BASKET CASE (director/writer: Frank Henenlotter; cinematographer: Bruce Torbet; editor: Frank Henenlotter; music: Gus Russo; cast: Kevin Van Hentenryck (Duane Bradley), Terri Susan Smith (Sharon), Beverly Bonner (Casey), Lloyd Pace (Dr. Harold Needleman), Diana Browne (Dr. Kutter, veterinarian), Ruth Neuman (Aunt), Richard Pierce (Mr Bradley), Robert Vogel (Hotel Manager), Joe Clarke (O’Donovan), Bill Freeman (Dr. Lifflander); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Edgar Levens; Something Weird Video; 1982)
“Delicious offbeat tongue-in-cheek humor.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Frank Henenlotter’s (“Brain Damage”/”Frankenhooker“/”Basket Case 2”)first film is a cult indie freak-show horror pic, that was shot on 16mm and cost about $160,000 to make.Though crudely made and the photography is grainy, it offers delicious offbeat tongue-in-cheek humor, fulfills the requirement of the genre’s need for gross-out sequences and almost by sleight of hand makes the lead freaks sympathetic though depicted as dangerous anti-social characters. There’s one memorable murder where a screaming veterinarian has five scalpels stuck in her blood-covered face.
The polite hick 20-year-old Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck) arrives from his upstate hometown to check into a dumpy Times Square hotel and instead of being the vic is the one on the attack. Duane carries with him plenty of dough and a mysterious large wicker basket that contains Belial, his deformed tiny Siamese twin. The lad is on a revenge mission to get even with three quack doctors in the city who eight years ago performed a slipshod operation separating the brothers, leaving an ugly scar on Duane’s side and dumping Belial’s supposedly dead body in a trash bag and tossing him in the garbage until rescued by Duane. The brothers communicate telepathically, giving them a strong bond that keeps them alienated from others. The monster, looking like a sculptured latex blob with a large beastly head and with arms that have claws for hands, stays in the basket because his appearance is so hideous it frightens others. The monster has a craving for large amounts of junk food, which is taken care of by the attentive Duane. The normal looking brother takes care of Belial ever since the death of their kindly aunt (Ruth Neuman), who raised them after their nasty father’s untimely and brutal death (he was sawed in half by a chain-saw).
After Belial uses his claws to rip out the throat ofDr. Lifflander (Bill Freeman), Duane visits the quack Dr. Needleman (Lloyd Pace) in his seedy office and is picked up by the aggressive horny receptionist, Sharon (Terri Susan Smith). When Duane goes on a date with Sharon to see the city landmarks, the jealous Belial, fearful he’s losing his caretaker sibling to a stranger goes on a deadly temper tantrum.
The obscure campy horror pic might not know how to end its story without some over-the-top cheesy gore, but it wonderfully brings back realistic nostalgic memories when Times Square was a bustling seedy area inhabited by colorful marginal characters and shows that it’s not a reach to realize that a visit to a flophouse Times Square hotel can actually bring on a nightmare. The acting is fine, especially by a convincing Van Hentenryck in the lead role. Also in supporting roles, the beleaguered ‘seen it all’ hotel manager (Robert Vogel) is a pip and Beverly Bonner gets under the skin of her prostitute character’s cliched heart of gold to make her character have some depth.
There were two inferior sequels made: Basket Case 2 and Basket Case 3: The Progeny.
REVIEWED ON 9/19/2011 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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