Monday 28 March 2016

BASKET CASE 3 (1991)

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

“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

This review was first published FrightFest.


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

"What's in the basket?"

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 (1990)

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

“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

Sunday 13 March 2016


Directed by Stuart Gordon, Starring: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton. Horror, US, 1985, 86mins, Cert 18.

(Very) loosely based on H.P. Lovecraft’s ‘Herbert West – Reanimator’, director Stuart Gordon’s 1985 splatter fest burst upon the genre in much the same way as the bone saw emerged from the chest of one of Jeffrey Combs’ reanimated corpses. It’s rejuvenating injection of gore and guffaws, courtesy of Herbert West’s luminous syringes, delivered a Frankenstein-like tale with a deliciously lurid Hammer-like take, topped off with gross-out make-up effects and a naked Barbara Crampton. 
I first recall watching the film on an Entertainment in Video VHS rental tape back in those halcyon days in the 80’s when every trip to the local video store represented a voyage of disreputable discovery and wobbly tracking. Even though it was shorn of nearly 2 minutes including most of Barbara Crampton being fondled on the slab by the severed head (and mind-controlled body) of David Gale’s Dr Hill, it still stood out from the crowd of relatively tame and tired slashers on offer at the time. 

Therefore it’s a delight to be able to view the film now in all its guts and gory glory in a superb restoration which for the first time also includes an ‘integral’ version which restores all the extra talky bits and cut scene sub-plots trimmed at the time of release to tighten pacing. I still prefer the ‘Unrated’ 86 minute cut – but it’s a treat for any completist to be able to view the film with all the scenes intact, in context.

What does remain constant in whichever version you view is the extraordinarily mesmeric performance of Jeffrey Combs as the madly obsessed ‘re-animator’. No one can break a pencil with such concentrated intensity as Combs, and his performance as Herbert West acts as a lightning rod conducting the increasingly manic and maniacal mayhem in the Miskatonic University morgue. Both Bruce Abbot and Barbara Crampton provide sterling support work – with Crampton really putting herself out on a limb during the notorious slab scene – and David Gale’s performance as a severed head in a tray of blood plasma is memorably grotesque. 

Technically, Stuart Gordon’s debut feature direction is surprisingly assured, and he is ably assisted by Mac Ahlberg’s efficient camerawork and Richard Band’s infectiously funky re-scoring of Bernard Hermann’s strings. And of course the practical make-up effects are to die for in their unrestrained gooey bloodied ickiness. 

Gordon went on to memorably plunder H. P. Lovecraft once again the following year with FROM BEYOND, bringing along with him both Combs and Crampton for the ride, but his subsequent body of work ever since has never managed to eclipse the richly deserved affectionate notoriety of his first feature. 

****(OUT OF 5*)

Paul Worts

This review was first published by FrightFest.

Monday 7 March 2016


Directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, Starring: Béatrice Dalle, Anne Marivin, Francis Renaud. Horror, France, 2014, 84mins, Cert 18.

Three young teen boys truant from school on the last afternoon of term in order to avoid detention. Whilst exploring an abandoned film studio on the outskirts of town, they stumble upon a kidnapping and incur the wrath of the kidnapper who orders his disfigured son to hunt them down.

Writer/director duo Bustillo and Maury’s Gallic homage to the slasher genre opens with a shockingly grim pre-credit segment featuring their talismanic actress Béatrice Dalle that inevitably recalls their 2007 debut INSIDE (À l'intérieur). Suffice to say before the opening title card flashes up there is bloodied trauma visited upon persons young, old, and unborn.

But then there’s a wild tonal shift (the first of several) into almost STAND BY ME territory as we’re introduced to the three teen scallywags who set off into the countryside to explore the Blackwoods film studios (committing casual arson on the way) and unwittingly stirring up a hornets’ nest of peril for themselves and their respective family’s. 

The uneven tone of the piece extends over into the onscreen depictions of violence. After the pre-credit explicitness, there’s a surprisingly occasional coyness to the signposted demises of several adult characters – but this is then contrasted with a protracted torturous death (I’ll just say plaster cast and leave it there) and a rousingly crowd-pleasing Grand Guignol showdown. Audience expectation is also often subverted when the obvious jump-scare pay-offs are denied, leaving the viewer dangling having been force-fed innumerable ‘stinger’ jolts ever since Brian De Palma had Carrie White’s hand grab Amy Irving out of her grave in CARRIE (1976).

The pleasure of the film lies in mentally tick-boxing the numerous nods to the iconography and tropes of the American slasher film filtered through the French sensibility of Bustillo and Maury. The first image we see is of a jack-o-lantern followed by a band of costumed trick-or-treaters lulling us into a familiar parade of Halloween Americana. But this iconographic comfort blanket is soon pulled out from under the viewer – and it’s clear we’re most certainly not in Kansas Toto.

Tobe Hooper seems to have been a significant influence – the abandoned subterranean living quarters festooned with fairy lights recalls THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2’s carnival lair, whilst the father/son manhunt dynamic (or in this case boy-hunt) is straight out of Hooper’s THE FUNHOUSE. There’s also a full-blown bow to WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979), and iconography from MY BLOODY VALENTINE and THE PROWLER to name but a couple.

The run-down decrepit film studio with its Wild West store fronts and underground graveyard sets could be read as a metaphor for the filmmakers’ intention to tear up the traditional tired genre conventions and deliver a fresh spin on well-worn constructs. It’s an uneven but thoroughly entertaining ghost train ride which occasionally veers off into some very dark corners before letting you return to the relative safety of the daylight (just don’t look too closely over your shoulder as you exit). 

****(out of 5*)
Paul Worts

This review was originally published on the FrightFest website.