The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Basket Case

Frank Henenlotter made his feature directorial debut with 1982's Basket Case, and a horror filmmaker probably couldn't ask for a better career kick-off. Although not a big hit in the way we traditionally think of them, the movie was extreme enough for its time to become a you-gotta-see-it grindhouse phenomenon. From there, it lived on for years as a midnight movie, spawning two sequels and accumulating a legion of fans over the decades. Arrow Video's new Blu-ray release comes packed to the rafters with bonus features celebrating this gloriously oddball genre flick.

Kevin VanHentenryck plays Duane Bradley, a young man arriving in Manhattan with a large basket in tow. He takes up residence at a seedy hotel and prepares his plan. Inside the basket is the deformed body of Duane's Siamese-twin brother Belial – a fleshly blob with demented eyes and sharp teeth. They intend to locate and get revenge upon the doctors who separated them as children, against their mutual will. Things become complicated when Duane starts a relationship with a nurse, Sharon (Terri Susan Smith), causing Belial to become jealous.

Henenlotter, whose 1990 Frankenhooker is, for me, an all-time exploitation classic, is skilled at melding extreme horror, tongue-in-cheek humor, and genuine pathos. Basket Case doubtlessly shocked audiences who saw it in its initial run. They got more than an eyeful of blood/gore, yet also a funny story with some real emotional juice in the third act.

Of course, Bilial gets out of his basket from time to time, shredding anyone he sees fit. He's usually played by a rubber puppet, but the effect is pretty good. (A few shots using stop-motion animation to make him move look silly, although that adds to the fun.) Bilial typically rips his victims' faces with his claws. One doctor ends up meeting an ironic fate involving a drawer full of scalpels. All of it is suitably gruesome. At the same time, repulsion really isn't an option because Basket Case does it with a wink and a nod. Sure, it's gory. Henenlotter stages the violence in such an over-the-top manner, though, that you know not to take it too seriously. This is the sort of picture where you laugh at how disgusting something is, rather than gagging over it.

Just when you think the film is going to be nothing more than a satisfyingly outrageous creature feature, it flashes back to tell the story of Duane and Belial as children. The tale of how/why they were separated gives the revenge plot some unexpected weight. A final confrontation between the brothers – driven by Belial's attempt to do something boundary-crossing to Sharon – adds some significant sibling drama to the proceedings.

Of course, Basket Case was a low-budget production, so it's not the most polished thing you'll ever see. Then again, a picture like this shouldn't be polished. The raw quality is perfectly suited to the subject matter. If you've never laid your eyes upon this exploitation masterpiece, you'll never have a better chance.

Blu-ray Features:

Arrow Video's Blu-ray is presented from a new 4K restoration from the original 16mm negative. Henenlotter and VanHentenryck team up for a new audio commentary.

From there, the many featurettes begin. “Basket Case 3 ½: An Interview with Duane Bradley” is a short film in which Henenlotter travels to a Woodstock farm to interview the lead character and ask about Belial's current whereabouts. VanHentenryck appears as Duane, then returns as himself for “Me and the Bradley Boys,” a straightforward interview segment in which he offers many fun recollections about the making of Basket Case.

“A Brief Interview with Frank Henenlotter” is not an interview with the director, but rather a comedy bit in which a naked man pretends to be Henenlotter and gives incorrect answers to questions posed from behind the camera by the real Henenlotter. “Seeing Double” is an interview with Florence and Maryellen Schultz, the director's cousins, who play twin nurses in the movie.

“Blood, Basket and Beyond” interviews Beverly Bonner, who plays Casey, a hooker Duane befriends. She talks about creating a stage show that followed her character years after the events portrayed in Basket Case. “The Latvian Connection” is a lengthier feature bringing us producer Edgar Ievins, casting director Ilze Balodis, special effects artist Ugis Nigals, and Kika Nigals, who “played” Belial. They discuss the production in great detail.

“Belial Goes to the Drive-In” has film critic Joe Bob Briggs weighing in on the legacy of Basket Case and how he helped get it seen, while “In Search of the Hotel Broslin” is a tour through some of the filming locations. Additionally, the disc contains outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage, a gallery of trailers and TV spots, and still galleries, plus Henenlotter's 1972 short film “Slash of the Knife” and a new animated short called “Belial's Dream.”

There is so much good stuff on this disc that it will take you a long time to get through it all – and you'll savor every second. Arrow Video has done an outstanding job on this must-own release.

Basket Case is unrated, but contains adult language, nudity/sexuality, and extreme gore and violence. The running time is 1 hour and 31 minutes.

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