Basket Case (1982) – Film Review

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basket case review

Director: Frank Henenlotter
Cast: Kevin VanHentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, Beverly Bonner
Certificate: 18

By Sarah Morgan

A man walks the streets of early 1980s New York, a period when every other cinema showed grindhouse movies or porn, prostitutes loitered, and at every corner a drug dealer attempted to push their wares.

But our guy isn’t interested in any of those things. He’s carrying a wicker basket and is intent on just one thing – finding a bed for the next few nights, which he does, in a flea-bitten flophouse whose residents clearly are not fussy about cleanliness or noise.

But what is in the basket? Its owner claims it’s just clothes as he checks in, but we already sense he’s lying…

This is the opening to Basket Case, a cult, bottom-budget horror movie that marked the debut of writer-director Frank Henenlotter. Shot on 16mm and blown up to 32mm for its theatrical release, it’s a fairly standard slasher movie, albeit one injected with a healthy dose of humour as well as the customary blood and gore.

“Hiding a secret”

Basket Case Film ReviewKevin VanHentenryck heads the cast as Duane Bradley, the central character and owner of the aforementioned basket. He’s a sweet and charming chap, but he’s hiding a secret – inside the titular item is Duane’s deformed and deranged conjoined twin Belial; the pair are in New York to take revenge on all those present during the operation that separated them. It seems they were happier together than apart.

However, when Duane appears to be falling in love, and therefore on the verge of a normal life, Belial goes berserk, and little, it seems, can soothe his bloodlust.

Basket Case is nowhere near as impressive as the likes of Halloween or Friday the 13th, but there is something rather compelling and, oddly, charming about Henenlotter’s homespun approach to the subject. In the years since its release, some critics have even attempted to assign a higher meaning to its plot, claiming it could open a discussion on abortion.

I somehow doubt its maker had such things in mind when penning the script; Basket Case was cheaply made on the hoof in the hope of attracting a grindhouse audience. It certainly did that, becoming a hit among genre fans, so much so that it spawned two sequels in the early 1990s.

The original 16mm print has been given a 4K restoration for this Blu-ray release, which means that although it still looks pretty murky, this is as good as it’s ever going to look. The special features really shine, however, including interviews with members of the cast and Slash of the Knife, an earlier short film from Henenlotter. However, my personal highlight is a chat with the director’s cousins, twins Florence and Maryellen Schultz, who make a brief appearance in the movie. They’re such a delight I was left wishing Henenlotter had made a film with the duo front and centre.

Extras8
Performances5
Screenplay6
Direction6
Cinematography4
Originality5
  • 4K restoration from the original 16mm negative by the Museum of Modern Art in cooperation with director Frank Henenlotter
  • High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation
  • Original uncompressed PCM mono audio
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Audio commentary with writer/director Frank Henenlotter and star Kevin Van Hentenryck
  • Archival audio commentary with Frank Henenlotter, producer Edgar Ievins, actor Beverly Bonner and filmmaker Scooter McRae
  • Basket Case 3-1/2: An Interview with Duane Bradley - short film by Frank Henenlotter
  • Me and the Bradley Boys - interview with actor Kevin Van Hentenryck
  • A Brief Interview with Director Frank Henenlotter - a strange 2017 interview with the director
  • Seeing Double: The Basket Case Twins - interview with actors Florence and Mary Ellen Schultz
  • Blood, Basket and Beyond - interview with actor Beverly Bonner
  • The Latvian Connection - featurette including interviews with producer Edgar Ievins, casting person/actor Ilze Balodis, associate producer/special effects artist Ugis Nigals and Belial performer Kika Nigals
  • Belial Goes to the Drive-In - interview with film critic Joe Bob Briggs
  • Basket Case at MoMA - footage from the 2017 restoration premiere
  • What's in the Basket? - feature-length documentary covering the three films in the Basket Case series
  • In Search of the Hotel Broslin - archival location featurette
  • The Frisson of Fission: Basket Case, Conjoined Twins, and 'Freaks' in Cinema - video essay by Travis Crawford
  • Slash of the Knife (1976, 30 mins) - short made by Frank Henenlotter featuring many of the same actors from Basket Case, including optional audio commentary with Frank Henenlotter and playwright Mike Bencivenga
  • Basket Case and Slash of the Knife outtakes
  • Belial's Dream (2017, 5 mins) - animated short by filmmaker Robert Morgan
  • Extensive image galleries
  • Trailers, TV & radio spots
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sara Deck
  • Double-sided fold-out poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sara Deck
  • Collector's booklet featuring writing on the film by Michael Gingold and a Basket Case comic strip by artist Martin Trafford
Basket Case is available on Limited Edition Blu-ray from Arrow
5.7
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