Release Date: April 2, 1982
Genre: Horror, Comedy
Director: Frank Henenlotter
Writer: Frank Henenlotter
Starring: Kevin Van Hentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, Beverly Bonner, Robert Vogel, Diana Browne
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
Hello readers! Welcome to the second week of my “Guiltiest Pleasure Horror Movies” special. I’m reviewing five films in the Horror genre every week until Halloween. This next movie review is a movie I’ve been dying to watch for a long time but could never find a copy of it. It was out of print on VHS and was released on Blu-Ray a few years back. I ended up watching it on a streaming service and it exceeded my expectations. This week’s review is the 1982 underground flick, “Basket Case”.
Released in 1982, “Basket Case” is the story of a twenty-year-old boy named Duane Bradley who arrives in New York City with a backpack on his pack and holding a big wicker basket. Inside the basket is brother Belial who is Duane’s deformed brother. It turns out they are Siamese twins separated against both their wishes. Duane and Belial seek out the doctors who separated them and plan to kill them in revenge. During his stay at a cheap sleazy hotel, he befriends his fellow tenant, Casey, who is a prostitute and develops a love interest with a receptionist named Sharon who works at the office of one of the doctors that performed the separation on them. Duane and Sharon spend a day together getting to know each other. After a moment of embrace, Duane begins to have severe headaches. This is the result of him being telepathically linked to Belial (they talk to each other using their mind). Belial can sense Duane and when he realizes what he is doing, he goes into a screaming frenzy destroying everything in their room. Belial is not only afraid that Duane will leave him, but he is also angry at the fact that he cannot enjoy the pleasures of being with a woman due to his deformed state. The brothers start a tug of war with each other that carries on through the remainder of the film and it would not only jeopardize their objectives but jeopardizes their relationship.
The movie wasn’t a huge hit in mainstream theaters, however it obtained its success through midnight showings at Drive-In Theaters (remember those?). The film was enjoyed by the audience that it was played as a midnight movie for the next several years. It has become a cult classic and one of the best B-Movie Horror films ever made.
The film was written and directed by Frank Henenlotter. He’s made several horror movies in his career including the three “Basket Case” movies, but he never considered himself a Horror movie filmmaker. Rather, he prefers to be known as an “exploitation” filmmaker. He loved exploitation movies because they “have an attitude more than anything, an attitude that you don’t find with mainstream Hollywood productions. They’re a little ruder, a little raunchier, they deal with material people don’t usually touch on, whether it’s sex or drugs or rock and roll.” (1) “Basket Case” was filmed with a budget of around $35,000 which was extremely low for any exploitation movie at the time. Despite the low budget, Henenlotter was able to make a special film that dealt with human biology, science, family and social interaction with humans topped with insatiable mounts of blood and gore.
The movie was shot on 16MM film, however there were problems with the post production which resulted in the film being very dark in light and having a murky look. Because of this, the film had to be converted to a different aspect ratio. This was something Henenlotter did not have control over. Nevertheless, the lack of lighting and the graininess of the film gives it a more unsettling look. When you add that with the spacey music, it heightens the atmosphere and tension as you tremble in anticipation as to what is about to happen on screen. There’s no skimping of blood or gore in this movie including a kill scene that seems to use every item in the room. There is an origin scene through the middle of the film which gives the audience more insight on Duane and Belial’s relationship and how dismissive their father is of Belial and how no one seemed to love them expect each other and their aunt. The origin scene shows the separation of the boys and is filled with sounds of Velcro and duct tape to mimic the sounds to cutting tools. The use of sound effects and visceral blood during that sequence including the uneasiness of Duane makes it the most squeamish scene in my opinion. I couldn’t get through watching it without closing my eyes which is something I haven’t done in a very long time (extra award for that).
The acting is decent for an uber low budget movie. Kevin Van Hentenryck plays Duane as a person who keeps to himself and has little interaction with others. He is very protective of his brother and is willingly going along with Belial’s plan of seeking revenge on the doctors. When Belial gets into grouse some situations with his victims, Duane does what he can to cover up so that no suspicion falls on him. He is very protective of his brother, yet he can’t seem to separate himself from him even when he pleads with Belial to let him have time for himself. Terri Susan Smith, who plays the love interest Sharon, plays it as a naive ditzy woman with a weird hairdo (obviously a wig due to the fact her head was shaved in real life because she was in a punk rock group. Frank Henenlotter was not happy about this because she had full hair when she was brought in to audition for the role). She quickly grows interest in Duane and develops feelings for him. She gets concerned for him when they go back to the hotel he is staying at and starts to freak out when the police arrive after reports of screaming and a dead body found at the hotel (thanks to Belial). The other performances I enjoyed include Robert Vogel who plays the hotel manager, Diana Browne who plays Dr. Kutter, one of the doctors that separated Duane and Belial (she looks like Sigourney Weaver’s doppelganger) and Lloyd Pace who plays the goofy looking and paranoid Dr. Needleman.
And now we get to discussing the star of the movie, Belial. If you were to describe him today, he looks the Pokémon, Geodude. He is a blob of flesh with eyes, razor sharp teeth and arms. As I mentioned before, he talks to Duane via telepathy. He’s like a spider as he can crawl from one room to the next using windows and can grip on walls in part due to his large fingers. Despite his stature he is physically strong as he can throw dresser drawers and papers across the room and lift the leg of a bed as shown through a well done stop motion sequence. He’s the mastermind behind the plot to kill the doctors for good reasons. In addition to vengeance, Belial is growing frustrated with the inability to experience sexual pleasure with a woman and the fear of Duane leaving him for Sharon. The only way he can experience the desires he craves is through immoral ways as is depicted near the end of the movie. Belial keeps Duane in check and his presence is a reminder to Duane that they’re with each other until the end.
It sure did take a long time for me to watch “Basket Case”, but it was a great viewing experience. It’s a movie that I’ve put on constant rotation these last few weeks in preparation for this review. I’m contemplating watching the sequels, but I’m sure those will be as big of a challenge as the first movie in obtaining copies for my viewing pleasure. This movie cemented Frank Henelotter as a great exploitation filmmaker as he desired to become. If you enjoyed this movie, check out his other films “Brain Damage” and “Frankenhooker” in addition to the two sequels to this film as I mentioned.
See you readers next week with the third film in the “Guiltiest Horror Movies” review special.
(1) “In Search of Hotel Broslin”. Basket Case DVD special features.
TRIVIA (Per IMDB)
- Most of the credits that appear at the end of the film are fake. The crew was very small and, rather than repeat the same names repeatedly, they decided to just make up names.
- To try to make the film appeal to a comedy crowd, the original distributor cut all the gore scenes out of the film. They were eventually put back in and re-released in theaters with the subtitle “The Full Uncut Version!”
- In addition to providing a face cast for the Belial puppet, Kevin Van Hentenryck also performed the mutant twin’s voice effects.
- When Duane checks into the Hotel Broslin, he takes out a wad of cash. According to director Frank Henenlotter, that money was the film’s entire budget.
- Duane’s streaking scene was shot without permits on a cold winter’s night. To shoot the scene, the crew would first clear the sidewalks of any objects that might hurt Kevin Van Hentenryck if he stepped on them. He was then let out of a heated van on one side of the block and met on the other side by another heated van. Once picked up, the van would drive him to another block. This was repeated until they got the desired amount of shots.
- Film critic Rex Reed’s quotation to describe the movie, “This is the sickest movie ever made!” was used in the film’s promotion despite not appearing in a printed review. Reed had sought out the film after hearing negative reviews and was asked his opinion after emerging from the cinema. Unbeknownst to Reed, the person who asked him was director Frank Henelotter. Initially furious that his comment was used to promote the film, Reed eventually relented and granted permission to allow Henelotter to use it to promote the film.