Review: Basket Case – The Trilogy / Director: Frank Henenlotter / Starring: Kevin VanHentenryck, Annie Ross, Beverly Bonner / Release Date: October 22nd
What’s in the basket? A question Duane Bradley is asked a lot when he arrives in New York and checks into the sleazy Hotel Broslin, a place filled with drunks, oddbods and prostitutes. We soon discover the answer; inside is his grotesquely deformed brother Belial. Separated at birth in a brutal operation, the Siamese twins have come looking for revenge on the doctors that left Belial for dead and now the basket-dweller is ready to wreak blood-soaked carnage. Where the original classic ends the sequels pick up and things start to get really deranged when the brothers meet their long lost aunt ‘Granny Ruth’ and her houseful of freaks.
Filmed in 1981 on a budget of $35,000, the first Basket Case became an immediate cult hit following sell out midnight movie screenings in New York, taking its director completely by surprise and leaving him more than a little exasperated. Conceived as a love letter to the grindhouse movie theatres of 42nd Street - Henenlotter’s ‘second home’ since the age of 15 - Henenlotter originally thought his debut feature would play a couple of weeks in Times Square and then sink without a trace. But in retrospect it’s not hard to see why the film became a hit on the midnight movie circuit. Similar in theme to previous midnight movie greats, Freaks (1932) and Eraserhead (1976), Basket Case is a celebration of freakishness and transgression in all its glory - perfect counterculture viewing for audiences of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Essentially the tale of a young man who is ultimately destroyed by his ‘dark half’, it’s tempting to read an element of autobiography in Basket Case. Duane Bradley, the wide–eyed slightly goofy innocent, carries his ‘dark-half’ in a basket through Times Square in much the same way that the teenaged Henenlotter carried his love of transgressive/exploitation movies. Duane and his brother are in hiding from the uncaring world that sought to separate them and consign the deformed Belial to the garbage. Their father’s fear and hatred of their abnormality is aided and abetted by the medical establishment on whom Duane and Belial seek bloody revenge. The ‘what’s in the basket?’ refrain subsequently carries on this theme of betrayal – those who open the basket to see what’s inside rarely do it out of simple curiosity, usually with the intention of stealing whatever’s inside. Duane and Belial are alone in the cruel New York underworld with only each other. The women they meet are kind – like the matronly aunt who brought them up after the death of their father – but bring with them the threat of coming between Duane and his Siamese twin (separation as motif is even carried through to the killing of the various villains - Belial literally tears them in two.)
But sexual jealousy rears its ugly head when Duane falls for receptionist Sharon and here Basket Case takes a turn into the dark and disturbing. For the most part the villains in the film are cartoonlike, but Belial’s dark sexual perversity gives the film a transgressive undercurrent that makes it more than just a bad taste romp and paves the way for his later Frankenhooker (1990) and Bad Biology (2008).
Basket Case 2 takes up from where the first film left off but is altogether a lighter movie (at least until the point where Henenlotter treats us to some hilariously disgusting mutant sex). Escaping from hospital, the brothers meet up with ‘Granny Ruth’ and are whisked off to live with her and her adopted freaks where Belial falls in love with the similarly deformed ‘Eve’. Indeed, Henenlotter references Tod Browning’s classic in several ways, including a subversion of normality/freakishness as the freaks become the heroes and the ‘normals’ the villains. Belial becomes the more sympathetic of the brothers in Basket Case 2, while it is Duane who becomes the more deranged! Things move towards their logical conclusion in Basket Case 3, when Belial becomes the proud father of twelve deformed progeny. But villainy is at hand in the form of some nasty cops who kidnap the offspring in a bid to capture Belial, provoking him and Duane to hatch a plan which involves more bloody vengeance. Will the saga end happily for the two brothers? That would be telling - but suffice it to say that, as with all of Henenlotter’s films, there will be times in Basket Case – The Trilogy when you will hardly believe your own eyes…
Special Features: What’s in the Basket, An Interview with Graham Humphreys, Video Introduction by Frank Henenlotter, Audio Commentary by Frank Henenlotter, Edgar Ievans and Beverly Bonner, Outtakes, Hotel Broslin Video Short, Trailer/Radio Spots, Photo Gallery