Director: Frank Henenlotter
Starring: Kevin VanHentenryck, Terri Susan Smith and Beverly Bonner
Country: USA
Running Time: 91 min
Year: 1982

I’m no stranger to the films of Frank Henenlotter. Earlier this year, I even covered his film Bad Biology for this very site (which you can read here) and while I wasn’t huge on that particular film, I’ve practically loved every other feature of his that I’ve seen. When Arrow Video announced that they were bringing his directorial debut not only to Blu-ray in the UK, but also to UHD for the first time, I knew I had to request a screener so I could revisit one of the man’s best features. 

Basket Case was filmed in 1981 by then unknown filmmaker Frank Henenlotter for a whopping $35,000 on 16mm, with a cast and crew mostly composed of his friends and when it was officially released in 1982, almost nobody knew about it. Thanks to the help of critic and horror legend Joe Bob Briggs, the film saw success as a midnight movie and played across indie theatres for years based on word of mouth for how grotesque and violent the film was, which is kind of fascinating given how comedic the film is. 

The film follows Duane Bradley (played by Kevin VanHentenryck), a mysterious man who checks into a hotel carrying one thing, a basket. What’s in the basket, you might be asking? Well, it’s his conjoined twin Belial, or ex-conjoined twin, as doctors separated the pair at birth and Belial has always held contempt for the doctors who performed the surgery. It’s a deeply bizarre premise, but when you’re watching a Frank Henenlotter film, that’s a given. While the film was created for virtually no money, the sheer passion on display is so infectiously entertaining that the odd cheap visual effect doesn’t detract from the enjoyment whatsoever. 

Henenlotter’s trademark sense of humour is something that won’t be for everyone, but I absolutely love it and revisiting the film had me laughing and wincing just as much as I did on my first viewing. There’s some pretty outrageous violence in the film that’s far from shocking by today’s standards of I Saw the Devil’s or any New French Extremity film on display, but what the film lacks in genuine shocks, it makes up for in sleaze. In an interview included in this release, Joe Bob Briggs refers to the film as the first great “exploitation parody” film and when you’re watching, you can completely see what he means. It’s satirical, even with the title of basket case being a fun double entendre, while still retaining the nudity and violence that you’d expect from a low-budget horror film from this era.

What makes Basket Case stand apart from your typical sleazy exploitation film is the humour and the passion on display. The film’s absolutely hilarious, with Belial’s design being utterly outrageous, and the fact that every single frame feels like the cast and crew are having the best time of their lives filming this. Henenlotter’s work would lead to influence many films too, with James Wan’s recent masterpiece Malignant borrowing narrative elements for its phenomenal third act reveal, and Yorgos Lanthimos’ Oscar darling Poor Things feeling like a contemporary take on Henenlotter’s Frankenhooker, so revisiting his debut was even more of a treat this time around to notice how ahead of the curve Frank was in many ways.

Will Basket Case be for everybody? Not really. It’s rough around the edges by design, there’s some questionable acting from some side characters and some people won’t vibe with the sense of humour the film has, which could make the film a frustrating watch for some. However, if you like your films goofy, silly and sleazy, Basket Case will absolutely be up your alley. 

I had an absolute blast revisting the film, if it wasn’t obvious throughout my review. It’s arguably one of the most charming debut features ever made, and while it’s hard to consider the film perfect due to its rugged nature, the commitment to creating a truly insane, gonzo piece of genre filmmaking has to be commended. If you somehow haven’t seen the insanity that is Basket Case and it sounds even slightly interesting to you, do yourself a favour and check it out immediately!

Film:

Basket Case released on the 29th April on Limited Edition UHD and Blu-ray for the first time in the UK via Arrow Video. The disc contains a 4K restoration from the 16mm negative by the Museum of Modern Arts, with Dolby Vision and HDR10 included based on what your device supports. I viewed the film in Dolby Vision and the transfer is pretty solid, although there’s only so much you can do with the 16mm source, but the detail is impressive nonetheless. Black levels are solid, bitrates are high and the Dolby Vision grade makes Basket Case look the best it’s ever looked, and probably ever going to look on home video.  The original English LPCM 1.0 track sounds great, with optional English HoH subtitles included too, so there’s no complaints on the audio side of things. Overall, it’s a nice improvement over an already impressive Blu-ray release. The following extras are included: 

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS

  • 4K restoration from the original 16mm negative by MoMA
  • 4K (2160p) UHD Blu-ray presentation in Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible)
  • Original uncompressed PCM mono audio
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Audio commentary with writer/director Frank Henenlotter and star Kevin VanHentenryck
  • Archival audio commentary with Frank Henenlotter, producer Edgar Ievins, actor Beverly Bonner and filmmaker Scooter McRae
  • Basket Case 3-1/2: An Interview with Duane Bradley – short film by Frank Henenlotter
  • Me and the Bradley Boys – interview with actor Kevin VanHentenryck
  • A Brief Interview with Director Frank Henenlotter – a strange 2017 interview with the director
  • Seeing Double: The Basket Case Twins – interview with actors Florence and Maryellen Schultz
  • Blood, Basket and Beyond – interview with actor Beverly Bonner
  • The Latvian Connection – featurette including interviews with producer Edgar Ievins, casting person/actor Ilze Balodis, associate producer/special effects artist Ugis Nigals and Belial performer Kika Nigals
  • Belial Goes to the Drive-In – interview with film critic Joe Bob Briggs
  • Basket Case at MoMA – footage from the 2017 restoration premiere
  • What’s in the Basket? – feature-length documentary covering the three films in the Basket Case series
  • In Search of the Hotel Broslin – archival location featurette
  • The Frisson of Fission: Basket Case, Conjoined Twins, and ‘Freaks’ in Cinema – video essay by Travis Crawford
  • Slash of the Knife (1976, 30 mins) – short made by Frank Henenlotter featuring many of the same actors from Basket Case, including optional audio commentary with Frank Henenlotter and playwright Mike Bencivenga
  • Basket Case and Slash of the Knife outtakes
  • Belial’s Dream (2017, 5 mins) – animated short by filmmaker Robert Morgan
  • Extensive image galleries
  • Trailers, TV & radio spots
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sara Deck
  • Double-sided fold-out poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sara Deck
  • Collector’s booklet featuring writing on the film by Michael Gingold and a Basket Case comic strip by artist Martin Trafford

The first audio commentary included is from Arrow’s previous Blu-ray release and it’s with Frank Henenlotter and star Kevin VanHentenryck. It’s a good listen and what you’d expect from a retrospective commentary track, the pair have a blast recounting the shoot and more through this track, although I prefer the energy of the second track included on this release a little more.

The second audio commentary is an archival track from 2001 with Frank Henenlotter, Edgar Ievins, Beverly Bonner and Scooter McRae and it’s another fun track. The group reminisce about the film twenty years after filming it and seem to have a great time doing so. 

Basket Case 3-1/2: An Interview with Duane Bradley is the first short film included on this disc directed by Frank Henenlotter and it runs for 8 and a half minutes. It’s a short, silly continuation of the story in the trilogy and reunites Henenlotter with Duane himself, Kevin VanHentenryrck. It’s nothing mind-blowing, but it’s still a fun time seeing Henenlotter return to the Basket Case universe.

Me and the Bradley Boys is an archival interview with actor Kevin VanHentenryck, conducted by Frank Henenlotter and it runs for sixteen and a half minutes. Kevin discusses his working relationship with Henenlotter, beginning with Slash of the Knife (which is included on this disc) and the three Basket Case films (or three and a half, including the short film above) and it’s a fun watch. VanHentenryck is well spoken, delightful to listen to and offers my favourite interview on the entire disc. A must watch.

A Brief Interview with Director Frank Henenlotter is a peculiar faux interview from 2017 with a person pretending to be Henenlotter that runs for four minutes. It’s silly, but amusing. 

Seeing Double: The Basket Case Twins is an archival interview with Florence and Maryellen Schultz, who play the twin nurses in the film. It runs for nine minutes and it’s a pretty fun interview. The pair knew Henenlotter before he made Basket Case and recount some fun stories of being at his house in their early years as he’d show them films like Bride of Frankenstein and The Wolf Man, as well as the shoot of Basket Case. It’s a delightful interview.

Blood, Basket and Beyond is an archival interview with actor Beverly Bonner that runs for six minutes. She talks about her past, working with Divine on Women Behind Bars, which is how she met Henenlotter and how he mentioned that he wanted to cast her in a film, which she didn’t believe initially. He ended up casting her in every one of his films. She has nothing but great things to say about Frank, and talks about some of the difficulties making the film and some continuity issues that are on display in the film. It’s a fun, charming interview.

The Latvian Connection is an archival making of featurette from Arrow’s prior release, which includes interviews with producer Edgar Ievins, casting person/actor Ilze Balodis, associate producer/special effects artist Ugis Nigals and Belial performer Kika Nigals. It runs for twenty seven minutes and while there’s a longer making-of documentary included on the disc later, this piece is still worth a watch. The interviewees touch on Frank’s love for horror cinema and discuss the production of Basket Case. 

Belial Goes to the Drive-In is an archival interview with Joe Bob Briggs that runs for seven minutes. Briggs is a delight as always and he recounts his first time viewing the film at the Cannes Film Festival (yes, really) and he refers to it as the first great “exploitation parody” film. It’s another fun interview that’s worth a watch for fans of Briggs. 

Basket Case at MoMA is a Q&A from the 2017 restoration premiere at the Museum of Modern Art with Henelotter, VanHentenryck, Beverly Bonner, Maryellen & Florence Schultz and Ugis Nigals that runs for thirty seven minutes. It’s a fun Q&A and seeing most of the cast and crew present was delightful to see all of these years later.

What’s in the Basket? Is an archival 78 minute documentary produced by Second Sight Films which covers the entire Basket Case trilogy. Considering that Second Sight’s trilogy Blu-ray is now out of print, it’s great to see this ported over from Arrow’s US Blu-ray release and it’s probably the extra that’ll be remembered from this disc. There’s interviews with all of the key figures, Henenlotter, VanHentenryck, Beverly Bonner, Kevin Haney and even fellow exploitation filmmaker James Glickenhaus. There’s great anecdotes throughout, including how Henenlotter almost made a film with frequent John Waters collaborator Divine, as well as how make-up artist John Caglione Jr. (who worked on Basket Case) ended up getting nominated for an Academy Award in 2008 for The Dark Knight. It’s a great retrospective piece that’ll please fans, was a delight to watch and only made me more interested in checking out the Basket Case sequels! 

In Search of the Hotel Broslin is an archival location featurette from 2001 with Henenlotter and R.A. The Rugged Man, which follows the pair going to the locations where the hotel sequences in the film were shot. It’s relatively low quality but it’s a fun retrospective piece and will surely entertain fans of the film. 

The Frisson of Fission: Basket Case, Conjoined Twins, and ‘Freaks’ in Cinema is a 23 minute video essay by Travis Crawford, included on Arrow’s prior release of Basket Case which involves Crawford exploring deformed people in cinema and it’s a fascinating piece. 

Slash of the Knife is a 1976 short film by Frank Henenlotter that’s thirty minutes long, containing many cast members from Basket Case. It’s the first thing he ever directed, it’s rarely seen (you can’t find it anywhere other than this Arrow release) and it’s classic Henenlotter through and through. With some filmmakers, their early shorts feel so vastly different to the style they’ll later go on to inhabit, but this blends sleaze, comedy and horror perfectly, following a man whose foreskin was sewn back on at a young age and the antics he gets up to. It feels super inspired by John Waters’ early work, which makes sense given when it was shot and the restoration included on this disc is great! Gross, hilarious and entertaining, Slash of the Knife is absolutely worth checking out. An optional audio commentary for Slash of the Knife with Henenlotter and Mike Bencivenga is included too.

Belial’s Dream is a five minute animated short by filmmaker Robert Morgan, director of the recent horror film Stopmotion and is one of the most fascinating inclusions on the disc. It’s grotesquely sexual in a way I wasn’t anticipating and is fairly disturbing, feeling closer to a David Lynch short film than something that Henenlotter would direct. It’s impressive, bizarre and well worth a watch.

Making Belial’s Dream is two minutes long and highlights how the short film was created. 

Six minutes of outtakes from Basket Case are included, as well as five minutes of outtakes from Slash of the Knife. 

Five image galleries are included, highlighting promotional stills, behind the scenes images, ephemera, advertisements and home video releases.

Three trailers, a TV spot and two radio spots are also included.

I wasn’t provided with the slipcover, poster or collector’s booklet, unfortunately but I assume they’re up to Arrow’s usual high quality standards.

Arrow’s UHD release of Basket Case doesn’t house any new bonus features, but it ports over everything from its previous US-only Blu-ray release of the film and everything included is phenomenal. The team went above and beyond making sure that this release was packed to the brim with audio commentaries, interviews, making-of featurettes, feature-length documentaries, short films and all of the promotional materials that any fan of Basket Case could ever ask for. It’s the definitive release and even 6 years on from their Blu-ray release, holds up as one of the most jam-packed Arrow discs ever. An instant recommendation for fans of Henenlotter or great comedy-horror films. 

Disc/Packaging:

Basket Case is also available on ARROW from 30th April.

https://www.arrow-player.com/

 

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