Friday, October 9, 2009

Basket Case 2 (Frank Henenlotter, 1990)

The dark and mysterious caverns of the Sanctuary Vampire Sex Bar on Queen Street West and the unmistakable sexiness of Jamie Stewart's bang-friendly haircut bobbing about in the music video for The Cult's "She Sells Sanctuary" are first things that lurch/pop into my mind whenever I hear the word "sanctuary" bandied about in a public forum. What this particular nugget of information has to do with Basket Case 2, Frank Henenlotter's surprising yet logical followup to the first Basket Case, I'm not quite sure. But you gotta admit, I'm one groovy chickadee. I was gonna add this tasty morsel about this reoccurring dream I've been having lately, one that involves me easily winning a Rossy de Palma lookalike contest being held out in the wilds of Etobicoke and blowing my prize money on the recently stained pantyhose of porn stars who appear in pornographic movies where stains and pantyhose go hand in hand, but that would be overkill. Well, whaddya know, while I was not going on about adding my Rossy de Palma/pantyhose dream to the word mix, I happened to recall why I started off on that tangent about sanctuaries: It's because this chapter is all about Duane and little Belial's struggle to find sanctuary in a world that repeatedly rejects them. Somehow managing to survive their plummet-based engagement with the cold, hard sidewalk outside the Hotel Broslin in Manhattan, erstwhile conjoined twins Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck) and Belial (???) find themselves living with Granny Ruth (Annie Ross), Susan (Heather Rattray) and a vast cornucopia of unique individuals in a stately home out on Staten Island. Of course, not before Belial can claw violently at the face of the policeman who was guarding the hospital room they were recovering in; it's what the twisted little scamp does best.

Luckily, the nurse, played by the statuesque Alexandra Auder (Viva Superstar's daughter, who looked like Zooey Deschanel from certain angles), is spared the unwanted facial rearrangement.

Anyway, a champion for disfigured freaks the world over, Granny Ruth has created a mini-mutant paradise in her spacious attic; a place where the deformed and the hideous can feel a sense of belonging, and not have to worry about the scornful glares of the so-called "normal people."

Feeling out of place in an environment where humans who look like frogs and have twenty-seven noses help carry in the groceries, Duane tries yet again to extricate himself from his needy twin brother. Falling gaga for the deceptively normal Susan, Duane dreams of running away with her and starting over. Only problem is she is just as dedicated to the creature cause as Granny Ruth. Plus, a nosy reporter (Kathryn Meisle) who works for a sleazy newspaper and a private dick (Ted Sorel) have caught wind of the goings on at the monster manor (Duane and Belial's story have become tabloid fodder), and threaten to expose the collection of oddballs to the unforgiving light of day.

The complex decision Duane has to make, you know, whether to stay and help his freaky brethren fight the intrusive outsiders or seek the autonomy he has always desired, is the film's strongest element. Sure, the face gouging and the jarring nature of some of the attic dweller's appearances were topnotch in terms of forcing out the facial contents of others and abnormalcy, but it was Duane's conflicted loyalties that elevated Basket Case 2 beyond the realm of your average freak show.

You see, he doesn't see himself, nor Susan, as one of them (other than the huge scar down his side, there's nothing overtly repelling about his visual presentation). The only thing keeping him there is his misguided commitment to his clearly deranged brother. Which, when you think about it, is a pretty astute metaphor for the festering sore that is family.

As with the first chapter, the film benefits greatly by the deadpan presence of Kevin Van Hentenryck as the mildly troubled Duane. Delivering each line with an unnecessary sincerity, the lanky actor, who, for some reason, only seems to appear in Frank Henenlotter films, manages to create a sympathetic character with a seemingly feckless brand of ease. The best example of this kindly earnestness comes when Kevin evilly explains the dichotomy of being normal in a world populated entirely by freaks to Ted Sorel's P.I. at a local watering hole.

Going in the opposite direction when came to acting strange in a suburban setting, Annie Ross (Pump Up the Volume) camps it big time up as Granny Ruth. Her pep talk to inspire her tight-knit horde of contorted weirdos against those who would dare violate their sanctuary displayed the kind of crazy that I can confidently throw my support behind.

The sex scene between Belial and a similar-looking creature of the opposite gender proves once and for all that Frank Henenlotter ain't hooked up right. It's true, that Belial tries to rub against the shapely thighs of Beverly Bonner (who makes a cameo in this film) in the first chapter – so, he is interested in sex. But I had no idea he had a functioning penis. I don't know what's more disturbing, the look on Belial's face the moment he made his pleasure ooze, or the fact that Kathryn Meisle can be seen at one point wearing white socks and sneakers with her ladies business suit.

video uploaded by Deathdealeus1984