Kevin Van Hentenryck - Duane Bradley
Terri Susan Smith - Sharon
Beverly Bonner - Casey
Lloyd Pace - Dr. Harold Needleman
Diana Browne - Dr. Judith Kutter
Ruth Neuman - Aunt
Richard Pierce - Mr. Bradley
Robert Vogel - Hotel Manager
Genre - Horror/B-Movie/Cult/Creature Feature
Running Time - 91 Minutes
In my review for POLTERGEIST, I briefly talked about films I have had my readers/watchers request for me to review. I won't spoil those requests, but let's say that they're coming up pretty soon after holding off on them for so long. One of those films has eluded me for some reason since the 1980s, to the point where I don't think about it until someone mentions it to me in person, or through social networking. It's not that the film isn't memorable - by God, it certainly is - but it hadn't stayed on my radar due to other films taking precedence over it. Hell, I never even mentioned the film's writer/director on this blog ever, and he's one of the cooler cult filmmakers out there! The man I'm talking about is Frank Henenlotter and the film I'm discussing today is 1982's cult classic, BASKET CASE.
I first watched BASKET CASE during the VHS days in 1988 when I was seven-years-old. My uncle would borrow VHS tapes that were mostly horror based, including this film. Imagine being that age, watching this weird film about two brothers born siamese twins where one looks like "a squashed octopus". I had no idea what to think. HALLOWEEN at 4, THE FLY (1986) and FRIDAY THE 13TH at 5, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET at 6, and THE EXORCIST, PHANTASM, and BASKET CASE at 7 - yeah, I'm not mentally fucked in the head whatsoever! I watched a lot of weird shit when I was a kid, but it made me appreciate the different sides of cinema, especially in the horror/sci-fi genre. And for that, I am, and my psychiatrist, are eternally grateful.
Thanks to people requesting it lately and Netflix Instant Watch having it, I decided to watch BASKET CASE again after 23 years. And while watching, I realized that Henenlotter's cult classic is still as weird, crazy, and oddly charming as ever. But with an adult mind to grasp the concept of BASKET CASE better, I regret not watching it again before now. Let's look inside the basket and see why BASKET CASE is still an awesome one-of-a-kind cult success.
Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck) arrives in New York City after years of living upstate in Glen Falls. Bringing just a backpack and a wicker basket that's strangely locked, Duane arrives at Hotel Broslin - a run down location where Duane decides to rent a room. While the tenants of Hotel Broslin are curious about Duane's basket and the massive wad of cash he carries, Duane is equally intrigued by the bizarre tenants and their distinct personalities. After settling in, Duane goes out and buys large quantities of food. Returning, he opens the locked basket and pours the food in there, feeding whatever happens to be inside that basket. Duane even talks to it, even though the conversation appears one sided.
While the tenants believe that Duane is in NYC just to see the sights and enjoy the city for a short while, Duane has other reasons for staying there. We quickly learn that Duane has a large scar on the side of his body, apparently due to an operation where his Siamese twin, Belial [a deformed looking person-thing], was removed against their wishes. Their mother had died during childbirth, which their father (Richard Pierce) had blamed on Belial. Mr. Bradley had three doctors (Bill Freeman, Lloyd Pace, and Diana Browne) perform the operation when their caring and understanding aunt (Ruth Neuman) was away. However, Duane and Belial's connection never went away, using their anger to get revenge on those who tried to separate them.
Duane has decided to pay a visit to all three doctors involved in the operation, an idea presented by Belial. Wanting revenge, both Bradley brothers have decided to murder these individuals. However, Duane has become distracted and smitten with one of the doctor's secretaries, Sharon (Terri Susan Smith), which makes Belial jealous and extremely dangerous as a result.
For horror fans, BASKET CASE is one of those classic B-movie cult films that has managed to grow a great following and reputation for almost 30 years. It's beloved by the community and considered one of the best and weirdest films a horror fan could and should watch. For everyone else, BASKET CASE is just a bad film that has no redeeming value and only exists to disturb and disgust an audience of depraved and immoral individuals. Hell, why do you think I like it so much then? It's depraved. It's ridiculous. And it's one hell of a low budget flick.
Frank Henenlotter's screenplay won't win any awards, but it does what it needs to do, making it quite effective and deeper than what most people can imagine BASKET CASE to be. The highlight of the script are the characters of Duane and Belial. Both are pretty much in the forefront of BASKET CASE and rightfully so, making us sympathize with them even when they decide to murder people for various reasons. Duane is the normal looking one of the two, even though he struggles with hs individuality. He's decent looking, girls seem to like him, and appears to be a sane and level-headed individual. But underneath, Duane is pretty twisted. He goes along with whatever diabolical plan Belial has in mind. He has trouble dealing with the fact that Belial can talk to him telepathically and feel every thing he does, especially when it comes to girls. Duane is constantly on alert because of Belial in order to protect him. He comes across as awkward and weird, unsure of who he is as a person because he's too concerned with being a good brother.
As for Belial, he's pretty much the opposite. He looks like a creature instead of a normal looking human. He has no social skills. And the one true thing he knows is destroying people, things, and his slowly strained relationship with Duane. Belial doesn't utter a word, but his actions say quite a lot. In a way, Duane is nothing but Belial's lackey, doing whatever Belial tells him to do because Belial can read Duane's thoughts and use them against him. Belial's focus is strictly on revenge, not realizing how this effects Duane's chance to live a semi-normal existence. In later sequels, we would see how this further separates the two brothers. But it's quite evident that the bond of brotherly love can go so far, even if it is done a bit more subtle than expected.
The other characters, while not as deep as Duane or Belial, are each different in terms of personality and characteristics. Sharon is the quirky secretary who seems pretty eager to flirt with Duane and try to make things work with him. Unfortunately, Belial gets jealous of Sharon, feeling that she'll cause Duane to abandon him. While this may be true, Belial also wants to be with her as he has needs too. Casey is Duane's neighbor, who likes to indulge in drinks and sex. She easily befriends Duane, trying to figure him out and what he's hiding inside his basket. There's O'Donovan, who is a klepto. And the hotel manager is quite funny, always having to deal with the messes without understanding who or what caused them until right at the very end. They're all kooky and odd, which makes them just as freakish as the former Siamese brothers.
BASKET CASE continues to remain a film grasp on audiences due to a couple of themes the film presents. One is the brotherly bond between Duane and Belial. Love should be unconditional, and for a while, the bond of the Bradley brothers is very strong. Duane would do anything for Belial. He buys him food. Together they get revenge on those who have wronged them. And when one is upset, the other drops everything to support the other. In a lot of ways, Duane is more of a parent than his brother, taking care of him and carrying him around as if he were a child. This obviously puts a toll on both of them due to Duane wanting to find his individuality for a while, but the bond is there. It was instilled due to Belial being attached physically to Duane, and due to their aunt taking care of both and treating them and protecting them equally until she passed away. BASKET CASE is really a touching story of two brothers who would do anything for each other, even if most people see it as a horror story - and rightfully so.
Another them is the idea of what's considered normal in our society. While Henenlotter purposely puts us in the shoes of both Duane and Belial, we can also see Mr. Bradley's side of things as well. I don't have children, but I couldn't imagine how I would feel about my children being born Siamese twins, where one looks normal and the other a deformity. Would I still be able to love both of them equally? Would I treat the normal child better over the other one? Would I blame the deformity on my wife's death during childbirth, taking out my anger on him and wanting to separate him from my normal son so he can live a normal life? It's a really interesting perspective that I don't think the film stays on for enough time. Sure, Mr. Bradley was devious and pretty vicious around separating his two sons from each other. But you can sort of understand why he wanted it done. The morality issue comes into question here, but it's another angle where we could see that the bond between Duane and Belial isn't as healthy as those characters want to believe.
Plus, the interaction between all the characters are very humorous. They react in ways that are way over-the-top, which makes BASKET CASE more of a horror-comedy rather than a straight on horror flick. Plus the dialogue is very clever at times and helps make this film so bad that it's actually quite good. I really liked the script for this film.
The special effects in BASKET CASE date the film a lot, but they still maintain a certain level of charm modern CGI-filled flicks tend to lack. Belial is mostly a puppet that moves due to someone's hands inside it, or the actors playing off on it. Other times, Belial's movements use stop-motion technology that really spotlights its low budget origins. But I rather take this over CGI that makes Belial look animated rather than natural. And since this a horror film, there is a decent amount of blood and carnage here. The most memorable moment happens when Dr. Kutter has her face impaled by scalpels due to Belial attacking her. For a low budget film, BASKET CASE uses them well enough, even if it does put the film in a time capsule of sorts.
Frank Henenlotter's direction isn't all that stylish [mainly point and shoot], but it tells his story well. While we do see a bit of grain and fibers from filters every now and then on the film, BASKET CASE is visually sound. The movie does look amateurish in a way, but I kind of like how gritty and cheap it looks. The editing is fine. The pacing is excellent. The use of flashback, which can be trickier than it seems, is used very well. I liked that the visuals told the story of Duane and Belial's past rather than Duane telling people about it. The tension and suspense over the mystery of what was inside Duane's basket and the attacks that occurred because of this curiosity was done nicely. I think the best part of Henenlotter's visuals is that he captures 1982 New York City in such a way that it almost becomes a character in itself. I really love watching older films that showcase NYC. Compared to how clean it is now, NYC was a very gritty city back in the day - full of sex shops on Times Square and really shady characters [like hookers, drug dealers, and the homeless]. You wouldn't want to walk in a dark back alley back in the day [now there's more people out at night than they are during the day without much trouble]. It really sets a mood and atmosphere that makes BASKET CASE authentic and sleazy looking, even with the ridiculous premise headlining the film. I'm sure I remember his direction becoming better in his short career, but it's very good with what he had to work with.
The acting is amateur, but it enhances the entertainment value of the film for me. Kevin Van Hentenryck is probably the best actor in the film as Duane. He's so over-the-top and animated that he's oddly appealing. Plus I got to give props to a guy who tried not to let a demonic looking rubber puppet overshadow him. While I do think Belial is the most interesting character, Van Hentenryck is the most interesting actor. Terri Susan Smith gives Sharon a quirky demeanor that I find it funny and cute. I thought she had some decent chemistry with Van Hentenryck as well and her "love scene" with Belial is a memorable one. Beverly Bonner was cool as Casey. She tried to be the sex pot of the film in her sleazy, Studio 54-looking sort of way. Of the three doctors, I though Diane Browne as Judith Kutter was the most memorable. I thought her acting was pretty funny, since it wasn't all that great. But she was entertaining in her short role and her gore scene is the most memorable. Everyone else had their moments. Odd cast that actually enhances the film quite a lot.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE REALIZING THIS FILM ISN'T ABOUT THE GREEN DAY SONG
- A doctor with a gun couldn't shoot his target. I hope he's not a surgeon. Knowing this world, he was probably in the same graduating class as Jack Kavorkian and "Weird" Al Yankovic.
- A patient said she got dizzy, then she couldn't breathe, and felt her throat was on fire. She either has an allergic reaction or she participates in a ton of oral sex. Even if she has scrapes on her knees, it would still be hard to tell.
- Dr. Judith Kutter likes to get her younger boyfriend drunk to have her way with him. If they ever do an autobiography on Kutter, I think Demi Moore would be a great choice.
- Belial copped a feel on Casey. The fact that he enjoys dark meat shows that the KKK is uglier than he is. Go get yours, you squashed octopus!
- There were scalpels sticking out of Dr. Judith Kutter's face. Looks like Pinhead finally found a suitable wife. She may not be a HELLRAISER, but she's still making Pinhead rise in his own special way...
THE FINAL HOWL
What is there to say about the cult classic known as BASKET CASE? For a very low budget [talking shoestring here], Frank Henenlotter creates a truly wacky world with quirky characters and a rubber puppet that enjoys creating havoc just because he got separated from his normal-looking brother. They sure don't make them like they used to anymore. Definitely recommended as long as you can keep your curiosity in check. If not, be prepared to see what's inside the basket - it may scar you for life.
3.5 Howls Outta 4