Friday, 22 October 2010

Basket Case (1982)

"The tenant in room 7 is very small, very twisted and very mad"

Made nearly thirty years ago and shot in and around the renowned Times Square, New York on a shoestring budget of $35,000, Basket Case – despite looking dated and cheap – manages to overcome those obstacles by virtue of its sheer absurdity and outrageousness. If anything, the film seems quite at home amongst the seedy setting of grindhouse cinemas, low rent hotels and the human flotsam that inhabited those environments.

In the most simplistic of terms, Basket Case is a tale of a boy and his brother. Or rather, a tale of one particular boy, Duane Bradley who was born with a twin brother (Belial) attached to the right side of his lower torso. Considered a freak by the boys’ father, who blames Belial for his wife’s death during childbirth, Belial is surgically removed from Duane’s side by a pair of quack doctors and a veterinary surgeon at the age of twelve and is thrown out with the trash post-surgery. After being rescued by Duane and nursed back to health, Belial shares a telepathic link with his brother, along with a desire to exact a frequently messy and bloody revenge upon those involved in their separation.

Keeping it in the family, their first victim is their less than doting dad who is cut in two by a band saw when investigating strange noises in the basement! Following the death of their father, the boys are taken in by a matronly aunt who cares for them during their adolescence. After the passing away of their aunt, the boys head out to the bright lights of the big city to conclude their retribution and all goes according to plan until Duane becomes smitten with doctor’s receptionist Sharon.

Despite attempts to deter Sharon from continuing with their blossoming relationship – at one point Duane screams at her “It’ll never work” and “I don’t want him killing you” – matters develop, eventually forcing Belial to take matters into his own hands. In a last ditch attempt to repair the increasingly fractious brotherly bond, Belial rapes and murders Sharon.

Although Belial means well in his own twisted little way, Duane unsurprisingly fails to see the potential benefits of his brother’s actions and after a struggle in their hovel of a hotel room, both fall to their death from the window. Or do they?

“What’s in the basket?” is the question on everybody’s lips throughout Basket Case. The answer is the burger-chomping, inarticulate and feral creature that is Belial. Despite his human origins, Belial is all beast. His razor teeth and talon like nails/claws make swift work of those responsible for his enforced separation from Duane and subtlety is certainly not one of Belial’s stronger points. Within the opening five minutes Dr Lifflander has huge gauges ripped through his face. Dr Needleman is next and is torn apart at the waist and finally Dr Kutter ends up with a face full of scalpels, one of the most recognisable images from the film.

A life long fan of low budget exploitation movies, Basket Case saw director Frank Henenlotter pinning his influences clearly to his sleeve, the film being inspired by and dedicated to the splatter movies of Herschell Gordon Lewis. Kevin Van Hentenryck’s vacant portrayal of Duane shows all the flair of a Lewis stalwart (i.e.; not much) and I’m in no doubt he would have carved himself a niche as an exploitation icon had Basket Case been made fifteen years or so earlier.

Henenlotter’s close relationship with Something Weird Video’s Mike Vraney resulted in the latter’s company issuing what remains the definitive presentation of Basket Case on home video, boasting a new film-to-tape transfer of the film, audio commentary from Henenlotter, producer Edgar Ievins and actress Beverley Bonner, out-takes and behind the scene footage, art gallery, never before seen photographs, numerous trailers, television spots, radio commercials and more! Several lacklustre sequels have done nothing to damage the reputation or dilute the effectiveness of Basket Case and the film stands firm as a classic of low budget, splatter cinema and remains a testament to the warped vision of Frank Henenlotter.

Rob Bewick

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