Basket Case

Studio: Arrow Video

Mar 28, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Though few bother to make the distinction, Frank Henenlotter's 1982 feature debut Basket Case has less in common with other horror films than it does with MAD magazine or The Simpsons: it's a self-aware parody of its apparent form, albeit one which also delivers on all of the promises of said form (in this case: blood, garish special effects, and occasional tidbits of nudity). It's a smart-ass, punk version of a grindhouse horror movie, indebted as much to John Waters as it is to Herschell Gordon Lewis (to whom the film is dedicated) or Hitchcock. It's also the goofball cousin of Taxi Driver or Driller Killer, part of the subset of movies that use New York City at its debatable modern nadir not just as a set, but as a character itself.

In the beginning of Basket Case, small town boy Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck) arrives on the grime-smeared streets of the city carrying an oversized picnic basket. Handily evading questions regarding the contents of that basket, Duane holes up in a slimy residential hotel, where his eccentricities are muted by the chaos around him. Eventually, though, the contents of the basket reveal themselves to be Duane's deformed, previously conjoined twin Belial, with whom Duane shares a psychic link and a mission: to seek revenge on the doctors who separated them in the first place. Additionally, Belial gets jealous of any friends Duane makes besides him, and bears a grudge against them. Oh, and did I mention that, for a picnic-sized blob, he's super-strong?

Basket Case is definitely a cheap-thrills affair, the antithesis of a prestige picture, but that doesn't mean it's without genuine aesthetic merit (hell, there's a reason the Museum of Modern Art accepted the film into its permanent collection, and managed the ace restoration featured in this edition). The creature effects recall Eraserhead or Fiend Without a Face; the acting, while knowingly campy, is routinely a cut above. The camerawork is quietly excellent. Most importantly, though, it's funny both in concept and execution, with the rhythms of the violence working as an essential part of the comedy.

This new edition is also bursting at the seams with special features. Most exciting among these is the inclusion of Henenlotter's uproarious, rarely-seen early short Slash of the Knife, an even more goofy and lurid film about circumcision. I'd say more, but I'd hate to spoil the fun.

Some people think Basket Case is "so bad that it's good", but I personally think that that's horseshit. This movie is smart and funny, and aside from issues brought on by its limited budget, its "shortcomings" are mostly intentional. Frank Henenlotter may never garner the full prestige he's due as a post-punk cinematic ironist, but I suspect he's fine with that, and as long as his work remains available, I suppose I am, too.


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