This movie had me at “Hello”. One look at the theatrical poster and plot synopsis told me it was going to be both terrible and wonderful, and it doesn’t disappoint. As is the case with many low-budget flicks, Basket Case wasn’t exactly a box office success, but gradually built a cult following leading to a 20th Anniversary DVD release and, ultimately, a Blu-ray version that has made it accessible to new fans, so there’s no excuse for missing out. Everyone should see this movie.
Basket Case is the story of Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryk, Brain Damage), a man from a small town in upstate New York, who packs up his formerly-conjoined mutant twin brother Belial* in a picnic basket and takes him to New York City so that they can exact sweet revenge upon the doctors who surgically separated them against their will. To accomplish this, Belial calls upon a host of superpowers such as telepathic complaining, in-toilet concealment, and moving via stop-animation, while Duane displays a formidable arsenal of weapons including sucking face, naked night-running, and having REO Speedwagon hair. Unexpectedly along the way, Duane finds love, which causes Belial to get pissed beyond belief and do lots of horrible things. It’s pretty much your standard coming-of-age love story but with the addition of a murderous, panty-stealing latex puppet.
I love every single thing about this movie. The stilted dialog, the overacting, the Belial puppet…there are very few moments without some sort of treat for any connoisseur of cheesy movies. It was director Frank Henenlotter’s (Brain Damage) first full-length movie and he readily admits he didn’t really know what he was doing and was more or less making it for fun. He was working with a budget of only $35,000 (which will surprise no one) but, for pure entertainment value, he made the absolute most out of every one of those dollars. He wanted to make it shocking (evidently Belial has mutant man-parts – I’ll just leave it at that) and fun and succeeded at doing both, paving the way for three sequels and talk of a fourth.
The highlight of the movie is its cast. The hotel Duane and Belial stay in is like a retirement home for zany, sitcom sidekicks, with each one being more of a caricature than the last. The hotel manager (Robert Vogel) is seemingly attempting to pull off being all of the Three Stooges simultaneously and the three doctors marked for vengeance appear to be in a contest for most over-the-top performance in a death scene (The lady doctor (Diana Browne) wins). While there was never any risk of Van Hentenryk walking away with an academy award, he does manage to bring a likeable innocence to the role of Duane and there are even a couple of tender moments between the brothers. But in my opinion, Duane’s new-found love, Sharon (Terri Susan Smith), steals the show. It isn’t so much that she speaks her lines as lashes out with bursts of “acting” that makes it seem as though she suddenly remembers, in the midst of delivering dialog, that displaying emotions is part of the job, so let’s give it hell! But what Smith lacks in ability, she makes up for with enthusiasm and it seems evident that the entire cast had a good time making this movie, which I can appreciate. Van Hentenryk went on to star in the Basket Case sequels and Beverly Bonner (Brain Damage), who was great as Duane’s new friend Casey, had roles in all of Henenlotter’s movies, but the rest of the cast, for the most part, never acted again (also surprising no one).
Basket Case has easily become one of my all-time favorite horror movies and if you like ’em cheesy, you’ll be hard-pressed to find something better. It’s indulgent grindhouse brain-candy at it’s finest. Sure it’s silly, but it never pretends not to be, and instead just focuses on being fun. I’ll take that over a big budget and bored-looking A-list actors any day.
*Belial is an ancient Hebrew word meaning “worthless” or “naughty person” that eventually became a proper name given to a leader of demons.
“Well what about Radio City Music Hall, or the U.N.? HAD TIME FOR THEM?!