Trashy silliness you may find hard to tolerate, but important nonetheless
There’s no point beating about the bush. Basket Case is dreadful. Clumsy, clunky and it looks terrible. The effects are dated, the acting woeful and the plot ridiculous. Yet somehow Frank Henenlotter’s film has an irresistible sense of humour. Any fan of horror should see it at least once. It might be rough around the edges, but it’s a testament to a certain kind of film from a certain kind of filmmaker at a certain kind of time.
It’s like an ugly cousin of Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead or, even more so, John Carpenter’s Dark Star. No money, but bags of ambition and the result is as honest and raw as any studio funded flick could hope to be. Still, Basket Case lacks the pure talent of Raimi or Carpenter that could have helped it gain more than the most cult of cult followings. Perhaps unintentional, but in retrospect it does give us an insight into an old New York. It was a very different place, where the cheapest films were made with barely any intention of them being seen. They were made by people Hollywood would reject out of hand and those people had a great time making them, which comes through. Somehow Basket Case captured the imagination amongst all the skin flicks and exploitation.
Maybe that’s down to lead Kevin Van Hentenryck who has an endearingly dopey demeanour and a strangely touching relationship with his plasticine brother who lives in a box. The plot is a typical slasher as they hunt down the medical team that seperated them and, to its credit, the last act has an inventive sting, a clever and memorable little psychological twist.
The film’s unexpected popularity was enough to warrant Basket Case 2. It looks and sounds better at least, but that’s damning with faint praise. More credit is deserved for fully embracing the ridiculous comedy of it all. The make-up effects are somewhat improved, but there’s a clear love for the original that means they stay cheap and silly for the most part. They lose the identity of the city and replace it with a plot that will make your jaw drop at the sheer unbridled craziness. It can’t be ignored and it is intentionally hilarious. As with the first film, there appears to be an effort to up the ante for the finale. The sex scenes are going to be hard to forget, not to mention a sick little pregnancy joke. It’s certainly the best film of the trilogy.
And so we come to Basket Case 3. I have no words for this. The first film was easy to defend, its sequel has value for the sheer bonkers let’s-just-go-for-it attitude, but this one was a step too far. It’s somehow turned into a low budget X-Men, with all the freaks in a home for the gifted. It just doesn’t work.
Whatever you think of the films, this is an awesome set. It’s a tribute to a genre that just wants to have fun. Disgusting, but fun.
There is fantastic value in the extras. Frank Henenlotter sets the tone in his Introduction (2m) to Basket Case, laughing at the idea of his 16mm film getting a Blu-Ray release! Instead of trying to make it into something it isn’t, he set it back to the original aspect ration of 4:3 and tweaked the grain. This is as good as it’s going to look, but more importantly, exactly as it looked when it was originally released.
Same goes for audio. It’s stereo and nothing special. No subtitles are included.
The meat of the extras is the documentary: What’s In The Basket (78m) – Henenlotter has a lot of affection for the films, especially as he never intended for it to be seen and set out to make the “stupidest film ever”. And it’s a fascinating insight to New York exploitation films of the time. Films that made Basket Case look good and explain its success.
Video game players of a certain age will remember how the boxes had incredible artwork that would be nothing like the simple 8-bit graphics you’d actually see on screen. In Grizzly Graham Humphreys (19m) we meet the cheerful British poster artist who would do the same thing in film. It’s his wonderful lurid art that graces the cover of the Blu-Ray, but you’ll more than likely have seen his stuff before. Hammer, Evil Dead, Nightmare on Elm Street, etc, especially re-releases like this.
The original film is a tribute to old New York as much as anything else, so the In Search of Hotel Breslin is great fun with an insight into budget filmmaking. It even features a small argument of the kind you can only get with New Yorkers!
Finally there is one more hidden extra: Gabe’s Tour of Atlantic West Effects (7m), a brilliant look around an effects house. Well worth joining the gruesome tour for anyone interested in how the most disgusting effects are created and the host is reassuringly laid-back while handling very realistic looking corpses and guts.
There’s not much to recommend in the films themselves. The Basket Case trilogy has little rewatch value, but as a tribute to the trashy kind of films that would influence so much in the modern horror genre, it is a superb release.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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