Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Guest Review: BASKET CASE

Basket Case – Unrated Director’s Cut Laserdisc
Image Entertainment (Something Weird Video later released the DVD/Blu-ray)
Directed by Frank Henenlotter
91 Minutes

There's something I've been dying to ask you. What's in the basket? “
“My brother.”

basket1-copy.jpg (500×764)

BASKET CASE is a Jekyll and Hyde like nightmare set in seedy early 80’s New York. It is the tale of two brothers, Duane (played by the wonderful Kevin Van Hentenryck) and Belial, on their quest for revenge and maybe even a little love as well. It’s a fun, sometimes disturbing, film that really stands out in both surprising ingenuity and playfulness.

BASKET CASE starts off with the murder of Dr. Lifflander, a doctor who you find out later helped separate Siamese twins Duane and Belial. Through Lifflander’s murder, the brothers find the names of the other two doctors who performed the operation, a Dr. H. Needleman and a Dr. Kutter. Watching the movie again I couldn’t help notice their names, Needleman was the anesthesiologist and Kutter was the one actually performing the surgery (so clever!). The brothers end up traveling to New York City in order to exact their revenge. They end up staying at the wonderfully weird Hotel Broslin (which unfortunately doesn’t really exist). Hotel Broslin is home to some truly strange people like Casey the loveable prostitute and the Hotel Manager who if this was a British film would be played by Bob Hoskins of Super Mario Bros. fame. Keep an eye out for the guy in the trench coat and cap who somehow manages to weasel his way into various shots. What I really love about this movie is that you can tell how much writer/director Frank Henenlotter loves seedy New York City. He’s loaded this movie with shots of Times Square filled with porno and grindhouse theatres. He’s got prostitutes, punks, and drug dealers everywhere in the movie. I could get a sense that he was in awe of this dangerous and sometimes exciting world that used to be NYC.

Using Lifflander’s notes they find Needleman and decide to drop by for an unscheduled appointment. At his office Duane meets Sharon, Needleman’s receptionist who loves New York a little too much and has the uncanny talent of mimicking the sound of a broken typewriter. The two hit it off but revenge comes first. Needleman’s death is the best one in the film. After barricading himself in his office he is promptly greeted by Belial, which just so happens to be the first time in the film the viewers are shown Belial in all his beastly glory. Belial quickly tears the good doctor’s face off and then rips him in half. The special effects in this sequence are simple but very effective. It’s all held together by the decent lighting and Needleman’s acting which compared to Kutter’s death later on is worthy of an Oscar. Kutter’s death is over the top and pulled me right out of the magic of this film. Her acting was terrible and the scaples in her face just didn’t make sense to me. It was almost cartoon like. Somehow this scene just felt more ridiculous than the rest of the already ridiculous film.

Sandwiched between these deaths, Henenlotter offers us a little romance so to speak. Duane gets his first kiss with the receptionist, which prompts Belial to go Claymation bezerk in one of the most hilarious bits of the movie. Truly a sight to behold. After yet another murder the receptionist makes one more pass at Duane forcing us to watch one of the more awkward boob touching scenes captured on film. All this causes Belial to go berserk yet again and ruins his brother’s first and possibly only chance to bang a lady. There’s also a scene where Belial sneaks into Casey the Prostitute’s apartment, feels her up then steals her panties.

The film’s climax starts off simple enough: Duane dreaming that he’s running naked through the streets of New York, gets to the receptionist’s apartment and starts to bang her. Nothing wrong with that. Nothing could possibly go wrong. That’s a simple dream that everyone has every now and then. Except for the fact that it’s really his mutant brother that did all that and he was just seeing through his brother’s eyes. Duane rushes over to her apartment just in time to find that Belial raping her dead body somehow. It’s truly a disturbing scene. I applaud Henenlotter for taking it that far but man it still grosses me out every time I see it. The whole thing ends with them fighting, they throw themselves out the window and they both die. The sequels go on to pretend that they didn’t die and lived somehow but in my mind I like to imagine that the two sequels are just two “What If…?” comics.

What makes this movie stand out to me is Kevin Van Hentenryck. He brings this amazing boyishness and pure innocence to the role. He is the purist Jeckyll to Belial’s monsterous Hyde. The boob touching scene, when Belial pops out of the basket, Duane’s looks at his brother on the verge of tears and you can see the hatred and the disappointment in his eyes. It’s almost heart-breaking. Plus on top of it all he’s able to pull off a talking to no one scene with ease. Without his pure naïveté the film would fall flat and would wind up being just another monster killing spree flick.

Overall, this film deserves the cult status that it’s earned over the years. It’s just weird enough, just funny enough and just plain gross enough to be rewarded with the acclaim it’s received by genre fans. Henenlotter went on to make the demented Brain Damage, the tremendously fun and inventive Frankenhooker and the not so great Basket Case sequels before fading into obscurity for nearly a decade and a half. He’s made one not too great movie since but I’m still hoping he’s got enough creative juice in him for one more weird and wacky movie to round out his career.

Here comes the trivia:
-This was the first film for “Special Make-up Effects” guys John Caglione Jr. and Kevin Haney. Those two went on to do the special make-up effects for such films as C.H.U.D., Dick Tracy, Addams Family, Death Becomes Her, The Blob (’88) and A.I.
-When Duane checks into the Hotel Broslin he takes out a wad of cash. According to Frank Henenlotter, the film's director, this was the film's entire budget.
-During the shooting of Terri Susan Smith (the receptionist)'s death scene the crew became offended and walked out of the production. This would happen again during the director's next film Brain Damage.
- Most of the credits that appear on the end of the film are fake. The crew was very small and rather than repeat the same names over and over again they decided to just make up names.

Set Yourself Up: I’d make it a night for one and turn the lights down low for this one. If you are looking for something to eat and drink while watching this I’d recommend you cook up some hot wings (which are roughly the shape of Belial) and wash it down with an ice cold beer.

The Goods: The Laserdisc I watched didn’t have any special features but the DVD/Blu-ray by Something Weird Video has tons! It’s got pretty decent commentary by Henenlotter, Producer Edgar Ievins and Beverly Bonner (Casey the Prostitute), a couple behind the scenes type featurettes, trailers, etc. In either format the discs are really cheap which is a plus.

“BASKET CASE is the sickest movie I’ve ever seen!” – Rex Reed

-By Thomas Reinert

- Guest reviewer Tom Reinert is a horror / exploitation film geek extraordinaire in Minneapolis, MN and friend of the site

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