I consider Basket Case to be something of a rite of passage flick for burgeoning gore enthusiasts and cult film fetishists alike. It’s a film that, upon its release back in 1982, shocked and entertained both horror audiences and fans of on-the-cheap exploitation flicks, and made its director, Frank Henenlotter, an underground sensation. While comparatively tame by today’s standards, Basket Case still serves as a goofy and gory testament to indie ingenuity and sheer chutzpah, and now comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Something Weird Video in a superb set you have to see to believe.
Conjoined twins, Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck) and his hideously malformed brother, Belial, are forcibly separated at the behest of their father, who, horrified and embarrassed by the perverse protrusion marring his otherwise “normal” son, enlists a trio of surgeons willing to perform the operation despite knowing that such a procedure will kill Belial. The illicit operation is carried out in the dead of night, as Duane and Belial are dragged out of bed, drugged, and carved in two, with Duane waking hours later to the voice of his brother in his head. Despite their best attempts, Belial has survived, and, after being rescued from the trash by Duane, kills his father, leaving the two brothers to be raised by their kindly aunt (Ruth Neuman).
While Duane benefits from a fairly normal (given the circumstances) childhood, growing into a handsome young man, the vengeful Belial has spent his days plotting the demise of the doctors who separated them. That day finally comes, as Duane dutifully helps Belial kill their small town doctor, Julius Lifflander (Bill Freeman), and, after rifling through his records, they also discover the identities and whereabouts of his coconspirators - Dr. Harold Needleman (Lloyd Pace) and Dr. Judith Kutter (Diana Brown) – both of whom reside in New York City. So, with a wad of cash and a big wicker basket to house his brother in, Duane heads to the Big Apple, where he checks them into the Hotel Broslin, a seedy Times Square hole-in-the-wall inhabited by all manner of drunks, punks, and prostitutes.
After they settle in, Duane goes on a reconnaissance mission to Needleman’s office where he meets the doctor’s attractive young receptionist, Sharon (Terri Susan Smith), who volunteers to show small town Duane all that the big city has to offer. The next day, Duane sneaks off to spend the day with Sharon, but Belial senses his brother’s deceit, and flies into a rage, trashing their hotel room, and killing one of their ne’er-do-well neighbors. Duane comes home to comfort Belial, but it’s clear that his toxic twin resents his brother’s attempts at normalcy, putting their unique fraternal bond to the ultimate test.
Basket Case is truly guerilla style filmmaking, with a cast of mostly non-actors, “stolen” sets, and a directorial style that can best be described as run-and-gun. Henenlotter discusses the making of the film in great detail on the disc’s howlingly funny and informative commentary track, stating that, in many the scenes, he couldn’t even take the time to see what it was he was filming, often under pressure to get his shots and go as quickly as possible lest he and his crew be discovered shooting sans permits or in places they didn’t have permission to film. The results speak for themselves, with lots of disjointed scenes, abrupt cuts, and continuity errors galore, but it all lends to the film’s charm, and, once you learn the story behind it, you’ll be amazed that Basket Case even saw the light of day.
This is a truly out-there flick, equal parts John Waters and H.G. Lewis, with bizarre characters (made all the more eccentric by the oftentimes wooden performances of the cast), crazy dialogue, primitive (even for the time) stop-motion effects, and over-the-top violence. While much of the humor is of the unintentional variety (Belial’s screams of rage, when paired with the puppet’s decidedly unthreatening appearance, never fail to double me over in fits of laughter), Henenlotter’s script is actually quite smart, subversive, and even a bit tragic. Despite the gruesome imagery and hammy acting, there are moments in the film that are actually quite moving, bordering on gut-wrenching. Take, for example, the flashback to Belial and Duane’s separation. Sure, it’s a hand puppet being gruesomely excised from the side of a child actor, but it’s filmed in such unflinching manner that it’s not only uncomfortable to watch, but really quite sad and affecting! I’ve seen this film so many times I’ve lost count, yet this scene never fails to move me, and that’s quite a feat for a thirty year old micro-budget exploitation flick.
As previously stated, I’ve watched Basket Case countless times, both on VHS and Something Weird Video’s boffo DVD release from years back, but you haven’t seen this flick until you see it on Blu-ray. Fans will remember the many problematic releases of the tape era, with dark and dingy transfers, most of them cropped or stretched, and nearly all bordering on unwatchable. Something Weird addressed most of those issues on their extras-laden DVD, offering a much cleaner and brighter transfer and presenting the film in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. It was great, and fans were well-pleased, but, with their inaugural Blu-ray release, Something Weird has taken Basket Case to a whole new level. This new HD transfer of the film is, in a word, amazing, with rich and vibrant colors, a surprising level of detail, and an almost complete exorcism of the print damage and artifacting that hindered past releases. Blu-ray snobs expecting Transformers-like levels of visual bliss will be sorely disappointed, but those who know Basket Case and its humble 16mm origins will be absolutely floored by how good this transfer looks. Something Weird pairs its great new transfer with a lossless soundtrack (the original mono track is also included for good measure), that’s wonderfully crisp and clean, with only a hint of that sort of “warped” 80’s distortion (most evident during Belial’s extremely loud screams). The bottom line is that Basket Case has never looked or sounded better, and I don’t think it ever will.
Something Weird carries over a selection of extras from its DVD release, including the previously mentioned commentary track, a smattering of outtakes, and stills gallery. Also included is the In Search of the Hotel Broslin featurette, as well as a short introduction for the film by Henenlotter, shot specifically for this Blu-ray release. All extras are presented in standard definition.
Basket Case fans rejoice; Something Weird’s Blu-ray release of this often overlooked exploitation classic is revelatory stuff. The transfer is exceptional, the remastered audio is superb, and all of the best stuff from the DVD release is included, making this an essential addition to any horror fans library. Highly recommended!