"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*)