According to Frank Henenlotter, he spent much of his youth wandering 42nd Street in search of new exploitation flicks to indulge in when he should’ve been sitting in class. It’s no surprise then that he continually uses seedy settings as backdrops for his sleazy explorations of bodily dysfunction and primal sexuality. Basket Case, his first foray into the genre, might be a less refined version of Cronenbergian subject matter but it’s warped sense of humor and brazen attitude make it a blast to watch and, ultimately, one of the best horror comedies of the 1980’s.
Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck), a poofy-haired twenty-something, sets up camp in a rundown hotel and spends his days visiting doctors from his youth who separated him and his deformed goblin of a siamese-twin brother, Belial. Living on a steady diet of hamburgers and hot dogs, the sack of flesh with a face and two stumpy arms telepathically schemes with his brother as they knock off those who literally separated the family. Traveling inconspicuously in a padlocked picnic basket, Duane comes off as an aloof upstate New Yorker, catching the eye of friendly prostitute Casey (Beverly Bonner) and nurse Sharon (Terri Susan Smith), who eventually strikes up a relationship with him much to Belial’s chagrin. Clearly, women notice men who look like they’re ready for a stroll through Jellystone National – everyone, take note.
Henenlotter, through all the slapstick humor, manages to give some insight on the family unit; more specifically, family is with you through thick and thin, even if they’re difficult to deal with and carry baggage – or, in this case, live in baggage. In fact, they might even be mentally calling you an asshole while you’re sleeping around because they don’t have legs… or a penis (an idea which is thrown out the window in later entries). The bad acting and level of bizarreness at play gives it a level of 80’s charm that many films strive for but few actually achieve.
Like Bloody Birthday, another recently rereleased gem, Basket Case could have only been made in a specific time. The violence is over-the-top, the combination of puppetry and stop-motion is as endearing as it is hokey and the humor is likely to only appeal to an audience who indulgence in trash on a regular basis, making it the perfect platform for a new voice to enter into the B-movie universe without compromising; it’s exactly the kind of movie it sets out to be. Henenlotter would continue to explore the same kind of grime-covered material over and over again with films like Brain Damage and Frankenhooker to varying degrees of success, but he understands his audience and what they want. And unlike Kevin Smith, he doesn’t need to devolve into unintelligible humor of the toilet variety to keep his niche crowd happy; he just needs to have his characters hide in them.
As Henelotter explains in his introduction, there’s really no way Basket Case is ever going to sparkle and shine, even in HD. It was a low-budget film, shot in full-frame on 16mm, and the Blu-ray accurately depicts that. Colors are much stronger than on the DVD, even picking up the blue-grey hues in the nighttime scenes that were originally present in early distribution prints before it was blown up into 1.85:1. Grain is heavy and might put off those who are looking for a clean, crisp picture but the picture is a good representation of the source material. Considering that it’s a cheap-o flick from made 30 years ago, it looks fantastic. Same goes for the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, which was created from the original mono recordings. It’s quite vibrant and loud for what it is, just don’t expect an assault on the senses. If you understand the conditions under which the film was made, there’s a lot to appreciate in the A/V department on Image’s Blu-ray.
Commentary – A commentary track featuring Henenlotter, actress Beverly Bonner, producer Edgar Ievins and director Scooter McCrae (Sixteen Tongues), who chat about the production of the film without getting too technical. They go over the difficulty of shooting over the course of a year due to budgetary constraints and how they got their money, and Henenlotter dishes on what everyone from the film went on to do. It’s not as informative as it could be, but the participants seem like they genuinely love the film and are never at a loss of things to say about it. Definitely a fun listen.
New Introduction by Director Frank Henenlotter (02:26) –The director gives a refreshingly honest explanation of what he was trying to accomplish with the HD transfer.
Outtakes (06:14) – A collection of behind-the-scenes material, including make-ups tests and Henenlotter playing around with the Belial puppet, sans proper audio. The funky music that plays over it instead is appropriate enough.
2001Video Short: In Search of the Hotel Broslin (15:30) – Henenlotter and R.A. Rugged Man – who co-wrote Bad Biology with the director – tour some of the locations seen in the film. The highlight of the doc is easily when RA tries to get into the building that doubled as the hotel’s lobby and is told off by a resident through the intercom.
Gallery of Exploitation Art and Behind-The-Scenes Photos (04:52) – A slideshow of production photos and marketing materials; fans of puppetry and special effects should get a kick out of it.