BASKET CASE **** USA 1981 85 mins Dir: Frank Henenlotter.
Frank Henenlotter crafted a suitably gaudy love letter to Herschell Gordon Lewis – to whom the film is dedicated – for his feature debut, cannily combining splatter, tragedy and pastiche. The genuinely peculiar Kevin Van Hentenryck is perfectly cast as Duane, a lonely guy with big hair who stops at a very seedy Times Square hotel to take revenge on the surgeons who separated him from his mutant, telepathic, basket-dwelling Siamese twin Belial. Making a virtue of his own low production values, Henenlotter was able to channel his affection for the genre into a movie that gently sends up horror tropes without patronising or ridiculing them, while the central bond between Duane and Belial is admirably played for sincere pathos.
The oddball characters and often amateurish ac ting add to the film’s distinctive, unashamedly tacky early-80’s Noo Yawk ambience, and Belial (fleetingly represented via stop motion animation in a couple of scenes) is a truly memorable character, as pitiful as he is revolting. One of the silliest victims of rampant BBFC censorship in the 80’s, BASKET CASE obviously generated unease at the censors’ office and fear of copycat crime amongst the mutant Siamese twin community. Until its DVD re-release in 1999, the movie was shorn of most of its gore in the UK, including the startling demise of the heinous Dr Kutter, who gets a face-full of surgical instruments.
BASKET CASE 2 **** USA 1990 90 mins Dir : Frank Henenlotter.
Like a lot of delayed sequels, Henenlotter’s return to the basket has to cheat its way out of its predecessor’s downbeat ending to justify its existence. Belial and Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck) survived the plummet from the Times Square hotel and are now celebrities thanks to considerable TV coverage of those events. They take refuge at the Staten Island house of friendly Annie Ross, her granddaughter (Heather Rattray) and the assortment of rubbery “freaks” to whom they have given shelter. “Ripping the faces off people may not be in your best interests” asserts the very amusing Ross during one of her therapy sessions with Belial in this breezy, imaginative sequel which wittily casts the veteran singer-actress as a missionary for “freaks” rights, protecting her extended family from the outsiders intent on exploiting it. Flashbacks to BASKET CASE include the gory separation surgery that started the whole thing, though Part 2 largely forsakes splatter, settling into a light groove (with Gabe Bartalos providing an inventive array of puppetry, goofy and grotesque) before unleashing final-act mayhem. If the first hour is a relatively well behaved light comedy, an escalating sense of madness is apparent, peaking with a characteristically grotesque Henenlotter sex scene as Belial and his soul-mate “Eve” consummate their relationship in a particularly icky fashion. The movie pays homage to Tod Browning’s seminal FREAKS during a climactic freak-frenzy attack on a deserving female tabloid reporter, before a downbeat turn of events pays off with a sublime, insane punchline as Duane finally loses it, his crazy cackle lasting into the end credits : “We’re together again!!”
BASKET CASE 3 THE PROGENY *** USA 1991 85 mins Dir: Frank Henenlotter.
Like BASKET CASE 2, this sequel immediately retracts the shock end of its predecessor: after a recap, we cut to Duane in a padded cell a few months later, Granny Ruth (the returning Annie Ross) having separated him from Belial again after his climactic actions in PART 2. Ruth, Duane and her crew of “unique individuals” embark on a road trip to Georgia to ensure a smooth delivery for Eve, heavily pregnant with Belial’s spawn. Duane falls for the comely Tina Louise Hilbert, who turns into a whip-cracking dominatrix when aroused, while Ross gets to host a rousing, full-blown musical number on a school bus. Although padded with flashback footage to both previous films, the third BASKET CASE still benefits from Henenlotter’s eye for nutty sight gags and quirky side-characters: check out the “freak” who blows his multiple noses during Eve’s funeral. It’s episodic and scrappy, but some of the throwaway gags hit home: highlights include Belial’s sex-dream fantasy of being attended to by Shakespeare-quoting, topless Playboy twins and an extended disgusting / funny birth scene yielding a dozen gnashing cute / ugly baby Belials. Any scenes with the mutant babies (Henenlotter surely missed a trick with merchandising here) immediately recall the Mogwai in GREMLINS, as does a fast-food joint freak invasion, where original BASKET CASE star Beverly Bonner cameos as a server. Beset by production problems – and somewhat disowned by Henenlotter – the movie pays off with a cartoonishly gruesome police station massacre but falls flat in a climax featuring Belial in a Ripley-style power-loader. The final scene at least ends the series on a positive note, as Ruth and co invade an exploitative talk show (“Freaks and the Women Who Love Them!”) before one final, defiant, straight to camera speech.
Reviews by Steven West