Basket Case (1982)

DECEMBER 2, 2010


Relax, Frank Henenlotter fans – I liked this one.

While I wasn’t a huge fan of Frankenhooker and found the first half of Bad Biology’s title to be quite apt, I truly enjoyed Basket Case, which suffered from a few of the same problems as his others (i.e. lousy actors) but had a much better script, some awesome stop-motion animation, and not as much of an emphasis on comedy.

See, one thing I learned from the other two movies is that his sense of humor and mine are radically different, hence why I haven’t been exactly in a rush to watch this (I borrowed it from my friend the same time I borrowed Frankenhooker –over 6 months ago!). Had I known it was slightly more “serious”, I wouldn’t have waited so long. Not that it’s without humor entirely – it IS, after all, a movie about a guy who keeps his mutant “brother” (who resembles one of those finger monsters) in a basket – but there’s an actual plot to deal with and even some minor characterization, which keeps the movie from dicking around too much.

It also helps that the “hook” of the film is right there at the start. Frankenhooker took forever to set her loose, Bad Biology took forever for the guy and girl to meet... but this one wastes no time. A guy is killed in the opening scene, and not too long after that we learn that he is one of the three doctors who separated the brothers when they were younger, and now they want revenge. They kill another one about 25 minutes in, and the final one at the top of the 3rd act. So the revenge is paced well, and its mixed in with scenes of Belial occasionally getting loose, or Dwayne romancing a young lady who worked at one of the doctor’s offices.

It could be tightened a bit though – there are a few too many scenes of everyone in Dwayne’s building hearing noises and crowding the hallway outside of his door trying to see what is going on (for a place with only 7-8 apartments, they sure have a lot of residents). While I was watching the movie I assumed that Belial would escape and kill them all, but apart from the Beverly Bonner character (she appears in all of Frank’s films) and one other guy early on, Belial never really has any encounters with them. He could have at least killed the landlord guy!

But again, the stop motion stuff is awesome. There’s a great bit where Belial destroys the room, and it’s impressive even today (even more so when you consider the movie’s $35,000 budget – and shot on film!). More often than not his movements are done by off-screen puppeteers or the actor he’s attacking just pretending that they are struggling, but I’ll take a little bit of stop motion over anything else. Also, Belial's breathing creeps me out. It sounded like a combination of Michael Myers' breathing and a cat purring.

And, like Frankenhooker and other indie NY films from the 80s, I just loved seeing the New York locations back in their prime (i.e. when they still had a lot of porno shops), and the fact that it had a genuine feel to it that you never get in today’s films. Dwayne’s shitty hotel room is a real shitty hotel room, not a set somewhere. Plus there’s the hookers, the drunks, etc.... I also particularly liked the drug dealer who tries to sell Dwayne pretty much every single drug that’s ever existed – it would be like a full paragraph if written out.

Sadly, also like Frankenhooker, the DVD bonus features are largely worthless. Behind the scenes footage is just a bunch of random stuff without sound, the radio interview with the actress is like 90% the DJ asking questions, and I couldn’t even begin to tell you what the point of “Beverly Bonner’s Laugh Track” is. The only thing that is worth a look is “In Search Of The Hotel Broslin”, where Frank and the RA guy who wrote Bad Biology go around showing where everything was filmed, plus what the Belial model looks like today. The commentary with Frank, Bonner, one of the producers, and Scooter McCrae is also enjoyable, since Frank talks a mile a minute and never stops, thus packing the track with info and anecdotes (the others basically only talk in single word sentences, and/or to correct him on a detail he got wrong). He points out some of the low-budget awesomeness (the “concierge” office for the hotel was actually built inside a freight elevator) and reveals some wonderful stories from the set, i.e. when the (already small) crew all walked out during the climax. Good stuff.

I thought my friend had let me borrow Brain Damage too, but I guess not. I’ll have to track one down. But I’ll be watching Basket Case 2 (and maybe even 3) soon, so I can give the DVDs back to them. And that’s all of them, right? He only has 6 movies, correct? I actually watched BC2 at a friend’s place earlier this year, but we were talking the entire time (plus he had an Entertainment Weekly with a pretty long/awesome Fletch article, so I left the room to read that), so I can’t recall a damn thing about it. Plus it seems like they were both dead at the end of this one? So now I’m actually interested to see it.

What say you?


  1. absolutely fabulous movie, still I like Basket Case 3, Frankenhooker & Brain Damage more

  2. your "friend" is glad that the prospect of getting her movies back is finally on the goddamned horizon. jesus!

    i had thought that you had seen brain damage-- thats why i didnt bring it. you can take it when i see you next week, but you have to promise NOT to take 6 months to watch it.

    toldja it was good. i'm excited to see what you think of the sequels.

  3. That's right, Frank Henenlotter made only six films and I love them all. Especially Brain Damage - don't hesitate and watch it soon! Speaking of Basket Case sequels (yes, there are two): they are great. As good as the original or even better. They certainly are far better made, the makeup effects are awesome, and they definately have more gore. Also, while the first movie was quite odd, the sequels are INSANELY SICK. You just have to love the mutants/freaks/monsters in those. There is A LOT of them, and yes: they have sex. And they have deformed babies you can't imagine.
    I'd put Henenlotter's films in that order:
    1) Brain Damage
    2) Basket Case 1-3
    3) Frankenhooker
    4) Bad Biology (it's the worst of the bunch, but still great in my opinion).

  4. Basket Case is one of the most under rated horror movies of all time to me. I don't even think that they could make movies this grimy anymore. One part I used to rewind all the time as a kid was the part where Bilal molested that sleep chick. her breast were awesome! LOL!!

  5. I remember the poster of this from when I was a kid in the video rental place but I never managed to see it. I eventually bought a box set of it a few years back but still haven't ever gotten around to watching it. I think I will finally do that this weekend thanks to this review!

  6. @Zillz82 I was wondering why he didn't mention that part! My friends and I call it the lump hump.

    But all three movies are great...though the 3rd one is a bit out there...

  7. I watched this about six months ago (right around the time you watched Frankenhooker) and I remember just loving it. I figure it was one of the best bad movies I had ever seen. The stop motion animation was awesome in the same way as it was in Evil Dead. It looked horrible but you just had to admire the work and love poured into it (rather than the money). I reckon I'm gonna have to get the sequels and Brain Damage.

    I remember the awesome special feature that you spoke of. I'm sure it would've meant a lot more to a New Yorker who saw that film back in the 80s, but it was still cool. What was with the Bad Biology guy promoting his rap album? I think I'd rather listen to Frank Henenlotter rap than this guy.

  8. The only Henenlotter movies i've seen are this and Bad Biology and the difference in quality is so masssive that im almost afriad to watch anything in between. This one is soooo good and Bad Biology is soooo bad! What the heck!

    Also zillz82 wins the award for best comment with "her breast were awesome! LOL!!". Yes, LOL indeed...

  9. BASKET CASE is such a favorite of mine. For all the reasons you pointed out, Brian. The tone and atmosphere of those old school New York streets?!? Absolutely perfect. (I love that the scene with the drug dealer feels like it's a "caught on tape" kind of moment, like they were shooting without a permit and the dude didn't know he was trying to sell drugs to an actor in a scene.)

    I love that it's both earnest and tongue in cheek all at the same time. The ending is jaw-dropping but it has genuine pathos. It's unabashedly over the top while it's laying the tragedy on thick. You can't help but feel incredibly sad for Duane and Belial.

    I feel like things really get kicked up a notch in the protracted flashback sequence, showing their childhood years (the separation surgery and its aftermath). The "death cart" contraption that springs to life and kills the dad is the ultimate exclamation point on the end of that sequence.

    To me, BASKET CASE is low budget, 80's indie guerilla horror at its finest. Absolute brilliance.

  10. Couldn't agree with The Inspector more. Basket Case is of my favorite horror movies of all time, hands down.

    The sequels, meanwhile, are unnecessary and borderline unwatchable, especially Basket Case 3. Everything that is great about the first one is virtually ignored in the following films, shifting the focus from Belial and Duane over to Granny Ruth and her freaks - all of them just actors in awful rubber masks.

    There's a reason why Henenlotter is hesitant to provide a commentary for Synapse's upcoming release for Basket Case 3: even he thinks it sucks - he admits he did it purely for a paycheck, and it shows.

    There are a few good moments in Basket Case 2 - mainly the final 10 minutes - but BC I challenge you to sit through all of Basket Case 3 without wanting to throw your remote control through the TV, especially when they break out in song with "Personality". Utter filth.

    If I was to rank Henenlotter's movies, I'd go:

    1. Basket Case
    2. Frankenhooker
    3. Brain Damage
    4. Bad Biology
    5. Basket Case 2
    6. Basket Case 3

  11. I was reluctant to trash the sequels (since they weren't the specific subject of this review and everyone above seemed to have positive things to say about them) but I agree with Belial: the sequels are terrible. And neither of them has the look or feel (again: that charming earnestness) that the first one has. I might give extra-credit to a movie just because it crosses a line or goes too far, but it's really case-by-case for me. I think the fans of the sequels look at some of the absurdity and find those elements to be impressive. In the case of the BASKET CASE sequels, I judge them against the first movie and in that contest, they fail.

    (It's especially tough because 3 is a direct continuation of 2 and, like Belial above, I don't care for the overriding "Granny Ruth's Orphanage of Freaks" narrative from 2. So it's already a disappointment straight out of the box for me on that end. It doesn't feel like 2 & 3 take place in the same universe as the first movie.)

  12. Basket Case is a classic, thr rest are pretty shitty. Early 80's 42nd St. New York Made the perfect backdrop for soooo many good horror movies. The image of Dwayne feeding Belial the cheeseburgers has stuck with me since I saw this as a kid. I swear, everytime Im taking the wrapper off fast food burgers I think of Basket Case!


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