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Frank Henenlotter is one of the most unique filmmakers to ever practice the craft. No matter how you feel about his films — love ’em, hate ’em, indifferent — there’s no denying a Henenlotter film is a Henenlotter film. He has his own style and it’s instantly recognizable. He made his directorial debut in 1982 with Basket Case, and to many, considered to be his classic.
Kevin Van Henenrcyk stars as Duane Bradley, an awkward young man that arrives in New York carrying with him a small basket. We quickly learn that the basket contains a bizarre creature and that creature is actually Duane’s deformed Siamese twin, Belial. Through a series of flashbacks, we get caught up to speed on how Duane was born and his brother wasn’t even considered human by his parents of the doctors. The plan was to remove Belial and kill him. Flash forward to present time and Belial is basically controlling Duane. They’re in New York to hunt down the doctors that wanted it dead.
Duane loves his brother as any brother would. He doesn’t care about what he is or what he looks like, to him they’re just brothers. So while Belial is calling the shots, Duane is more than happy to go along with it. The problem is that Duane is also coming of age and learning to be his own person. He meets a girl, goes on his first real date and well, things start to get out of hand.
What makes Basket Case so enjoyable is the same thing that makes the best independent films enjoyable, heart. What Henenlotter lacked in budget he made up for with passion. Henenlotter wrote this script while walking the streets of New York and he loved every second of it. The atmosphere and vibes from the seedy side of the city spoke to the director and he puts that all on the screen. Here New York City is a character. A grimy character, but a character nonetheless.
The practical effects used to create Belial is where the real love comes to life. Belial switches from being a puppet to stop motion to a glove and it’s all hands on work that requires time and effort. You don’t do this unless you love it. Yeah, the effects and puppet look cheap and schlocky at times, but that’s half the fun. Basket Case embraces the low budget pleasures of filmmaking and that’s what makes it so enjoyable.
Basket Case is one of those movies that even if you haven’t seen it, you’re likely familiar with the story. And if you’re anything like me, you probably learned of the story the same place you learned everything — The Simpsons. In the Treehouse of Horror VII segment, “The Thing and I,” Bart discovers he has an “evil” twin brother living in the attic. The plot isn’t exactly the same, but they are very similar. According to Ken Keeler, the genius writer behind the episode, it isn’t based on Basket Case, which would explain the major differences between the two, but that won’t stop them from being forever linked.
This isn’t the first time the film has been released on Blu-ray. Image released a very about 7 years ago and it was actually pretty solid by Image standards, but Arrow has improved on that quite significantly. With the assistance of Henenlotter, the film was restored by the Museum of Modern Art and scanned in 4K. The film was originally shot in 16mm, but some 35mm elements had to be used for some shots. You can notice this difference throughout the film, but it’s not too bad. What makes this picture great is that it retains that natural film grain. They did their best to clean up dirt and scratches, but they didn’t over digitize things and create that waxy look. This looks like a pretty natural presentation of a low budget 16mm and that’s exactly what you should want.
The special features are absurdly loaded. There’s a brand new commentary with Henenlotter and Van Henenrcyk, plus archived commentary. There are six different interviews featuring basically everyone involved in the film and even one with Joe Bob Briggs. The bonus content includes a documentary on all three Basket Case films and a brand new short directed by Henenlotter titled Basket Case 3 1/2: An Interview with Duane Bradley. And that’s only scratching the surface. Arrow routinely loads their releases up but this even goes above and beyond what they normally do. My personal favorites of the bonus material included here is a look into the restoration and MoMA and a rare Henenlotter short called Slash of the Knife. I’m a big fan of the early work of directors being included as special features so I really appreciated seeing this one included.
Basket Case is an absolute classic and now it finally has the release it deserves. This is an early contender for best Blu-ray of 2018.
Win a copy of Basket Case!
Arrow Films is giving away a copy of Basket Case. Just click the link and fill out the form, but do it quick as the contest ends in just two days on March 31st! — Win Basket Case!