The Film: Basket Case (1982)
The Principles: Frank Henenlotter (Writer/Director). Kevin Van Hentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, Beverly Bonner, Robert Vogel, Diana Browne
The Premise: A young man – Duane Bradley (Van Hentenryck) – checks into a seedy NYC Motel with a wicker basket under his arm. Turns out what‘s in that basket is the man’s deformed conjoined twin and the two of them are out to seek revenge on the doctors that separated them and left the little guy to die in a garbage bag.
Is It Good: Yes? It’s…interesting. The acting is atrocious but there are more than a few redeeming qualities. Henenlotter’s direction is solid and the cinematography is at least interesting and engaging, even if it’s not altogether inspired. He’s not necessarily an actor’s director, but the man knows what he’s after and, like it or not – it ain’t the Oscar.
Now, this isn’t my first Henelotter film – that honor goes to his Bad Biology, which was totally fucked up from the word go, but it was also his most recent film (made in 2008). This was his debut and even though I’ve skipped everything in between (not intentionally – I just haven‘t gotten to it yet), having both ends of the spectrum gives me a pretty good idea. Basket Case is Henelotter’s trying to find his voice. Already having a soft-spot for “freaks,” once the big reveal is made about what (who?) is in the basket, Henelotter effortlessly makes our Belial a sympathetic figure, refusing to just let him be scapegoated as a mere monster. There’s a surprising amount of humanity on display and when you pair that with some great effects and a wicked little sense of humor, it becomes rather easy to ignore…maybe even appreciate, the decidedly less-than-stellar performances. In filmmaking in the technical sense, no – it’s not really that good. But considering that it has so much more on its mind than you’d expect a movie like this to have, it excels rather well at filmmaking in an artistic sense. And I can dig that.
Is It Worth A Look: Sure. It’s not going to be for everybody and if I hadn’t already had even a slight grasp on who Henelotter was as a filmmaker I’m not sure how much of it I would have been able to appreciate, as there’s a ridiculous amount of time and dialogue in between the excitement and for only being 91 minutes it became tedious in places. But again, it’s got a nice sense of humor and even if you can’t appreciate anything else, Belial’s angrily popping out of the basket as his older brother is about to get down to business with a cute receptionist is almost (ALMOST) worth the price of admission alone.
Random Anecdotes: It‘s been awhile since I‘ve seen Bad Biology, so I can‘t remember if this is something that‘s recurring, but Henenlotter seems incapable of conveying eroticism. Anything that seems like it should be sexy is just creepy. That may have been the intention, but I get the feeling like it wasn’t. Also, imagine my surprise when our first taste of nudity was none other than a man-penis flopping around as our lead went for a midnight run in his dreams. Shalom!
Cinematc Soulmates: Any other Henenlotter film. Brain Damage. Stuck on You. The Other Sister.