Basket Case was a VHS sensation in the ’80s and it was actually the only horror film my parents owned on VHS, I believe somebody left it at there’s. The VHS cover image of the basket always tickled my imagination but I was too young so I didn’t see the first Basket Case film for the first time till fairly recently. I was over at a friend’s house a couple of years ago and we watched it.
Undeniable as it is so often the case the first film is heads and shoulders above the sequels. The first film has a sleazy punk rock early ’80s aesthetic which is really appealing and probably contributed to its status as a cult classic. It was shot on 16MM down in the heart of 42nd Street which just oozed still of seedy New York life. Abel Ferrara’s film The Driller Killer has a similar downtown vibe as well.
Kevin Van Hentenryck plays the young man Duane who has been separated from his deformed mutant Siamese twin Belial. Naturally he wants to seek his revenge on the doctors who performed the procedure and a blood bath ensures. Kevin also meets a girl who in the process makes his twin jealous.
Basket Case should be seen as one of the key forerunners of the independent film boom that would late in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The director Frank Henenlotter made it on a shoestring of around $30,000 which predates similarly budgeted efforts from indie auteurs like Richard Linklater and Kevin Smith. He certainly put every thing he had on-screen and the effects are certainly dated but effective. The fact it’s a stop motion puppets gives it a unique charm. It also has an absurdist sense of humour which would be highly influential on that dreaded genre of the horror comedy.
Naturally given the enormous success of the film theatrically and on especially on the then new medium of VHS some sequels were produced. Luckily for us unlike many horror sequels Henenlotter is behind the lens on both of them. They came at the start of the ’90s after Henenlotter directed both Brain Damage and Frankenhooker.
Duane and his twin are adopted by this crazy old women played by Annie Ross (best known for her role in Short Cuts) who is a caretaker along with her daughter of a clan of similarly deformed beings. The film is a radical departure from the downtown sleaze of the original and is more in common with Tod Browning’s Freaks although not as good. The film also have a more glossy feel which is the antithesis of the original even though the new creature designs add some surrealism to the proceedings.
The third film is very much a continuation of the second film and is still entertaining however the series seems to have been dragged out as far as it can by this point. Second Sight has previously released the trilogy in a steelbook. However if your like me and has an absolute disdain for overpriced pieces of cheap metal as Blu-Ray cases it’s a welcome re-release. The disc includes a feature-length documentary on the series and interview with graphic designer Graham Humphrey who designed the case and many iconic film posters. The disc is rounded with commentary, an intro along with numerous other features are also included on the first disc, the sequels don’t contain any special features.