from it, it’s actually pretty entertaining and suitably daft. It’s just whereas the first film had an overall driving narrative of revenge, this film struggles to really find a reason for being, however it does have an overarching theme, that of trying to fit in. More ‘normal’ brother Duane struggles to fit in amongst the more obvious freaks that he finds himself surrounded by in his new home.
This rather belated sequel doesn’t really have the same horror vibe as the first film and feels more fantastical in nature, and it’s only when the reporter and cameraman finally meet the freaks that there’s any real sense of this being a horror film. In fact Basket Case 2 plays a massive homage to director Tod Browning’s classic 1930s horror film, Freaks, which was banned in the UK for many years, as it was deemed too disturbing for audiences by the authorities at the time of its initial release.
Anne Ross is great as the mildly deranged Grannie Ruth and Kevin VanHentenryck is excellent again as the troubled, fish-out-of-water Duane. In fact his performance here is probably his best in any of the trilogy, particularly during his final scenes where he goes to extreme lengths to try to find that sense of belonging within the freak community.
Frank Henenlotter’s direction is more assured this time around and the make-up department have done a great job fitting out the cast of Grannie Ruth’s freaks with suitably weird head sculptures.
Probably my favourite scene in the film is where Ruth tries to run a therapy session with Belial and says: ‘I understand your pain, but ripping the faces off people may not be in your best interest’! Plus you’ve got to like a movie that features a laughing gargoyle on the roof…
Basket Case 3: The Progeny
Director: Frank Henenlotter
Script: Frank Henenlotter & Rob Martin
Cast: Kevin VanHentenryck, Anne Ross, Gil Roper, Tina Louise Hilbert, Dan Biggers, Jim O’ Doherty, Jackson Faw, Jim Grimshaw
Running time: 90 minutes
Beginning with a brief but rather gooey reminder of the mutant sex scene from the previous film we then cut to Duane, who has been placed in a straitjacket after the events of Basket Case 2.
It turns out that Belial’s new beau, Eve, is pregnant and expecting mutant sprogs, Grannie Ruth is still angry with a now subdued Duane, and the rest of the freak horde are getting excited about being aunts and uncles to the expectant couple.
Unfortunately, later on Belial attacks a doctor trying to help deliver his babies which brings Granny’s mutant menagerie into the sights of the local fuzz who end up raiding Uncle Hal’s place, (where the birthing has taken place), killing Eve, and taking away the baby freaks. The scene is then set for Belial, with the rest of the crazy gang in tow, to storm the police station to get back his new family and take revenge on the men who murdered his new lover.
Basket Case 3: The Progeny is probably the most ‘jokey’ of the trilogy, but possibly also the goriest, although apparently much of the OTT gore has been toned down because the producers wanted a lower rating; therefore the gore tends to be more ridiculous in nature rather than as twisted as before.
In fact this third film feels compromised and, in the ‘making of’ documentary Henenlotter indicates that it’s his least favourite because of all the studio interference. However, that said, there’s still a lot of fun to be had here, especially if you don’t take your horror too seriously, with some crazy scenes (the mutant sing-song of ‘You’ve got personality’; or the cop feeding the babies a mixture of doughnuts and pencils; or the freaks visit to the fast food restaurant), and some funny dialogue (At one point a sheriff says: ‘We’re going to need bazookas!’, and a freak helper at the birth declares about Eve: ‘She needs an ovarian ovation!’). In fact, the sight gags come along pretty fast and there are a few amusing conversations too, especially between the cops, who are more Keystone than knightly.
Once again Kevin VanHentenryck is excellent as Duane, with his character definitely going through the wringer here, emotionally and otherwise, and the rest of the cast seem to be having fun amongst the daftness of it all. And even though he doesn’t really like the film Frank did a reasonable job of directing the madness, and I’m sure it was, mostly, a fun shoot.
Plus any film that features a killer robot with furry dice hanging off of it can’t be all bad, can it?
Second Sight are distributing Basket Case – The Trilogy on DVD and Blu-ray. Extras include:
An introduction to the film by the director (2.5 mins)
In search of Hotel Broslin (15.5 mins) – The director and a friend go looking around, revisiting some of the locations that joined up to create the hotel, plus some other locations from the film, including Club Hellfire, which was also used in the film Cruising with Al Pacino..
What’s in the basket? (88 mins) – A feature-length documentary about the making of the Basket Case films. We find out that the original film cost just $35,000 to make, but did well on 42nd Street playing for over four years at the Waverly cinema. Director Henenlotter is good value and talks candidly about his experiences on all three films. He also teases that he’s currently writing Basket Case 4 after finally finding the right story about the twins to tell. I hope it gets made…
Grisly Graham Humphreys (19 mins) – The film poster artist talks about his career, and especially about his work with Palace Pictures designing posters for the likes of The Evil Dead, and his later creations for movies like Nightmare on Elm Street and Night of the Creeps.
Outtakes (6 mins) – Mainly lots of people gurning for the camera. This is silent footage.
Trailers (2.5 mins) and radio spots (2 mins) – It’s interesting to hear the different ways they had of selling the films.
Photo Galleries – full of behind the scenes shots (4.5 mins)
Production stills (2.5 mins)