CASE - THE TRILOGY
I first heard about Basket Case, through the
pages of Fangoria, I’ll admit that I was
a little cynical. The hype seemed a bit too much, and the film
sounded like it could be the sort of cynical attempt to cash-in
on the cult movie market that Troma would specialise in a few
years later. But as I read more, I became more interested, and
it quickly became clear that director Frank Henenlotter was a
genuine fan of exploitation movies. Better yet, when it finally
emerged on video in the UK – minus a few pivotal moments
– the film was every bit as good as you might have hoped.
Very much part of the last gasp of 1970s exploitation that ran
through to about 1983, Basket Case is a witty,
touching and outrageously offensive horror film, with Duane Bradley
(Kevin Van Hentenryck) and his mutant Siamese Twin brother Belial
travelling to New York to take revenge on the doctors who separated
them. That’s pretty much it for the plot – the pair
track down the doctors and the deformed, psychotic Belial rips
them apart. Meanwhile, Duane falls for doctor’s receptionist
Sharon (Terri Susan Smith, sporting the most unconvincing wig
in cinema history), sparking fits of jealous rage from his brother
and leading to a final showdown between the pair.
Shot on 16mm, Basket Case is delightfully scuzzy.
From the vintage footage of a pre-clean up 42nd Street (just look
at the theatre marquees and weep for what we’ve lost) to
the cheap and convincingly run down sets of Hotel Broslin (the
main location for the film), this is a determinedly grubby movie.
The supporting cast of eccentrics seem both authentic and oddly
appealing, the special effects are charmingly crude (the film
has possibly the worst stop motion sequences ever to appear in
a movie) and it manages to combine scenes of spectacular bad taste
with genuinely touching moments. It’s a pretty remarkable
film, and oddly enough, it doesn’t seem to have aged all
that much – less than the sequels, in fact (of which more
in a moment). Van Hentenryck is no great actor, but is perfectly
cast as the slightly naïve, slightly innocent but very dangerous
Duane, and Smith makes for an appealing and funny heroine –
she’s not your typical Hollywood beauty by any means (and
that wig – to cover her real life shaven head – adds
a sense of oddness to her character), and that makes her seem
all the more real.
Henenlotter’s HD transfer thankfully doesn’t clean
the film up too much. It certainly looks better than
any previous version, but it’s still a 4:3, grainy, cheap
looking movie – and thank God for that.
success of Basket Case – it ran for over
a year playing midnight screenings in New York alone – meant
that a sequel was inevitable, no matter how much Henenlotter resisted.
And so Basket Case 2 appeared in 1990. Shot back-to-back
with Henenlotter’s Frankenhooker, the film
picks up directly from the end of the first film, but is a very
In the sequel, Duane and Belial are rescued from hospital by Granny
Ruth (Annie Ross) and Susan (Heather Rattray) and taken to their
home, which is a haven for freaks. These characters don’t
resemble real human oddities, thanks goodness –
that might have been a tasteless step too far into genuine exploitation.
Instead, they are wildly bizarre monsters, very much in the prosthetic
style of the time (in many ways, they are the mutants that Nightbreed
should have had). While Belial soon settles into this
close-knit community – even finding a girlfriend who looks
just like him – Duane feels out of place, and tries to convince
Susan to leave with him. But when a pushy tabloid reporter (Kathryn
Meisle) tracks them down, the brothers have to bond together with
the rest of the freaks to save their community.
Basket Case 2 is a lot slicker than the first
film – it looks very much like most of the horror films
of the time, right down to the colour palate – and a lot
less sleazy. Belial has been rejigged slightly, the gore quota
is reduced considerably and the comedy increased. But the mix
of humour, horror and pathos remains, and the film is still very
entertaining, even if the monster prosthetics look rather old
fashioned – it’s this, more than anything else, that
dates the film. There are still extraordinary moments of audacious
tastelessness, most notably Belial and Eve getting it on, and
as a stand-alone film, it’s pretty good. It just suffers,
inevitably, from comparison to the grimy original.
Case 3, made in 1992, is a direct sequel to Pt. 2, and
with this film, the connection to the original is all but severed.
In fact, you could argue that this is hardly a horror film at
all, more an absurdist fantasy comedy. In this film, Eve is about
to give birth to Belial’s babies, and so the household travel
to the Deep South to meet up with Uncle Hal (Dan Biggers), the
one man capable of delivering them. But Duane, recovering from
a breakdown at the end of Pt 2, runs away and is arrested by the
local police, who then go to Hal’s house, see the freaks
and kill Eve, taking the baby Belials into custody. The estranged
brothers finally have to join forces to save them.
Henenlotter is on record as being unhappy with this film, and
it’s easy to see why. The effects are poor and there is
no real horror in the story. Its all very slapstick and oddly
uninvolving (moments like the death of Eve, that you imagine would’ve
had an emotional punch in either of the previous films, fail to
have any impact here). That’s not to say it isn’t
fun in a throwaway sense – I can imagine this is very enjoyable
with a few friends and a few drinks. But it’s definitely
the lesser of the series, and it’s easy to see why Henenlotter
walked away from filmmaking for sixteen years after this.
The new three-disc set from Second Sight comes rammed with extras
(all on the first disc). The highlight of these is a feature-length
documentary on the making of the series from David Gregory –
one of the best works from this master of the featurette. There’s
also a featurette on artist Graham Humphreys, Henenlotter hilariously
touring the Basket Case locations, outtakes,
trailers (not including, oddly, the original Palace Video version),
galleries and a lively commentary track. A great way to round
up an essential box set.
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