Monday, August 10, 2009

Basket Case (Frank Henenlotter, 1982)

We've all had parasitic family members who have, at one time or another, leeched off our revitalizing auras for the welfare of their own spiritual trajectory. But what if that family member was attached to your pelvic girdle and prevented you from fornicating with others at every turn? Well, that's exactly what the bushy haired boob in Frank Henenlotter's wonderfully sordid Basket Case has to contend with on a daily basis. An unabashedly sleazy and extremely low-budget affair, the film is essentially about sibling jealously (I, too, would be envious of a sibling if they got to date bosomy receptionists, while I had to spend all day in a basket with nothing but raw hot dogs to keep me company), malpractice (dining room surgery rarely turns out for the best), basket-based curiosity (the desire to know what's inside the basket crosses every character's mind at least once), and revenge (forcing conjoined twins to separate, even if one of them is a wheezing monstrosity, isn't always the sanest course of action). However, the film is about so much more than that. For example, the amount of insidious nuance that takes place amidst all the flesh tearing was off the charts in terms of intricacy. The film is also quite romantic. Case in point: The awkward relationship that forms between the vengeful basket carrier and the receptionist was touching and realistic (their open mouth kisses were tantalizing). Plus, I liked the way the both had an affinity for unkempt hair. In fact, it's probably the main reason their eyes locked so intensely when they first met (see, intricacies). The decision to have them go to the Statue of Liberty for their first date was a brilliant one, as the unpredictable winds of Ellis Island had field day with their ungainly locks. All this hair raising and unexpected courting was groovy and all, but the principal reason for the film's existence is to show quacks being torn apart by a screeching mound of flesh with a score to settle, not the coquettish dalliances of a couple of people who really need to get to a salon.

An accidental love letter to city of New York circa 1982, Basket Case, like most films that were shot there during that particular time period, benefited greatly from the energy the lively metropolis was putting out there. The sight of Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck) simply walking down the street, basket in hand, is enhanced by the fact that he's walking in Times Square (42nd Street). The lights, the street life, the sleazy movie titles on the cinema marquees, and the noise all contributed to the overall vitality of the piece.

The story of a young man wanting to get revenge for a past wrong is nothing new. On the other hand, the story of a young man and his deformed brother, whom he carries around in a large wicker basket, wanting to get revenge on the doctors who forcibly separated them is quite unique. After dispatching one doctor in their small town in Upstate New York, Duane and his brother head to New York City to take care of the other two.

Staying at a cheap hotel, the wide-eyed Duane befriends Casey (Beverly Bonner), a shapely hooker with iridescent lipstick, and makes goo-goo eyes with Sharon (Terri Susan Smith), the receptionist of one of the doctors on their kill list.

These relationships complicate their mission, as the brother in the basket grows increasingly jealous of Duane's ability to interact with attractive ladies (the hand basket resident communicates his displeasure telepathically). Whereas, all he seems good for is mutilating people. It's this sibling rivalry that drives the film forward to its inevitable conclusion. There's an excellent flashback sequence that explains the origin of the Bradley brothers' grievances.

The combination of outlandish gore and earnest acting are what Basket Case a classic in my warped mind. I mean, you have commend the actors for playing it so straight. This is especially true when comes to Kevin Van Hentenryck, who spends most of his time emoting with a basket and running naked through Manhattan. The slightly askew vibe that Terri Susan Smith brought to the girlfriend role was a surprising delight. I think I already mentioned this, but her kissing technique was downright yummy (it was almost as if she was inhaling his entire face). And the securely built Beverly Bonner reacted the way any normal person would react if they found a demonic head with arms in bed with them.

The many flesh ripping scenes, while disgusting, had a strange, almost playful air about them. Maybe it was the semi-hilarious image of a screaming doctor trying to fend off what is essentially a severed head with claws that made these violent scenes so carefree. I don't know. But either way, the excessive blood seemed reasonable and the amount detail that went into creating the gashes was topnotch.

video uploaded by sideshowcarny


  1. Great writeup. I've not seen this movie in years. I'm going to have to try to watch it again soon.

  2. Thanks, Keith. There's a cool review of Basket Case at Kindertrauma; it features an ad for Basket Case pajamas!

  3. 1. Radioactive Lingerie has become one of my favorite stops on this information super highway...but it can be soooo frustrating when I can't identify where a particular image comes from. But that's not your problem, Yum-Yum, so keep up the great work.

    2. I have a feeling that BAD BIOLOGY's Charlee Danielson is going to be a favorite subject of yours (if she isn't already).

    3. You've inspired me to put all 3 BASKET CASE films in my queue this's been too long since I've seen the first 2 and never for the third. This time around I will be sure to pay particular attention to the unkempt hairs and open mouth kisses of everyone involved.

  4. So, are we going to get reviews of the sequels? :D

    Oh, Anna tied the knot:,,20297610,00.html

  5. Mr. Canacorn:

    1. The pic of the woman eating the strawberry in a slightly erotic fashion is Molly Shannon in a scene from A Night at the Roxbury.

    2. I haven't seen BAD BIOLOGY yet, but you're probably right.

    3. The third film has a wonderfully disgusting birthing scene.

    Karim Amir: Of course. Basket Case is not something one does half-assed.

    Lucky Pratt!

    They were cranking The Fall's "Cruiser's Creek" when I walked into Sonic Boom (large indie music store in T.O.) last night.

    Oh, and I hope d. didn't make you go see Funny People*. ;)

    * Which I haven't seen it, by the way.

  6. Now, THAT was uncanny and kind of spooky...I WAS stumped on that pic.

  7. d. knows better than to make me see Funny People. :P

    We saw The Hurt Locker, which was great. This weekend's film to see is District 9.

    I heard Trans-X's "Living on Video" on my 80s channel yesterday, along with a Blancmange song. I swear, if I hear "Lose Your Love" I'll have to pull over to the side of the road and enjoy the moment.