Genre: Slasher Running Time: 1 hr. 31 min.
Release Date: April 2nd, 1982 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Frank Henenlotter Actors: Kevin Van Hentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, Beverly Bonner, Robert Vogel, Diana Browne
he first five minutes of “Basket Case” will determine whether or not this film is loved or abhorred. Those seconds will either cause uncontrollable laughter or scowls of annoyance. And while neither reaction is what director Frank Henenlotter was aiming for, the movie’s jokiness, bad dialogue, daffy characters, and bizarre violence make it a cult favorite among low-budget horror audiences. It’s one of those rare trashy films that is so poorly constructed and accidentally funny that it actually provides above-average entertainment.
Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck) hides a horrifying secret – inside a locked wicker basket continually kept at his side. Checking into a seedy hotel in Times Square, he plots a series of visits to various doctor’s offices scattered around the city. As he visits each building, he unlocks the basket to allow a terrifyingly grotesque creature to scurry out, search for addresses and paperwork, and seek brutally bloody revenge.
The mystery monstrosity in Duane’s basket is no secret at all (given away by theatrical posters, trailers, VHS and DVD box art, and more); it is the remains of his Siamese twin brother Belial. A twisted lump of scar tissue, cartilage, and deformed flesh, Belial was removed by merciful doctors at the behest of Duane’s father, who had hoped for a normal life for at least one of his sons. Not realizing that Belial could survive the torturous operation, and that Duane abhorred the separation, the duo remained conspiratorially in cohorts, growing up to plot revenge against the medics involved in their detachment. Communicating through telepathy and eager for blood, Belial is unleashed upon a city not ready for the horrors of this misshapen fiend.
“Basket Case” is one of the pioneers of exploitation horror, complete with nudity, gore, hilariously absurd dialogue, and silly creature effects. Low-budget (with few resources and less experience) and not afraid to show it, the film tops its competitors of the day with memorable characters, an eerie story, and the outlandish rubbery head of Belial. No character is normal in the film – everyone reeks of abnormalities, from eccentric behaviors and nonsensical dialogue to extravagantly unpredictable routines.
To avoid showing Belial’s obnoxiously unrealistic head studded with stubby, clawed hands, the camera oftentimes follows his point of view – close to the ground and with jerky movements. Flashbacks tell his tale while plot holes abound. The unintentional laughs are hard to avoid as the screaming monster steals women’s underwear, chows down on hamburgers, and leaves one of the surgeons with a face full of scalpels. It’s gruesome, grisly, and way over-the-top – and so bad that it’s good. There’s time for an unlikely love story, moments for lines such as “you’re cute when you slobber,” and unabashed, awkward nudity. If unwarranted, uncensored cheesiness sounds like a ticket to entertainment, “Basket Case” doesn’t disappoint. And, based on the fact that it inspired two sequels, Henenlotter’s unique horror venture is most certainly a cult classic.
– Mike Massie