The Movie Waffler Re-Release Review - BASKET CASE | The Movie Waffler

Re-Release Review - BASKET CASE

Basket Case review
Formerly conjoined twins seek revenge against the doctors who separated them.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Frank Henenlotter

Starring: Kevin Van Hentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, Beverly Bonner, Robert Vogel, Diana Browne

Basket Case bluray

Those who feel like outsiders often gravitate towards the horror genre because it's far more sympathetic to those who don't fit in than mainstream cinema. The icons of Hollywood are the beautiful people whereas the icons of horror are the weirdos, the monsters, the "freaks." While horror is often exploitative, it's equally empathetic, but its portrayal of outsiders is often mistaken for cruelty. The classic case is Tod Browning's Freaks, which was considered the height of bad taste and banned in many countries. But Browning's film is thoroughly sympathetic to its "freaks." In Freaks it's tellingly the blonde bombshell and the bodybuilder who are the villains, the sort of people a certain Austrian painter was hailing as superior specimens at the same time Browning's film was on release.

Frank Henenlotter's 1982 zero budget monster movie Basket Case is equally sympathetic to its monster, even if it does ultimately cross the line and target innocent victims. It's one of those rare horror movies that can be held up by those whose politics lean to either right or left. The former might view it as a pro-life movie, while for the latter it could be considered to proffer an anti-eugenics message.

Basket Case review

The "monster" in question is Belial, a deformed conjoined twin whose sibling Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck) was born a healthy, "normal" boy. The birth resulted in the death of their mother. At 12 years old, the twins are separated when their father, who has resented Belial since the death of his wife, hires a trio of quack doctors to perform an impromptu dining room table surgery. Belial is discarded in a trash bag but retrieved by Duane. After murdering their dad, the twins are taken in by a sympathetic aunt.

Eight years later Duane arrives in New York City with Belial concealed in a wicker basket. The brothers have a plan to track down the doctors who literally tore them apart and take violent revenge. Things get messy when Duane falls for Sharon (Terri Susan Smith), the goofy receptionist of one of the doctors, leading Belial to become violently jealous.

Basket Case review

Basket Case's initial reception mirrors the film's theme of how the general public reacts to something they simply find horrifying and are unable to see the humanity within. Critic Rex Reed labelled it "The sickest movie ever made," a quote Henenlotter proudly added to his film's poster. Struggling to find a distributor, Basket Case was saved from obscurity when Texan b-movie buff Joe Bob Briggs arranged for it to have its world premiere at a rundown drive-in in his home state. Word of mouth spread and it became a midnight movie favourite. While it wasn't officially on the UK's "Video Nasty" list, it was often seized by police during raids on British video stores.

Is Basket Case icky? Certainly. But nasty? Hell no, far from it. Henenlotter's film is as warm-hearted as horror gets. There's an affinity for freaks, weirdos, eccentrics and outsiders on display here, and not just concerning Belial. Upon arrival in New York, Duane checks into a crummy hotel near the then notorious Times Square, which is captured in all its wonderfully sleazy detail here. It's the sort of establishment where the bad guys in Charles Bronson movies are always hiding out, the kind of place that strikes fear into suburbanites who live in terror of the city. But here it's filled with affable oddballs who instantly accept Duane as one of their own, save for the old codger who attempts to steal his bankroll. There's a hooker with a heart of gold who becomes a matriarchal figure to Duane, a dotty old neighbour who gives him a warm welcome on his arrival, and even the hotel manager, resplendent in his traditional uniform of a stained white vest, is a decent skin who looks out for his tenants. Basket Case portrays the much maligned denizens of 42nd Street with as much heart as the following year's Angel would for their Hollywood Boulevard cousins.

Basket Case review

Basket Case is ultimately a tragedy however, as just when Duane seems to have finally found a place where he can fit in, the same can't be said for poor little Belial, who grows increasingly angry as his twin makes new friends. A combination of hand-puppetry and stop motion, Belial is quite the creation. Out of context it looks frankly ridiculous, but the film does such a good job of humanising Belial that you view him as a living, breathing human, albeit one cursed with the sort of looks that inspire horror in anyone who stumbles across the little guy.

In a flashback to the aftermath of operation that caused all this, we see a young Duane free his twin from a refuse sack, and there's something surprisingly touching about how Belial reaches out a deformed hand. It's a moment as moving in its own way as anything in the same year's blockbuster hit E.T. Basket Case ends on a note that recalls King Kong, but in this case it's not beauty that kills the beast, rather society's obsession with beauty and revulsion at "ugliness."

Basket Case is on bluray and 4K UHD from April 29th, and streaming on Arrow Player from April 30th.