Monday, 28 March 2016

BASKET CASE



Directed by Frank Henenlotter, Starring: Kevin Van Hentenryck. Horror, US, 1982, Cert 18.

"What's in the basket?"
Re-released in the UK in a 3-disc Blu-ray set on 14th March 2016 by Second Sight - 'Basket Case - The Trilogy'


Dedicated to gore pioneer Herschell Gordon Lewis, Frank Henenlotter’s modest little gritty 16mm creature feature made an indelible mark when it debuted back in 1982. Famed as much for how it captured the seediness of the Big Apple and Times Square back then as it was for its gruesome basket-dwelling monster, it helped propel Henenlotter into a career of memorable gore and exploitation classics such as BRAIN DAMAGE, FRANKENHOOKER and BAD BIOLOGY as well as 2 sequels to the original BASKET CASE. 


Originally blown up from its 16mm origins, the first instalment of the Bradley Brothers trials and tribulations is presented here in its original 1.33:11 ratio (and looks all the better for it). Duane Bradley checks into the sleazy Hotel Broslin in New York carrying a wicker basket containing his former Siamese twin Belial. Having been separated from his brother at a young age via a crude backstreet operation – the siblings are on a revenge mission to track down those original surgeons and return the favour by wreaking their own form of butchery upon them at the clawed hands of Belial.
Even director Henenlotter freely admits the whole premise was a preposterous one, and no one was more surprised than him when it became an overnight hit. Yet in hindsight it’s not hard to see why it struck a chord with horror and sleaze connoisseurs. The vivid and rich depiction of the seediness of Times Square, populated with a garishly memorable rogues gallery of sassy prostitutes, peeping toms, drug dealers, dodgy medical quacks and drunks is enough to draw you in alone, even before you eventually find out exactly what is in that basket. Kevin Van Hentenryck is the sympathetic ‘normal’ big brother, and Van Hentenryck’s ‘Duane’ delivers a nicely judged combination of fresh faced innocence and psychotic obsession. 

The lumpen blob of twisted flesh that is Belial is crudely brought to life by low-budget puppetry and stop-motion – but the rawness just adds to its charm. The gory attacks on the doctors are gleefully brutal and rightly earned it valuable coverage in the pages of ‘Fangoria’. I remember showing it to my long-suffering mum when we got a video recorder back in the 80’s – she never forgot the film and would often quote: “What’s in the basket?” whenever she was reminded of those times. 
****(out of 5*) 
Paul Worts

BASKET CASE 2



Directed by Frank Henenlotter, Starring: Kevin Van Hentenryck, Annie Ross. Horror, US, 1990, Cert 18.

Re-released in the UK in a 3-disc Blu-ray set on 14th March 2016 by Second Sight.
 

“I understand your pain, Belial, but ripping the faces off people may not be in your best interest”.

Picking up right where the original left off – with the Bradley Brothers dangling from the neon sign of the Hotel Broslin before plunging to the sidewalk in an apparently fatal impact – it turns out that both survived the fall and are recovering in the city hospital. The subject of tabloid notoriety, they are rescued and taken in by their aunt, Granny Ruth who runs a commune on Staten island for ‘unique individuals’. Nicknamed ‘Dr Freak’ Granny Ruth (the wonderful veteran actress Annie Ross) provides safe haven for a veritable smorgasbord of freaks with her daughter Susan. Love is very much in the air for both brothers – Duane with Susan – with whom he hopes to escape into the sunset with – and Belial, who finds his soul mate in ‘Eve’. But those pesky reporters are hot on the infamous Bradley twin’s heels – and a bloodied showdown is guaranteed.

Made some 8 years after the original – it was always going to be a tough ask for Henenlotter to just pick up the narrative with such a chronological gap. Apart from Duane having an overnight haircut, the film itself is slicker and technically more proficient, but it’s softer edge, particularly the shift in relocating to Staten Island – is jarring if you approach it straight after its grimy predecessor. 

Gabe Bartalos’ creature make-ups are fabulous, and Annie Ross’ Granny Ruth steals the film. The standout scene features a photographer stumbling upon the attic full of ‘unique individuals’ who are lit by the flashes from his camera. Whilst the whole film is clearly a homage to Tod Browning’s FREAKS, this scene in particular conjures up the nightmarish sequence in the thunderstorm when the ‘freaks’ crawl and stalk through the rain and mud whilst periodically lit by bursts of lightning. 
***(OUT OF 5*)

Paul Worts

BASKET CASE 3



Directed by Frank Henenlotter, Starring: Kevin Van Hentenryck, Annie Ross. Horror, US, 1991, Cert 18.

Re-released in the UK in a 3-disc Blu-ray set on 14th March 2016 by Second Sight.
 

“We’re ruling out a caesarean – we can’t open her up coz we’re not certain how she’s put together”.
 
Opening with the last 5 minutes from BASKET CASE 2 (so the opening shot is of Belial and Eve copulating) this third instalment shifts locations again as we head out to Georgia so that heavily pregnant Eve can give birth to multiple offspring under the supervision of Uncle Hal and ‘Little Hal’. Unfortunately a couple of rookie deputy sheriffs kidnap Belial’s mini brood of monsters resulting in a police station massacre as daddy comes a calling.

More whimsical than part 2, with the violence more cartoon-like in its execution, the conclusion to the trilogy is played more for humour, and whilst it’s scattergun approach is a bit hit and miss, there’s still an undeniable sense of fun to be had watching Belial twist and tear off the faces of the local law enforcement. This scene is the standout moment, although the sequence where Eve gives birth to multiple baby Belials is also worthy of mention. 
***(OUT OF 5*)

Paul Worts