The movie logWednesday, August 14, 2013
Basket Case: Not for those easily offended by cheap gore
Duane Bradley, an innocent, gawky guy arrives in Manhattan on a dark night. He carries a mysterious looking basket with him. He checks into a dirty, shabby-looking hotel called Hotel Broslin. As was to be expected, people begin to ask him what’s in the basket. But no matter how many times people ask, Duane won’t tell them a thing. It makes sense. For what’s in it is his deformed Siamese twin brother Belial. He was surgically removed by a couple of doctors when Duane was only a child. Not that anybody asked them if they wanted to be separated. Well, it so happens they didn’t want to be apart at any cost. So now, many years later, Duane and Belial plan to execute a gruesome revenge on those doctors — whom, in addition, left Belial for dead after the surgery. What these odd brothers did not expect is that a cute, kind girl would appear along the way. Almost instantly, Duane falls for her, which makes Belial angry and jealous. From then on, bloody carnage is underway. I mean, Belial is not about to let a mere slip of a girl take away his brother from him.
Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case (1982) is an ultra-cheap production that benefits from a highly enterprising premise which has been carried out with much creative flair, and not without a good dose of bizarre elements. You might call it a demented movie and you’d be dead right. It’s the kind of film that’s definitely not intended for those who are easily offended by what you could call bad taste. It’s a smutty exploitation movie surprisingly filled with a joyous charm, sleazy nudity, an over-abundance of over-the-top blood and gore, sharp black humour, and very amateurish acting. This cheesy fare is actually downright hilarious because of its small budget of US$35,000, and the fact that it was shot on 16mm adds to the overall sense of looking like a home movie. Moreover, it was shot on location when the vile streets were filled with sordid activity. Hence, its really gritty and scummy texture that’s simply unpleasant in nature.
As for the rundown hotel, let’s say the best thing about it is that it provides a whole lot of vivid characters living in a decaying environment, where innocence or lightness has no place whatsoever. But things are a bit more complex. For Basket Case’s realistic feel is also combined with some dreamlike scenes cleverly staged. On top of it, the absurd plot might be on the unusual side and have some confusing spots, but it simply draws you in because of the special bond Duane and Belial share, which makes their relationship rather sympathetic. The bleak conclusion is pretty memorable too. The shady script is very ordinary, but what redeems it is the genuine wit that finds it way into the picture. You’d think that a film with these characteristics would have a hard time succeeding, and yet Basket Case soon developed a cult following – as some similar bizarre movies from the ’80s did too.
The acting leaves a lot to be desired because these performers are either enthusiastically inept or pretty limp, but it just adds more to the vibrant charm and playful interplay between the cast. In fact, the actors were pals of the director. One case in point is Kevin Van Hentenryck, who is perfect in the lead role. Granted, acting-wise he’s weak, but his persona always feels right. Also Terri Susan Smith as Duane’s love interest is remarkably enticing, whereas Beverly Bonner as one of the tenants of the Hotel Broslin and Robert Vogel are engaging and pretty funny.
But the star of picture is Belial, a pretty rubbery monster that comes up with some surprises. Even though the stop-motion animation is poorly executed, it makes for effective and entertaining sequences. Take the times when Belial gets mad and even, for instance. Red plaint gets splashed about quite a lot and the sound effects do convey quite well the ripping and tearing Belial inflicts. As for the cinematography, it’s actually well-designed too. Plus there are also some POV shots from Belial that are sometimes pretty scary.
This humorous, grisly cult-favourite sure does pay off, and believe it or not, its two sequels are equally, if not more, attractive — even if they lack the original’s grimy outlook. They provide some jaw-dropping make-up effects that you surely won’t see coming at all.