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Basket Case/Review

From The Grindhouse Cinema Database

< Basket Case

Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck) is a man on a mission. You see, young Mr. Bradley was one half of a pair of Siamese twins (the other half being essentially a misshapen blob with slight human characteristics named Belial) that was separated from his brother against his will when he was a child. Now slightly older and out on his own, Duane has decided to come to the big city, carrying Belial in a wicker basket, to track down the doctors who performed the operation for a little old fashioned revenge. When Duane falls in love with Sharon (Terri Susan Smith), one of the doctor's pretty receptionists, and threatens their mission, though, Belial gets jealous and turns his hatred towards Duane and those close to him.

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Why is it that we never see cult movies like this one anymore? Back in the late seventies and early eighties it was almost like these films were being mass produced by the boatload, and you couldn't throw a severed hand without hitting some off-kilter, shot on 16mm horror film that was crammed with so much imagination for its tiny budget that it couldn't help but capture your interest. Sure, we still get classic cult films like Army of Darkness every once and a while and Troma still keeps pumping out the 16mm oddities. But today's market just seems flooded with ridiculous low budget horror or action films (containing about as much imagination as sugar-free gum contains sugar) that are geared more for the direct-to-video market than anything else.

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Thank heavens then for filmmakers like Frank Henenlotter, who not only continues to make bizarre cult films (one of his last films to date being the third chapter in the Basket Case series back in 1992) but also lends his hand to writing liner notes for some of the more odd entries in Something Weird's DVD collection of strange low budget and cult films. Henenlotter is one of the few cult filmmakers who has yet to shrug off the genre that put him where he is and his output is still as consistently entertaining as it was almost twenty years ago. And to think, this was all thanks to a little blob of flesh with sharp claws that lived inside a wicker basket.

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Henenlotter's concept is as brilliant as it is strange and the idea of a guy carrying his twin brother in a basket seeking revenge on the men that separated him was one that fascinated me for years prior to actually getting to see the film. A lot of promising plotlines never seem to actually follow through with their intriguing premise, but, to Henenlotter's credit, Basket Case does all that and more. Not that it is really hard to stay on track when your main plot is having that little blob kill off a bunch of slimy doctors, but Henenlotter attacks the plot with a lot of gusto and throws in equal mixtures of gore, horror, and comedy rarely seen in standard horror film fare.

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Speaking of gore, there is certainly enough of it in this film to satisfy those seeking out such visceral pleasures. For a low budget film, the gory make-up effects were actually quite remarkable. Seeing as how the killer was equipped with sharp claws for attacking, there are several scenes featuring clawed faces that are incredibly well done. One scene in particular actually appears to show a character whose bottom lip has been torn away to expose his lower set of teeth, while a later murder features some deep set claw marks in one character's face that looks quite real. A face used as a pincushion for scalpels, a character buzzsawed in half, and a twisted tryst between Belial and Sharon round out some of the other nasty effects.

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The art direction in Basket Case is as much a character as the actors are. Henenlotter was very much in love with the seedier side of New York, places that featured theaters that had no compunction in running porno films or even films like this one, so that became the setting for his film. Fleabag hotels, storage rooms turned into backalley doctor's offices, and less than hospitable bars were all settings that Henenlotter and his crew set out to capture on film. Never before have such conditions ever been filmed so lovingly (and I doubt they ever really will be again), but at least the director had enough love for what he was displaying that it showed through in the film.

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DVD Review

Basket Case was originally released on DVD as a film-only disc by Image Entertainment back in 1998. This disc featured the film in the full frame format in which it was shot and also presented it uncut. For it's twentieth anniversary though, Image and Something Weird have gotten together to put out a brand new DVD special edition that puts the original disc to shame.

This new disc is also full frame and uncut (with a new film-to-tape digital transfer), but it adds a ton of extra features that rival the extras on Henenlotter's excellent Brain Damage special edition DVD. Something Weird has always been on top of things when it comes to piling on interesting extras and here they are no different, giving us two theatrical trailers, a TV spot, a little over six minutes of outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage, a wonderfully humorous short called In Search of the Hotel Broslin which features Henenlotter and RA the Rugged Man (plus a guest appearance by Joe Clarke) seeking out locations where the movie was originally filmed, radio spots for the film with still photos playing behind them, two radio interviews with Terri Susan Smith (also with still photos), frightening excerpts from a cable access sketch comedy show written by and starring Beverly Bonner, and a still gallery of behind the scenes photos and advertising art for the film.

Most interestingly, the disc also contains an audio commentary track by Henenlotter, actress Beverly Bonner, producer Edgar Levins, and Shatter Dead director (and assistant on Basket Case 3) Scooter McCrea. Henenlotter and Ievins dominate the track, which is fine, because they both have tons to say about the making of the film. The discuss in detail how the film came about and what they went through with the original releasing company in terms of having their film edited of all its gore scenes by company mandate (an edit which famed cult film critic Joe Bob Briggs fought to have reversed). This track is essential listening for any fan of the film. All in all, an excellent disc for an excellent cult classic.

Reviewed by Pockets of Sanity

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