Basket Case

Basket Case (1982)
Image Entertainment
Cast: Kevin Van Hentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, Beverly Bonner
Extras: Commentary Track, Radio Interviews, Beverly Bonner Excerpts, Trailers and TV Spots, Outtake Reel, Video Short, Still Gallery, Radio Spots

When horror film fans discuss the pioneers who have influenced, changed, and shaped the genre over the past 25 years, names such as Romero, Carpenter, Raimi, Craven, and Argento are mentioned. It can easily be argued that directors such as these began their careers in relative obscurity, and that their rise to success was due in part to a cult audience. But, one cult horror film legend whose name is rarely brought up is that of Frank Henenlotter. Despite the fact that this New York filmmaker has only directed five films in the past 20 years, he has definitely carved a niche for himself. And while many find his work to be vile or worse, stupid, there’s no denying that Henenlotter is a unique voice in film. His premiere effort, 1982’s "Basket Case" has been revisited for a 20th Anniversary Special Edition DVD, courtesy of Something Weird Video and Image Entertainment.

"Basket Case" brings us the classic story of a man on a mission. The man in this case is Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck), and his mission is, well, mysterious. Duane arrives in New York’s seedy 42nd Street district (this was before Disney cleaned up the area) carrying a large, wicker basket… locked with a padlock. Duane checks into the decidedly decrepit Hotel Broslin, where a cast of colorful characters live, and then sets out on his quest, basket in tow. You see, the basket contains Duane’s brother, Belial. Born Siamese Twins, Duane and Belial were separated by a team of unethical doctors. Now, years later, Duane has come to New York to seek his revenge against these evil physicians who cut off the small, twisted Belial and left his for dead.

While Duane and Belial’s mission seems very straightforward and they (especially Belial) are determined to see it through, they run into some unexpected complications. While casing one of the doctor’s offices, Duane meets Sharon (Terri Susan Smith), and there is an immediate attraction. This doesn’t please Belial. Also, Duane befriends Casey (Beverly Bonner), a prostitute who lives in the Hotel Broslin, and she becomes his confidant. Suddenly, the revenge mission has been complicated by human emotion, and Duane begins to question the sanity of Belial’s plan.

"Basket Case" has become the template for the low-budget splatter film, which isn’t surprising, as the film was dedicated to Herschell Gordon Lewis. Made for just $35,000, "Basket Case" is a cult film in every sense of the word. "Basket Case" is ugly, coarse, dark, poorly acted, and slow at times, but it all still works somehow. This is due to the filmmaker’s determination to make a movie which is at once very over the top, and yet very real at the same time. Henenlotter clearly understands the absurdity of his premise — a man with a killer basket — and thus, he infuses the film with a great deal of dark humor. As with John Waters, Henenlotter wears his bad taste on his sleeve and isn’t ashamed of it. What other movie would feature someone getting their face ripped off and then a scene in which Duane dumps a bag of hamburgers into the basket?

The film has aged fairly well. The story of Duane and Belial is still effective, especially the plot twist concerning one of the doctors. In fact, the bombasity of this central story continues to be what makes "Basket Case" worth seeing. Watching the film again, one realizes why Henenlotter dedicated it to Lewis, "The Godfather of Gore." While there is plenty of very red blood in "Basket Case", there isn’t much true gore. The special effects makeup is minimal and what we do see on-screen isn’t very good (except for the death of Dr. Kutter, which is a classic). As for the Belial puppet, the clarity of this DVD (more on that in a moment) shatters what little illusion was there, as we can clearly make out the lines where he was pulled out of the mold. (Does anyone else think that Belial looks like the shark from "Jaws"?) Still, in this age of CGI, it’s not surprising that the effects in "Basket Case" look weak. What’s important is that this truly odd and sick little film still manages to entertain.

Image Entertainment has pulled out all the stops with this Special Edition DVD of "Basket Case". The DVD features a new film-to-tape digital transfer, and as Henenlotter himself states on the <$commentary,audio commentary>, this is the best that "Basket Case" has looked since he saw the original 16mm print. Technically, this transfer is flawless, as the problems stem from the source print itself. As with most 16mm films, there is grain evident on the picture. Also, there are some scratches and black dots present on the image. Given that this is a low-budget film from the early 80s, some of the shots are overly dark. As we’ve grown accustomed to the pristine digital transfers offered by the major studios, the defects on this version of "Basket Case" are readily evident. Yet, they somehow add to the Grade-Z charm of this film. After all, the image is clear and we can always see what’s happening, so what are a few scratches? On a positive note, this transfer does boast very good colors, which makes all of that red blood leap off of the screen.

The audio on the "Basket Case" DVD is a <$DD,Dolby Digital> Mono soundtrack. This gives us clear and audible dialogue, but it’s not free of problems. There is a very faint hissing that can be heard on this track, and the sound is unbalanced at times, giving a sense of distortion.

The extra features are kicked off by an <$commentary,audio commentary> featuring writer/director Henenotter, producer Edgar Ievins, actress Beverly Bonner, and an un-credited Scooter McCrae, director of "Shatter Dead". This is a fun "tell all" commentary, as the four participants leave no stone unturned as they discuss the making of "Basket Case". Henenlotter and Ievins do most of the talking as they discuss how they scraped together the film’s budget and shot it over the course of a year. Henenlotter is good at recalling details and gives us many tidbits about where the film was shot and what the participants went on to do. More importantly, this quartet has a ball watching the film and there excitement is contagious. This isn’t the most technical commentary ever, but it’s certainly entertaining.

This trend continues with the featurette entitled "In Search of the Hotel Broslin". In this 15-minute short (directed by McCrae), Henenlotter explains that viewers question the location of the fictitious Broslin and thus Henenlotter (accompanied by someone named R.A. Rugged Man (?)) takes us on a tour of the shooting locations for the film (and other films as well). This is a very candid featurette, (watch as Rugged Man tries to con his way into a building!), but it gives us a nice look at Henenlotter and his natural charm and sense of humor. The short ends with a look at Henenlotter’s personal collection of "Basket Case" memorabilia. This is a must-see for fans of the film.

Next up is a 6-minute outtake reel, which shows both bloopers and behind-the-scenes footage. Unfortunately, there is no production sound on this reel and it is accompanied only by some funky music. Still, there are several good shots of Henelotter operating the Belial puppet, including a shot where the puppet refuses to break a window! This is coupled with a still gallery offering 75 pictures, made up of behind-the-scenes photos and publicity art.

Speaking of publicity, the DVD offers many examples of how "Basket Case" was marketed. There are two theatrical trailers, #1 running one-minute and #2 coming in at one-minute and twenty-seconds. Both trailers are full-frame, and notice that they are from two different distributors. There is also one 30-second TV spot, which is presented full-frame. Then, we have two radio spots, which are each nearly a minute long. These two spots focus on the original marketing campaign for the film, in which theatre patrons were given surgical masks to help keep the blood off of their faces. Finally, we have two radio interviews with actress Terri Susan Smith, which runs eight-and-a-half minutes total. These interviews are interesting, but the DJ in the first one is such a jerk that it is honestly quite hard to listen to.

The special features on the DVD are rounded out by seven minutes worth of excerpts from actress Beverly Bonner’s cable access TV show, "Beverly Bonner’s Laugh Track". Bonner is apparently the Tracy Ullman of cable access, as she plays many diverse characters and directs the show herself. In addition to the features found on the DVD, the packaging contains very detailed production notes.

"Basket Case" is one of those films that will never make it into my "Top 10", but I never pass up a chance to see it. To put it simply, they just don’t make movies like this anymore. This DVD is a must-have for fans of "Basket Case", as the film looks better than ever (just ask the director) and there are many fun extras. If you’re unfamiliar with the work of Frank Henenlotter and you’re a very brave soul, I recommend that you check out "Basket Case" or my personal favorite, "Brain Damage". It ain’t art, but it’s a lot of fun.