Basket Case: The Trilogy (UK - BD)
Who better than The Wilson Brothers to investigate several basket cases?
There are a couple of generations now who wouldn’t know of the phenomenon of the Midnight Movie if they fell over it. These were films so outrageous, sickening and wonderful that those possessed of the taste to see them would only come out at night, so they were played at the witching hour to maximum effect. Pink Flamingos virtually started the whole thing, and a succession of others turned it into a Saturday night standard - just take a look at how long The Rocky Horror Picture Show ran for in New York theatres - but when Frank Henenlotter’s bizarre horror movie about a weird kid and his even stranger Siamese twin getting revenge on those who split them up opened, it ended up defying all expectations and played at NY’s famous Waverly theatre for over two solid years. After many releases here in the UK, and in various edited forms, Basket Case finally arrives on Blu-Ray in a form which will make your jaws hit the floor at just how jam-packed with incredible extras a Grindhouse movie could be, not least of which are the inclusion of the two sequels. Did we hallucinate this amazing package after smoking too many banana skins when we were younger? This needs further investigation…
One quite night in Glens Falls, Upstate New York young Duane Bradley is woken in the middle of the night and forcibly dragged into his family’s dining room. Set up as a makeshift operating room, Duane is sedated and has his Siamese twin brother forcibly removed from his side, and the twisted, blob of flesh known as Belial is thrown out with the rubbish to die. Surviving the separation, the two use their telepathic link to plot revenge against their father and those who performed the illegal surgery. Their vengeance is years in the making, but the streets of New York are going to run red with blood when Belial is let out of the padlocked wicker basket Duane carries him around in, pausing only to eat hotdogs and watch TV. But when Duane discovers the pleasures of the opposite sex, it’s not long before a woman turns the brothers against each other, and that’s when things get really freaky!
Many would argue that the most ensnaring element is the most obvious, that of “what’s in the basket?" used both in the dialogue and all over the advertising, directly appealing to the darker side of human nature whilst invoking the true spirit of the carnival freak-show. We, however, would disagree at the suggestion that this is the real hook to the film. For us, there is something irresistible about the list of doctors and what became of them after they performed their deeply unethical surgery. Dr Julius Liflander pretty much stayed where he was, and subsequently was the first - and easiest to kill, whilst a trip down-state into New York finds Dr Harold Needleman, a much shabbier man than previously seen in the films' key flashback scene, as though his stained conscience has manifested itself into his practices. By complete contrast, Dr Judith Kutter is found leading a luxurious, man-eating life as a vet, clearly the ring-leader of the bunch and resolute shutting off all links to her dubious past. It never really specifies if she was in veterinary medicine all along, or if her medical career went to the wall and ended up becoming a vet after being struck off. Tarantino understood the usefulness of this particular storytelling device, and employed it when he wrote Kill Bill, although many would argue that combining it with his “answers first, questions later” technique, diluted the effect far too much to be effective.
Along with all the other strong exploitation elements displayed by Henenlotter, something which really wormed Basket Case into our affections was that it really captures the vibe of early John Waters movies, pre- Hairspray…no, pre- Polyester, where the energy and bad Karma of the director was imbued into the very celluloid by some form of psychic osmosis. The aesthetics are strikingly similar, with “real” locations and genuine acoustic bringing a level of realism to a movie so very weird, balancing out everything else, much like the opening ten minutes of Pixar’s Up prepping audiences for the patently ludicrous stuff later in the movie. Come Christmas 1990, we got an original Palace edition of Basket Case, as well as digging into the John Waters Box-Set, so all were enthusiastically embraced in one giant hug, with the undercurrent of black humour through disreputable characters were all cut from the same cloth. Both directors have movies which were staples of the Midnight-Movie phenomenon, and even Leonard “ If it trashes Christmas or New York, I’ll hate it” Maltin mentions the similarities between the two filmmakers, and even has a soft spot for Basket Case - this is probably no surprise, as Henenlotter’s love for the Big Apple shines through, in spite of - or because of - the sleaze.
Along with Bill Lustig’s Maniac, no other movie captures the Vibe of the classic era of 42nd Street, times long before the drastic clean-up which began in the eighties, turning the notorious area of The Duce from the nexus of all the sinful pleasures in life into a safe place for tourists to shop for designer goods. Both Henelotter and Lustig knew that such dramatic changes were taking place, and felt compelled to document the area for future generations of sleaze enthusiasts, as cultural historians have always had a knack of glossing over just this kind of unsavoury parts of life. To use Tarantino again, his Grindhouse project (in which we very briefly appeared) was an attempt to resurrect the concept for the fans whilst educating younger moviegoers to the concept of the double-feature, and Henenlotter does his bit to keep it alive when he takes Duane Bradley into one of the 42nd Street theatres, taking in a triple-bill of Kung-Fu movies, with the derelict patrons merely using it as a cheap place to sleep for the night. The atmosphere created inside is so tangible that you’ll feel the need to take a couple of showers afterwards. It’s this keep sense of environment which gives a literally incredible tale a pair of feet firmly planted on the ground, doubtless whilst standing in a dollop of rancid semen.
The performance of Kevin Van Hentenryck is often derided, but you have to put his work in context with the story of the movie. Dwayne Bradley has been screwed over almost everyone in a position of trust in his life, with them all conspiring to kill his beloved brother. The constant psychic bond with Belial has seen him channelling his twisted rage for years, and this has left him rather unstable, and even when he is putting on a “normal” front to enable him to put their grand plan into action, any unexpected emotions generated within him unleash them in an amplified form. In short, anger becomes rage, something funny becomes hysterical. It’s only when alone with Belial that he is “normal”, and more what audiences expect. Everything is planned, with Van Hentenryck doing an excellent job of playing a very conflicted kid, torn apart by loyalty to his brother, the need for revenge and his pie-in-the-sky chance at a real life. The one problem is that he has a lot of “telephone” dialogue to deliver, where he has to reiterate what Belial is saying to an audience not privy to the psychic bond, and a lot of people unfairly seize upon this. Head into the sleaziest part of a country, find a weird-looking guy and take a look at them. Are they overacting? No - they are just oddballs, and Van Hentenryck does great work at making Duane Bradley such a likeable nut-job.
Everything about the movie feels authentic, from the hookers lined up along 42nd Street, to the disgusting interiors of Grindhouse bathrooms and the Hotel Broslin itself, where the colourful array of supporting characters comes off as the kind of people you would expect to find living there, and Duane slips nicely into the midst. The Hotel Manager seems to be someone you’ve seen interviewed on TV when a gunman goes nuts in New York, Casey (Beverly Bonner) the local prostitute is exactly what you’d expect for the paltry money she probably charges, and everybody’s favourite thieving, meandering Irishman could have easily gotten his own TV spin-off from this movie! How could we even mention the cast without bringing up Terri Susan Smith, playing the ill-fated first love of Duane Bradley, and this absolutely stunning woman’s formidable nude scene is reason alone to pick up this wonderful high-definition release from Second Sight.
To get a fuller range of movement out of rather unweildy Belial puppet, Henenlotter employed the traditional technique of animation, where the model is moved a frame at a time, clicking the shutter on the camera open to correspond with the movement, eventually producing continuous motion. Yes, we just stated the bleeding obvious, but with the stop-motion technique almost obsolete these days, we thought it might be helpful to cover the basics. Still, Basket Case has been criticised for the rather primitive ways of bringing Belial to life, but we wouldn’t want it any other way, as there is a freedom of movement which couldn’t have been granted otherwise. Suddenly, Belial is able to trash a hotel room when he throws a strop, not taking the easy way out and just showing the aftermath. You can see the craft in the animation, even though Henenlotter got so bored during the process that he resorted to kicking the Belial puppet around the room by the end of the shot, but in spite of the process lot looking entirely fluid, to criticise it for this akin to complaining about the thumb-prints which sporadically appear over the faces of Wallace and Grommit - they are inherent in the craft.
Henenlotter really isn’t a great fan of his own work, being able to watch more of each subsequent film he makes. With Basket Case his first “proper” movie, it comes as no surprise that he is only able to watch a little of it at a time. This is primarily because he is only able to view it as either/both a laundry-list of what when wrong, or a form of resentment at against everything he was not able to achieve as a filmmaker, rather than anything he has against the concept of the movie itself. Such perceived “imperfections” are what gives a film its character, happy accidents which combine to give a unique flavour rather than just being a highly-polished piece of vanilla-scented celluloid. You don’t go to a brothel to admire the construction and décor of the building - you’re in there to experience wanton pleasure, to plunk down your money and get your rocks off via those who know which of your buttons to push to illicit the biggest response. We love exploitation, and getting enjoyment from them is the point of the damned exercise, and we cheerfully paraphrase the famous quote when we say that we love movies for their good qualities, but we love them for their “flaws”.
At its heart is the acceptance - or lack of such acceptance - of those who are different in society, and how much of it is based on aesthetics. Duane is just as damaged as Belial, but where the latter is a twisted lump of seething flesh possessed of a few recognisable human traits, the extent of Duane’s physical freakishness is confined to a large scar running down his side. He is scarred far worse psychologically, yet accepted much more willingly by those around him purely because he is healthy and wholesome on the outside. Belial could find a universal cure for cancer, and write witty songs on a par with Cole Porter, but his outward appearance would never see him accepted for his true qualities. For the purposes of exploitation, he isn’t possessed of such noble traits, but Belial seeks revenge for the way society treated him, and brings a new twist on the rape/revenge genre which was popular at the time Henenlotter was formulating the idea for Basket Case. With the Bradleys, their bond and way of life is raped, with all the familiar trappings of probing instruments, brute force and lots of blood, the ensuing revenge meted out just as viciously as those seen in I Spit on Your Grave, with a special violation reserved for Dr Kutter. It is unclear if she dies from the injuries inflicted upon her, but there are those who think that she was turned into a freak by Belial as his ultimate revenge for the surgery - if this is the case, then the irony brings events to a nicely-rounded conclusion. This particular theme was more explicitly explored in Basket Case 2, and we'll leave it up to you as to which film got the balance right.
Another element which really sticks Basket Case firmly into our hearts is the music, particularly the piece which plays over the end credits, as it evokes that period in the late 70s/early 80s and has a sound unlike any other era. You can’t help but be reminded of numerous logos used by early video distribution companies - particularly Guild and Alpha - when hearing it, and a nostalgic charge is guaranteed, not to mention similar compositions found in Uli Lommell’s The Boogeyman. It’s another part of the movie which gives us the Christmas spirit when we hear it, and just continues to be a source of deep joy.
Fundamentally, Basket Case is a metaphor for a person wrestling with their own sexuality; the usually meek and mild Duane keeps another part of him padlocked in a box, trying desperately to keep in contained. His attempts to pick up women are rarely successful and usually end in tragedy, and the sense of rage felt by his other self (Belial) is all too clear, the end result is of a man meeting his demise through failing to come to terms with what he truly is and his inability to reconcile the duality of his nature. Or some bollocks like that. The only thing you really need to know is that this is a trash classic, and one Hell of a lot of fun. It's best viewed with beer and as many frankfurters as you can get your hands on!
Basket Case 2:
Following straight on from the events of the first film, Duane Bradley and his brother Belial have managed to survive the fall from the sign of the Hotel Broslin and they fall in with Granny Ruth (Annie Ross), who has her own family of “unique individuals” and the Bradley Boys have mixed experiences trying to fit into the household. Both Duane and Belial meet members of the opposite sex and start to form relationships, but their new-found acceptance, along with the peace and harmony of everyone in Granny Ruth's house is under threat of exposure by a sleazy tabloid publication.
If the original Basket Case served as a metaphor for struggling to come to terms with sexual identity, then Basket Case 2 has no such issues, as Granny Ruth (some could look upon her as being something of a "fag-hag") loves and embraces those who are different and living under her Ruth, sorry - roof. The "freaks" all live fairly harmoniously and one can't help but see the origins of what has come to be generally known as diversity today, with Basket Case 2 being almost a celebration of being different. Basket Case 2 also shows that the Bradleys have come to terms with certain issues, as it shows both of them getting involved with significant others and the romantic endeavours of both of them are amusingly inter-cut, with one of the twins being significantly more successful than the other.
The main problem with Basket Case 2 is that the main premise is lifted almost wholesale from Tod Browning’s infamous 1932 epic, Freaks, but the main difference here is that Browning's film focused upon the relationships between the members of the freak community, both harmonistic and antagonistic, showing the ramifications of the group's complex interpersonal relations, Basket Case 2 just has Granny Ruth's house pretty much harmonious and this is made more incredible (relatively speaking, of course) by having almost all of the freaks in the house essentially mute; whether or not Henenlotter intended this to act as a metaphor for the different or disabled not having a voice is open to debate, but the film would have been a lot more interesting if the "unique persons" actually talked.
Henelotter decided that he didn't want to have the deformities of Granny Ruth's "family" to be anything that mirrored real-life, so those seen are all pretty surreal, with most of them crossing over into ridiculous, including what is essentially an huge, opera-singing mouth and a guy with teeth like elephant tusks. This attempt to steer clear of the blood and brutal violence of the first film will turn of some fans of the original Basket Case, as even though it's an "adult" film, it comes across as more family-friendly, with more surrealist violence, rather than anything that approaches real-life horror.
Things aren't helped by trying to make a sequel when the climax of the first film clearly showed Duane and Belial having a fatalistic date with gravity and the pavement outside the Hotel Broslin; this is quickly avoided by having news footage of them being put into an ambulance. Though Henenlotter may have just about scraped by with that one, there is still the unexplainable question as to why the Bradley brothers suddenly find themselves transported eight years into the future, but this is never addressed and the story, along with Duane and Belial, just gets on with it and the issue isn't addressed.
What made Henenlotter’s first Basket Case film so enjoyable was because it filmed with virtually no money and had a grimy, rough-and-ready look that was augmented by the backdrop of some of the seedier areas of New York, it was shot on 16mm, which helped to give it that characteristic rough look, whereas Basket Case 2 was obviously shot on 35mm, looking more professional (it was made-back-to-back with Henenlotter's Frankenhooker, and both films were first time he had to deal with unions), but also removing much of the charm that the first film had; things look pretty polished, but it also shows up the limitations of the budget, by showing some of the sets as distinctly cheap-looking and it's probably a psychological effect when seeing something low-budget on 16mm and something low budget on 35mm that make you more accepting of the former and more critical of the latter.
This is carried over into the performances, with the more amateur and outrageous turns from the cast being more easy to accept in the first Basket Case, but the 35mm medium acts as a polished magnifying glass, under which OTT performances seem even larger; some of Olivier's cinematic undertakings were described as being "too big for the screen" (meaning that the projection of every nuance and emotion didn't translate onto film), and a similar effect can be seen in Basket Case 2 - and the third film for that matter - as the comparative jump from SD to HD (we know, it's only a vague analogy) only served to magnify the already overripe performances.
Happily, Kevin Van Hentenryck is not one of the casualties, as he gives a more measured performance in this film, having grown as an actor in the time between the first one (he put in an amusing cameo – as Duane - in Frank Henenlotter’s Brain Damage), and along with a more modern haircut, he is less of an oddball than he was in the original Basket Case, but this fits in with his character’s desire to be accepted as a “normal” person.
Jazz singer Annie Ross makes for a great addition to the cast, with her homely, almost patronising Norman Rockwell-esque demeanour really contrasting in a surreal way with all of the freaks in the house. Ross memorably played Robert Vaughn’s frosty, implacable sister, Vera, in Superman III and her performance couldn’t be more different, but there is a knowing twinkle in here eye that comes into play during the film’s final act.
Henenlotter's credentials as a full-on exploitation fan are in evidence in Basket Case 2, as some of the supporting cast have their roots in various B-movies and exploitation films, including From Beyond's Ted Sorel and, in his final film appearance, The Brain That Wouldn't Die's Jason Evers as sleazy tabloid editor, Lou.
Speak of actors from classic films, it's sad to see Dawn of the Dead's David Emge reduced to playing one of the masked freaks in Granny Ruth's household; Emge was great as Stephen "Flyboy" Andrews in George Romero's classic zombie opus, and he deserved to have had a great cinematic career, but after appearing as the helicopter-piloting Flyboy, he only turned up in two other films and Basket Case 2 was the one that followed Dawn of the Dead.
Frank Henenlotter's second venture into Basket Case territory is passable entertainment for fans of horror and the unusual, but it pales in comparison to the original film. The decision to try and give this sequel a more polished look wasn't the greatest one in the world, but there's enough humour and surrealistic violence to keep viewers watching and even though you can see the surprise ending coming a mile off, it's still satisfying and sucessfully got your hopes up for a...
Basket Case 3:
Well, Henenlotter and his people had such good fun making Basket Case 2 that they decided to keep the party going and knock out a third film in short order. This time, Belial and his girlfriend find themselves about to hear the slurp-slurp of tiny, dragging trunks after their climactic sex at the end of the last movie, and Dwayne is finding his new bout of separation-angst almost as hard to cope with as the concept of his becoming an uncle, both of which plague him as much as the straitjacket he is being kept in. Lead by Granny Ruth, the whole gang heads south to Peach Tree Valley, Georgia to visit Uncle Hal and his twisted nephew, ready for the momentous birth, but the local redneck police force see the opportunity to make themselves a tidy sum with the new arrivals and kidnap the little tykes. It’s all-out freak war as they set about assaulting the local police station to get them back!
There really isn’t much to contribute about Basket Case 3, other than how few people there are with a good thing to say about it. It was spawned through the makers wanting to extend the good time they had on the second one, but the mood really doesn’t filter through the final product and into anyone watching. It almost plays like one of the worse episodes of The A Team, in which our protagonists find themselves in a redneck town where the corrupt police operate by their own laws, and it’s up to our guys to put a stop to them. The plot is purely perfunctory, with a re-hash of numerous elements from the second film, there only to give a structure into which to work the main theme. On the audio commentary of Basket Case, Henenlotter himself takes time to almost curses at the heavens: “ Basket Case 3? What was I thinking?” - so if the guy responsible for the end result questions its existence, then there are solid reasons for not liking it.
There are so many things which just don’t gel, now noticeable they are depends on how much you know about the films beforehand. One instance occurs when a photo on a wall of the Susan is used as a poignant reminder of the character Duane killed at the end of the second movie, but this was clearly yanked out of the publicity material from Basket Case 2, as there was no way a picture of her with the surprise twist could have been taken in time. Besides, Fangoria used the very same shot to spoil the movie long before it came out - as was their usual practice. That reminds us… when are Second Sight going to bring out Society? Still, you know that there are going to be problems in a film where the title main character is strangely absent from a good portion of the movie - yep, Belial doesn’t even appear until the 33 minute mark. You might argue that this was done so as to build anticipation and suspense in the way the first movie did, but it’s now the third one in the series, and the cat is firmly out of the bag by this point.
The violence to Belial’s victims is the polar opposite to that seen in the first film, a prime example being when he gets his hands his first police officer inside the station. Instead of the expected blood/guts/clawing we all know/love/expect, the cops’ neck is twisted round and upwards ‘til his eyes bulge out like a Tex Avery cartoon, another ends up with his head facing backwards. Watching the documentary found in this set reveals that the lack of violence in the third film was due to those holding the purse-strings demanding it be toned down during the writing stage so as to make it more commercial. This ended up being around eleven pages of gory moments simply ripped out and thrown to the four winds, and if they had remained the movie might have worth something to someone.
The whole thing ends with a climatic battle taken from the ending of Aliens, with Belial going up against the Sheriff in a cybernetic suit to even the odds. With the second movie coming with the message that “freaks” can manage themselves very well on their own, it’s depressing that Belial is given the assistance of technology to defeat his foe, where his own abilities were enough to get him through up until that point. It’s all a cheap joke and merely fannish recreation of/cashing in on a movie which was still fairly new at that time, and a disappointing way to end the series. It’s pretty much endemic of just what went wrong with the third film, that it uses obvious cheap humour to get laughs, aiming for a broader - and dumber - audience. Those with more extensive knowledge of cinema with notice the lifting of an iconic line from I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, taking the “civil tongue“ gag and repurposing it as: “ Where’s my brother? He should be here with me - I sewed him on myself,” the very fact that they resorted to such shameless theft highlights the lack or originality found here. Yes, we also got the Chained for Life reference, too.
One piece in rather dubious taste is when Granny Ruth stops in a drugstore to pick up some essential supplies, which includes children’s toys, a dog bone and large quantities of contraceptives. Having worked with a number of people society classes as “different” or “challenged,” this really does play up to the stereotype that anyone perceived as not as others is mentally retarded and should be treated like children, and above all else, should never be allowed to breed. OK, maybe too much is being read into this, but it it’s too easy to be used as propaganda by less enlightened minds. Speaking of sex and unique individuals, the sequence which depicts the thoughts of Belial really comes across as a cheap way of getting more tits into the proceedings, where two pneumatically-charged bimbos quote Shakespeare and trigonometry at him to try and maintain viewer interest. Make up your own mind as to if it worked or not…
It’s not all bad news, as there are flashes of what might have been, such as the image of Duane calmly eating Cornflakes whilst Belial viciously attacks a corrupt cop in the background, and let’s not forget the customary cameo by Beverly Bonner as the manager at Mighty Casey’s burger joint, the name of the place in itself a tribute to her character name in the first film, as well as her brief appearance in Basket Case 2. But best above all without doubt has to be when Annie Ross is allowed to show off her sterling jazz credentials in spectacular style during the road-trip when she leads the freaks on a rollicking rendition of her old standard “Personality”; this really is the business, as Ross was clearly having a ball when doing it and you just can’t help but smile as she belts it out with such vigour, gusto style that no X-Factor contestant could even approach.
There are also the odd couple of amusing lines, which come as a real surprise in a sea of mediocrity like Basket Case 3, but they are pretty hilarious. When Belial finally makes an appearance, he is rips into poor old Hal with a savage ferocity which leaves his victim with deep facial lacerations and splattered with blood, still angry at the precious events. “That was NOT a constructive way to express your feelings,” says Granny Ruth, in a swipe at the burgeoning touchy-feely sentiment which hallmarked the nineties. Spending a good portion of the movie equally as restrained as his brother, Van Hentenryck finally sees the opportunity to escape from his straitjacket confinement when he happens upon a Peach Tree Valley resident and introduces himself with the words: “ Duane Bradley. May I borrow a Swiss army knife?”
Ultimately, Basket Case 3 (The Progeny) has its fans, but there are many with an unhealthy taste for scat, and we’re not talking about the jazz style - or are we? Anyway, if you want to extend the Basket Case 2 experience, then there are more freaks than you can shake a sideshow barker’s stick at, and you will certainly get your money’s worth. Some might look at it as the deformity on the side of Duane Bradley, whereas others could view it as the disgusting growth on the side of Belial, but we’ll say no more than that. It’s got freaks, guys! What more could some of you want?
The original and the best comes to you in the original aspect ratio of 1.33:1; this is Henenlotter's preferred aspect ratio, as the film was shot on 16mm and the director always hated how the 35mm blow-ups looked. It's wonderfully filmic and the transfer allows the seedy neon colours taken in by the night photography of 42nd Street to be seen with a level of clarity that Basket Case hasn't had since it originally played in New York cinemas at midnight back in 1982. The 16mm format means that there is quite a bit of grain present, but this is faithfully reproduced here and actually adds to the experience, rather than detracting from it.
Basket Case 2:
The image detail is pretty good, here, with a nice clean image that still retains a pleasing level of film grain. The colours are surprisingly strong (but not over-saturated) and there is not much in the way of distracting dirt or debris.
It should be mentioned that Basket Case 2 contains a number of optical shots or transitions, with some of them occurring 30 seconds or so into a shot, and the unavoidable result of this is a drop in quality during these shots that is noticeable due to the optical compositing that was the norm at that time; optically-printed dirt is present, but this shouldn't spoil your enjoyment too much.
Basket Case 3:
The image is pleasingly filmic, with a good level of grain present, and appears to be of the authentic variety, that is not electronically generated after digital scrubbing. The level of detail is rather nice, too, and this is demonstrated when the freaks’ bus pulls away from the drug-store, as you get to really pick out the inadvertent cameo by one of the boom-operators reflected in the windows with his hands above his head. There is one instance of a brief tramline down the screen gives authenticity to the pure nature of the materials used for the transfer.
All three Basket Case films are presented uncompressed PCM 2.0 audio; they sound as good as they can possibly sound, with the original being the weakest due to the limitations of the production. Things improve with the second and third instalments, as there is a pretty dramatic upswing in terms of fidelity and dynamic range, with pleasingly clear audio and the music of Joe Renzetti coming across quite impressively.
What's in the Basket?: UK EXCLUSIVE! Produced by Severin Films, this feature-length documentary examines the production of all three instalments in the Basket Case series and features the participation of many of the people who made them possible. Frank Henenlotter gets the lion's share of screen time, explaining the events that led up to the creation of what has become an exploitation classic - being burnt on the production of a film he was passionate about and just deciding to write the most stupid story he could think of just happened to be the motivation. Henelotter is a very genial guy, but he is also very frank about his initial feelings toward Basket Case (being embarrassed that people were queuing around the block to see it), but like many directors who achieve fame not necessarily the way they would have liked - George Lucas being the prime example - Henenlotter learned to live with it and ultimately embraced it. What's refreshing about Henenlotter is that most academics are usually interviewed with them sitting in front of their bookshelves, giving a glimpse into what reading matter they are partial to, whereas Henenlotter is seen being interviewed in front of shelves containing his vast video and DVD collection, the titles of many can be picked out due to this documentary being shot and presented in HD - the contrast between Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now and Ulli Lommel's Boogeyman II couldn't be more startling.
Kevin Van Hentenryck is interviewed and looks pretty cool, even if his hair is now grey and he has a bit of a double-chin; he could still pull off playing Duane Bradley again if the opportunity arose. Bevery Bonner, who has appeared in every one of Henenlotter's films also appears on-camera and is typically enthusiastic about the director's work and the time she spent on the films.
Amongst the highlights of this entertaining documentary is the tale told by Henenlotter of the troubles he had when the distributor decided to cut out the gore scenes from the original Basket Case and it sunk like a stone, only to have legendary exploitation critic Joe Bob Briggs come riding to the rescue and play the uncensored version at a festival and bringing the house down with it, which caused the censors to quietly put the excised violence back in and it became a huge hit.
The filming of Basket Case 2 and Basket Case 3 are given a surprisingly decent amount of screen time, with a couple of people involved being interviewed, the most interesting of which is Annie Ross, who is only too happy to say how much she enjoyed the experience; Ross looks surprisingly good if you consider that she is now an octogenarian, but even though she looks a little on the frail side, she makes for a great interviewee and almost makes you think that the sequels are worth another look after hearing her speak so fondly of her time under the directorship of Frank Henenlotter.
The disaster that was the third film in the series is examined, with Henenlotter being remarkably honest, to the point of bluntness and thought that the film was a bad idea. He explains that they started without a script nor even a story idea and there were running battles with the producers on the level of violence and gore that was to be shown in the film, with Henenlotter losing out on his intention to return to the more realistic violence that was on display in the original Basket Case. The director takes in on the chin as to why Basket Case 3 is such a stinker and holds his hands up, with co-writer (and original Fangoria editor) "Uncle" Bob Martin states "It think it's very funny... maybe that's why it's so bad, because my sense of humour is so awful". Yeah. Henenlotter goes on to say that the decision to have a musical number in the film was a clear indication that the director "was out of his fucking mind", which sums things up rather nicely.
The last few minutes of What's in the Basket? are spent highlighting what many of the cast and crew are up to now, with Henenlotter bemoaning the fact that most of his rejections by producers usually end with "why don't you make Basket Case 4?"; Annie Ross still performs regularly with her jazz band in New York; Beverly Bonner takes her stage-show around the country, often accompanied by screening of the original Basket Case; Kevin Van Hentenryck seems the happiest out of them, having left acting to become a sculptor and he shows off some of his stuff, which are pretty impressive, he is also shown jamming in a rock band and he looks pretty cool as he does so. Van Hentenryck is also asked about the possibility of doing a fourth instalment of the Basket Case series if he was asked, and he indicates that he would be open to it and Henenlotter confirms that he has been tinkering away on a script that's "pretty wild".
It's pretty safe to say that What's in the Basket? is the last word on Henenlotter's Basket Case series; it's frank, funny and at times eye-opening - even if you hate either or both of the sequels, the circumstances that led to them being the films they came to be are explored and even though you don't appreciate them any more than you did, it at least helps you to understand them a wee bit better. The 78 minute running time just whizzes by so fast that you don't really want it to end, which is always a sign of enjoyment and appreciation.
Grisly Graham Humphries: UK EXCLUSIVE! This exclusive documentary looks at the life and work of British artist Graham Humphries, who has spent decades producing artwork for horror and exploitation films (amongst many other things), presenting lurid images that made UK audiences want to put stump up the money to see the film that his artwork advertised. His work is so iconic and distinctive that it wouldn't be an unfair to call him the British Reynold Brown.
Humphries comes across as a very humble, modest man who clearly enjoys creating images that provoke a reaction when viewed (due to the commercial nature of his work, that reaction would be to see the film it is advertising); the story of how he came to get into the industry - via the late, lamented Palace Pictures - and how he got the job of designing the poster of The Evil Dead is fascinating, especially when he reveals that the original artwork went missing and when it came to the re-release on video in the early nineties, he had to re-draw it and the resulting artwork was better than the original, benefiting from the techniques and skills he had picked up over the course of nearly a decade. On a similar, note, Humphries drew the original Return of the Living Dead UK quad poster artwork and re-drew it to advertise a hi-def screening of the film just before the Blu-ray release earlier this year (sadly, it was too late to use the artwork for the Second Sight's Blu release, as it is absolutely stunning). There is also time set aside explaining how Humphries came up with the iconic poster artwork for the original Nightmare on Elm Street, which was quite possibly the most iconic horror art of the decade, and how he was involved with the artwork of several of the sequels, and even the infamous James Bond-style teaser for fourth instalment that got the distributor into hot water with Eon's legal team.
Shot in what appears to be his studio in the loft of his house, this is an enjoyable 19-minute romp through the professional career of a man who has produced artwork in his own unique and distinctive style for three decades and his inimitable work graces the cover of this Basket Case box-set. This is a wonderful trip down memory lane and you will be surprised by just how many pieces of classic eighties horror artwork he was responsible for.
Audio Commentary: Director Frank Henelotter, Producer Edgar Ievins, actress Beverly Bonner and Basket Case 2 contributor Scooter McCrae are your contributors for this informative, yet light-hearted discussion on the original Basket Case. Recorded in Henenlotter's living room, the more relaxed location extends to the atmosphere amongst the participators and many amusing stories about how the low budget nature of the shoot allowed them to be more creative and develop ideas that would never have surface by simply throwing money at it - the reception area of the fictitious Hotel Broslin being a perfect example (it was in actuality, a lift that they fitted out to look like a cramped booking-in desk). It's a welcoming affair, with everyone contributing a large amount of fascinating information and Henelotter leads the pack, with his genial manner and honest thoughts on how the original Basket Case turned out. It's just a shame that star Kevin Van Hentenryck couldn't/wouldn't participate, as he would have contributed muich to the discussion.
Introduction: This brief intro has director Frank Henenlotter quickly explaining that this Blu-Ray presentation is about as good as it is going to look and that they decided to retain all the grain and the original aspect ratio, as the 35mm blow-ups that were released in cinemas looked cramped and as grainy as hell. Henenlotter's frank (ahem) and honest warning as to how Basket Case is going to look hi Hi-Def makes for an amusing warm-up for what follows.
In Search of the Hotel Broslin: This 15 minute featurette has director Frank Henenlotter and R.A. "The Rugged Man" (along with cameraman - and occasional director - Scooter McCrae) going off to find the location of the fictitious establishment seen in the original Basket Case. Henenlotter is genial and has a self-deprecating sense of humour, whereas his companion seems to believe in his own hype more than the average five-year-old believes in the existence of faries and hasn't taken Ritalin lately (either R.A. or the five-year-old) Things don't go smoothly when they reach the location used for the exterior and the lobby, being confronted by an automated door and the gentlemen who answers the intercom is less-than helpful (presumably because he doesn't want to buzz them in and later being turfed out for violating his tenancy agreement) - R.A. starts losing his temper, Brooklyn-style, whereas Henenlotter is more philosophical about the matter and quotes American novelist Thomas Woolfe (presumably he had "only the dead know Brooklyn" in mind).
Undeterred, they head to the infamous Hellfire S&M club, where they shot several scenes for the film, taking advantage of the spacious area that could double for a number of locations needed. There was no repeat of the previous entry problems seen earlier, as it's a pretty safe bet that entry to the Hellfire Club had been arranged in advance. The decor had changed radically, but the prop that was used to kill Duane and Belial's father remained in the establishment - it was being used as a wall decoration - until it was pinched. As if to prove that things in the Hellfire Club had been pre-arranged, actor Joe Clarke is conveniently sitting at the bar and they reminisce about Clarke's experiences on the film. The owner of the HellFire Club, a guy by the name of "Lenny" who looks like ZZ-Top's grandfather drops by and gives a little more background information about how the club was back when Basket Case was filmed (William Friedkin's infamous Cruising was also shot there) and he comes across as an interesting guy. During this nostalgic travelogue, the Henenlotter and R.A. briefly stop off a a location used by Lucio Fulci for his infamous New York Ripper - Henenlotter admits that this has nothing to do with Basket Case, but it's pretty cool, demonstrating that Frank is a film-fan first and director second.
The last stop on the tour is Henelotter's place, where the viewer is confronted by the original full-size Belial puppet (which was used for the stop-motion animation), looking sad and inert, the two decades following the shooting of the film having taken their toll on it. Henenlotter wheels out other props, including a couple from the third Basket Case film ( "Basket Case 3 - what were we thinking?", bemoans the director), not to mention some bizarre Japanese publicity items. This is a fairly fun documentary, hindered somewhat by R.A.'s bullish nature, but this doesn't ruin things; Henenlotter seems like a genuinely nice guy, and he has a fairly philosophical outlook on life, tinged with a hint of sadness, but he can still play up to the cameras with the best of 'em.
Outtakes: This is a six-minute collection of clapperboard shots and trims, with the odd cock-up thrown in for good measure; it seems to show that people were generally having a good time on during the shoot of Basket Case, with many of the actors, along with some of the crew, mugging into the camera just before a take. This is presented with the original audio, but with one of the tracks from the film playing on a loop during the six minutes. The most bizarre shot comes when one of the female member of the crew is seen trying to attach a rubber toy to one of her breasts in order to bounce it up and down using the power of gravity - it last a few seconds before it falls to the floor.
Trailers: There are two previews for Basket Case, both of which play up the "what's in the basket?" aspect of the film, using all of the instances that the line is employed, along with careful uses of Belial, so as not to blow the surprise. The shorter trailer is just a condensing of the longer one, but ends with the voiceover exclaiming that it's "coming to THIS theatre!". Both trailers offer great nostalgic fun and show how a clever idea for structuring a trailer can get people interesting in watching a film, rather than the brainwashing, hit-them-over-the-head-with-operatic-music-and-soundbite-phrases method employed for most films these days.
Radio Spots: Frank Henenlotter's Basket Case was made in a time when the medium of radio was very much a viable way of getting the message out that an exploitation film was playing in a nearby cinema or drive-in; radio spots usually had some wacky angle that was played up and the resulting ad used little or no audio footage from the film it was advertising and often bore little resemblance to the thing either (the radio spots for Amando de Ossori's third part of his Blind Dead series, Ghost Galleon, have to be heard to be disbelieved), and the aural commercials for Basket Case are no different. Both radio ads feature a man who sounds like your "Classically-Trained Actor", who is playing Dr Kutter for the purposes of radio (even though Kutter
is a woman in the film) and they focus upon the separation of the Bradley twins in the film, and there is copious amounts of horrifying stuff going on in the background, with a woman playing a nurse stressing that there are large amount of blood all over her and the rest of the place. The radio spots are pretty silly and don't do the film justice at all, but they are ultimately crudely effective and helped to sell the film.
Behind-the-Scenes Gallery: This features a succession of monochromatic and colour stills showcasing what was happening during the shooting of Basket Case, with plenty of members of the cast and crew hamming it up along with showing the preparation of make-up effects and the application of copious amounts of blood to the faces of actors.
Photo Gallery: This series of publicity stills for Basket Case is another mixture of colour and monochrome images and many of them will be familiar to fans of the film, as they were used for lobby stills and video covers over the years. It's nice to see that there are some slight variations of some of the most iconic images from the film, the shot of Duane and Belial hanging from the Hotel Broslin sign is a perfect example.
Promotional Material Gallery: This is a fun assortment of posters, lobby stills from around the world, video sleeves, DVD covers, newspaper ads and various other bits of publicity-generating ephemera; it even includes a shot of the promotional surgical mask (with the title Basket Case plastered over it), which was given out to people who went to see the film during it's cinematic run. The most fascinating items are newspaper adverts for Basket Case playing at the Waverley Theatre, the first one of which is to celebrate it's 52nd week and the other celebrates it's astonishing second year! That's right, Basket Case ran for around TWO YEARS at the Waverley Theatre - for the latter, they were giving out McDondald's hamburgers to the first 100 people in line. It seems almost inconceivable these days where even blockbuster films come and go from cinemas in a matter of weeks that a film can have a continual and successful run for a couple of years; there is no such thing as a "sleeper" hit these days - the sad truth is that if your film isn't number one at the box-office during it's opening weekend, it's considered a failure; these two clippings present an illuminating, yet somewhat depressing thing to think about.
Frank Henelotter's Basket Case is a film that ranks alongside John Waters' Pink Flamingos and Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead as a bona fide cult classic and it wears it's exploitation badge with a sense of pride. Basket Case 2 and Basket Case 3 aren't in the same league as the first film, but they do provide some entertainment value.
The two new and exclusive extras from Severin Films for this release are wonderful and are the icing on the cake for what is a wonderful package - Second Sight are to be applauded for the love and care lavished upon this release and fans should snap these up to show not only their appreciation, but to prove that their is an appetite for exploitation films on Blu-Ray here in the UK.
If you've now read this whole review, what are you waiting for? Go and snap up the limited edition steelbook immediately - you'll be SO glad you did!
* Note: The above images are taken from Standard Definition releases (amongst other things) and are not representative of the quality of the Blu-ray transfers.
Review by Wilson Bros
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 22nd October 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: LPCM Stereo 2.0 English
Extras: What's in the Basket?, Grisly Graham Humphries, Audio Commentary, In Search of the Hotel Broslin, Outtakes, Trailers, TV Spots, Radio Spots, Photo Gallery, Behind-the-Scenes Gallery, Promotional Gallery
Easter Egg: No
Director: Frank Henenlotter
Cast: Kevin Van Hentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, Beverly Bonner, Annie Ross
Length: 270 minutes
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