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BASKET CASE: SPECIAL EDITION

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Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Kevin Van Hentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, Beverly Bonner
Director:  Frank Henenlotter
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Standard 1.33:1
Studio:  Image Entertainment
Features:  See Review
Length:  91 Minutes
Release Date:  July 17, 2001

“What's in the basket?”

Film ***1/2 (on the cheese scale)

Sure, we all knew 2001 would mark the year Stanley Kubrick immortalized in film, but…who knew it was also the 20th anniversary of a charming little low budget horror film called Basket Case?

Off-the-wall horror movies are my guilty pleasure.  There's something appealing about watching a cast and crew with hardly any money relying solely on their guts, imagination, and drive to realize their vision on celluloid.  I've been a fan of Basket Case for more than a decade, but this marks the first time I've ever written a review of the picture for print.  At long last, I get to say what I've always wanted to say:

Frank Henenlotter is one sick puppy.

Granted, most low budget horror movies start with a catchy title and an image…in this instance, Basket Case and the idea of somebody carrying around something in a large wicker basket.  What writer/director Henenlotter built upon that foundation was the notion that Duane Bradley (Hentenryck) is carrying around his Siamese twin brother!   Not just any twin, mind you…a horrid, bloodthirsty lump of twisted flesh with narrow eyes, huge teeth and two massive paws for hands!

Belial, as the twin is known and as we learn in later flashbacks, was attached to Duane from birth.  While Duane was normal looking (except for the thing attached to his side), Belial was nothing but a head and hands.  Despite the deformity, the brothers could communicate with their minds.  But their father wanted them separated so that Duane could live normally and Belial could be disposed of.

The separation occurred, but neither the father nor the operating doctors correctly anticipated the bond between the brothers, and soon the two would begin a bloody, grisly quest for revenge against all responsible for their coming apart. 

This flashback, as told by Duane to Casey (Bonner), his hotel's resident hooker, explains the rampage we've seen up to this point.  The brothers Bradley have come to his particularly seedy hotel to stay while they carry out their murderous plans.  Belial will have his revenge, one victim at a time, and it seems he won't be stopped.

But complications ensue when Duane begins to fall in love with one of the doctor's assistants, Sharon (Smith).  Belial can sense that his brother is pulling away from him…will jealousy wreck their best laid plans?  What does the grotesque twin have in store for his brother's new love?  I won't answer that here, except to point out there is a chapter stop on the disc called “A Horny Little Devil”.  If you're thinking, “surely, he doesn't mean…”, you're wrong.  I surely do.

Basket Case mixes equal parts cheese with a dash of inarguable squirm factor to make a nearly perfect B grade horror film.   The acting is lame, the script is ludicrous, the premise horrifically laughable…yet, when Belial springs to life to do his damnable deeds, you can't help but grimace and sit back in your seat.  Moments of gore are offset by unintentional laughs, such as the crude stop-motion animation sequence of Belial trashing the hotel room…what a hoot!

But it delivers to fans what they want from the genre, and they responded with enough enthusiasm to produce the horror film inevitable…a couple of sequels.  Of course, the problem always is that once fans have seen what a series has to offer, it becomes old hat quickly.  There may not be a celebration for Basket Case 2 in 2010.  In fact, I'd bet the farm on it.

But the first Basket Case deserves its cult following, as well as the right to pick up more first time fans who'll dare to ask “what's in the basket” twenty years after the fact.  They just don't come much more twisted, devious, or downright sick as this.

Video **

The DVD for Basket Case looks noticeably better than my previous VHS copy, but for those hoping for a full restoration effort for disc, forget it.  I don't think anybody in their right mind is going to plop down the cash needed to make this picture as good as new, so this is probably as good as it's going to get.  The transfer is in the original full frame aspect ratio (the correct one for a 16 mm film).  The print shows its age in the way of some color muting, a few scratches here and there, and occasional noticeable grain.  It's not terrible, by a long shot, but it certainly isn't indicative of what DVD is capable of.   Images are a little sharper and clearer than on older tape versions, with much less distortion of lines and color.  It's nothing to get excited about, but not anything to deliberately avoid, either.

Audio **

As far as mono soundtracks go, this one is par for the course.  No real complaints, no real praises.  Dialogue renders clearly, and music and effects add some punch to the dynamic range, but there are occasional quiet moments where some background noise is apparent.  Again, this is probably as good as Basket Case can be without the full scale restoration it's never going to get.

Features ***1/2

I love it when low budget horror flicks on DVD come with a group commentary…they're usually the most fun to listen to, as well as filled with interesting stories about how to get a film made on a shoestring budget.  The commentary on Basket Case is no exception.  Featuring writer/director Henenlotter (who doesn't sound quite as demented as I imagined), producer Edgar Ievins and star Beverly Bonner, this is a good all around listen.   The disc also includes trailers, TV and radio spots, a collection of outtakes and bloopers set to music (not bad), a video short on the “location” of the Hotel Broslin, a gallery of exploitation art and rare photos, two radio interviews with actress Terri Susan Smith, and clips from Ms. Bonner's cable TV show.  All in all, a package worth of Twentieth Anniversary Edition status!

Summary:

Some have told me this bizarre tale of brotherly love left a tear in their eye; for me, it always left a knot in my stomach.  Basket Case is a wonderfully weird, charmingly off-center, and decidedly low-budget example of 80s cheese horror preserved on DVD by Image Entertainment in a terrific 20th anniversary edition package.  If you love the best (or the worst) the horror genre has to offer, give this disc a spin.  But don't say I didn't warn you.