Frank Henenlotter has achieved somewhat of a cult following since the release of his second directorial effort, the effective skid-row exploitation flick, Basket Case. Followed by Brain Damage (1988), Frankenhooker (1990) and two unnecessary sequels, Basket Case is another good example of what can be achieved with little budget. The film is significantly and rightfully dedicated to ‘the godfather of gore’, Herschell Gordon Lewis.
Basket Case first emerged on the video scene simultaneously with another great low budget horror, Sam Raimi’s phenomenal The Evil Dead (1982). Unlike Raimi, following George Romero’s influence and setting the story in an isolated environment, Henenlotter bases his film on the squalid streets of New York City at night and still occasionally manages to conjure a sense of claustrophobia among corrupt characters, deviant doctors and prostitutes.
A drug pusher pesters a passing young man carrying a basket case, but is ignored. The clean-cut young man is Duane Bradley who we discover carries the huge picnic basket with him wherever he goes. ‘What’s inside?’ is the question and everyone’s lips. Why does he whisper through the wicker as though something resides within? The answer is that the basket is home to Belial, a deformed dwarf creature who was once Duane’s Siamese twin. Together Duane and Belial search for the doctors who performed the illicit operation that separated them and execute their revenge. Sympathy for the tortured brothers, humour generated from the blundering hotel occupants and amusement from the extremely amateurish animation of Belial combine to make Basket Case a fascinating, if rather bizarre experience. Sequels followed but looked, although it seems impossible, more slapdash than their far superior predecessor.
This Special Edition DVD has a great commentary by Henenlotter, who surprisingly doesn’t sound as eccentric as you might expect, and the best quality version of this film you’re likely to see. Don’t expect it to be too amazing though, as the film was made on a very very very small shoestring budget, but like The Last House on the Left (1972) its contemptible ineptitudes are its charms.