Kevin Van Hentenryck achieved instant cult status as Duane Bradley, the curly-haired wide-eyed innocent carrying a dark secret around Times Square in Frank Henenlotter’s low-budget sleazy splatter classic Basket Case. As the boyish, slightly ‘touched’ Duane, Van Hentenryck geeky charm ensured his return for two sequels, in which he battled against his deformed twin Belial, in a repeated bid to lead a life outside of his brother’s slimy grip. With Basket Case – The Trilogy due for release on October 22nd, Starburst’s Jon Towlson caught up with Kevin to talk about acting, music and sculpture!
Starburst: The Basket Case Trilogy breaks every taboo in the book. Was there ever a time during filming that, as an actor, you turned to the director, Frank Henenlotter, and said “No. You’re going too far, Frank. I don’t want to do this.”?
Kevin Van Hentenryck: No, no! Frank is one of these guys, you instantly get a sense from him that he has a very clear idea of what he’s doing and the more you talk to him - he’s like a walking encyclopaedia of the genre. A great example of that was in the first film, the idea for the running through the street scene. Originally it was meant to be Belial that was running through the streets, but when we saw the limitations of the Belial that we had, we realised that was never gonna happen. No way! So he kind of re-approached the concept as a dream and I run through the streets. It was February and even though I really didn’t want to do it, when he explained it I realised it was going to be a really powerful addition to the film, so we went for it.
You first worked with Frank on Slash of the Knife – tell us about it.
I play three parts in that, three small parts. I’m a spectator at a wedding, an inmate in an institution and something else I don’t remember. Frank still to this day says he’s never gonna release it! I don’t think I’ve even seen a full cut of it. You know the film Reefer Madness or some of the bizarre medical health films they did in the fifties? It’s supposed to be a spoof on that regarding circumcision! This guy who’s not circumcised, descends into madness because of it. I thought it was a very cool idea and what I remember of it, it seemed like it was going to be a good film. Robert Vogel, who played the manager in Basket Case, was in it.
From the title it sounds like a typical slasher movie, but now you’ve told us the plot it sounds much more like Frank Henenlotter!
You once gave a very interesting answer to the question ‘what’s in the basket?’, talking about archetypes and how the film is about the side of us that we hide from the world, the side of us we feel is socially unacceptable. Can you elaborate?
Well, as humans we live in a conscious world but we all have this subconscious which controls us to a surprising degree and yet of which we have no access to, understanding or control of. Frank has managed to tap into this concept. Belial is the id, the dark side within us all. Duane is the eternal misfit. We all identify with that. The whole idea of carrying his monster – his darkness – around in a basket and letting it out – I guess that’s something we all fantasise about but in the culture we’ve built for ourselves it’s really impossible.
Did you ever feel you were Frank’s alter-ego in the film?
(laughs) You know that’s something I’ve never talked about with him, the degree of autobiographic detail in his work. I’m sure it’s there but… that’s a question for Frank!
I’ve asked him that question!
Yeah? What did he say?
Well he denied that there was any direct autobiography, but the first time we see you in the film, you’re walking through Times Square holding this basket, carrying your dark side as it were, and Frank’s spoken a lot about how he would skip school as a teenager and go to watch the grindhouse movies on 42nd Street and how he would often be accosted by drug pushers on the street – which is exactly what happens to you at the beginning of Basket Case.
Well, you know art is always a combination of the subject, the medium and the artist in some formula, some combination. So it’s there, no doubt it’s there. Anyone who lived in Manhattan at that time in the mid ‘70s experienced the old Times Square which is gone now. I’m really thankful we were able to capture just a little bit of it in our film.
And very successfully too! I’m sure it’s one of the reasons the film has grown in its cult status over the years. Frank claims that the crew for Basket Case was very small – just him and the actors. Did you help him with the filming, with building the sets etc?
Oh yeah, we all helped out. We’d hang out on the weekends when we were filming and I did focus and lights and whatever needed to be done; riding around with Edgar (the producer) in his van looking for one of the key elements for one of the sets, or whatever. We all did. It was shot in 16mm though they had a special eyepiece for the camera which had marks on it which would show when it was blown up to 35mm where the edge of the frame would be. And it was lit for a blow up.
How did you film the scene where Belial lifts you up by the balls in the hotel room?
They had constructed this thing with a pipe, like a teeter-totter or fulcrum, a long lever. There was kind like a seat that I was on, under my clothes. At the right moment they just pushed on the other end of the pip and up I went! Frank wanted me to have my arms outstretched like they are so that people would see that I’m not holding on to anything but I always thought that if somebody grabbed you by the balls you’d be like hunched over and grabbing your balls, you know? See that’s what I mean about Frank. That’s the director’s job. The actor often can’t see the whole picture and the director has to and has to understand how it will cut with the last scene and the next scene.
I understand in Basket Case 2 you worked the Belial puppet during Belial’s sex scene with Eve and provided the voices. That looked like fun…
It was interesting. I got to wear the Belial hat in the one scene in the garage and, for me personally, that’s the element I’ve always missed in the films, Belial being a real character. I like playing Belial. Seeing as we were Siamese twins it seems a no-brainer to me, and if I ever get the chance to do a fourth one I’d like to play more of Belial.
It’s an interesting aspect of the film that Belial is your twin and your face is often apparent in his. Is that an aspect that is being developed in the fourth script?
Yeah, if I get to do it, Belial will become an actual character and not just a thing.
In the second film he becomes almost the more sympathetic of the two, whereas you become the degenerate brother towards the end. Were you involved in the scriptwriting process with Frank?
No. In the first film there are moments that I had influence over. A key one for example is when I’m in the bar with the legendary Beverly Bonner and I’m drunk and I say “Duane and I” in referencing Belial. After the take, Frank said “You know you said ‘Duane and I’? People are gonna think it’s a mistake!” No they’re not! People are going to think that they believe themselves to be one. The distinction is kind of irrelevant and it makes sense that when he’s drunk that line will get blurred.
What was it like working with Annie Ross in the second two films?
She’s great to work with. She’s a real trooper, a professional. She’s a very cool lady and she’s fun to hang out with, you know? I remember one night we went to this place in Atlanta called Blind Willy’s – it’s like a blues club. She’s a very fun lady.
She’s a great singer, isn’t she? You’re a musician too. Did you play together?
No we didn’t. There wasn’t really time during the shoot and her genre is very different from mine. I do a kind of like early Patti Smith with a little AC/DC thrown in rock and roll, she’s into the old time blues. She still performs, you know, down in Manhattan.
As well as being an actor and a musician you’re a sculptor, and have been for many years. I wondered if you’d ever directed a film or wanted to?
When I was very young I made films in Super 8 and I liked the idea of it. I think I’m probably a better actor than I would be a director but if I do a fourth Basket Case I’d like to have more of a hand in it than I have in the past. I’ve lived with Duane and Belial for so long now I feel I know them pretty well. You never know how things will play out in the future, eh?
Check out our interview with BASKET CASE helmer Frank Henenlotter in issue 381 of Starburst - Available here.
Basket Case – The Trilogy is released on DVD and Blu Ray on 22nd October. Visit Kevin’s website at KevinVanHentenryck.com