What critic Rex Reed howled in revulsion, filmmaker Frank Henenlotter wore as a bloody badge of honor. Rex ravaged Basket Case (1981, 91 minutes) as "the SICKEST movie I've ever seen!" Henenlotter knew such righteous indignation was gold to the exploiteer as he'd been worshiping at the B-cinemas of New York City's 42nd Street since he was old enough to cut school. However, Frank was thwarted by his own distributors who neutered the flick's blood and gore with initially disastrous box office results. It wasn't until its meaty plot was restored that a cult following began to build around the picture, thanks in large part to a cunning manipulation of the home video boom. The goretur often points with nostalgic glee that the bank roll seen in the flick is a large portion of its total $35,000 budget. Something Weird Video, those sainted Samaritans of exploitation, have joined with Henenlotter to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Basket Case with a spectacular special edition re-release featuring all the extra digital guts it's so worthy of being splattered with.
The movie: A tale of two exceedingly unusual brothers that's rich with vengeance, lust and inexplicable charm. Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck) is a tall, lanky kid who wanders into the seedy Hotel Broslin toting a large wicker basket. He pays for Room 7 from an enormous wad of cash, then lugs his heavy cargo upstairs, under the prying gaze of suspicious and perhaps devious onlookers. Not long afterward, Duane begins talking to something, rather, SOMEONE inside the basket who snarls and quakes while being fed a sack of hamburgers -- wrappers and all. That someone, as any CineSchlocker already knows, is Duane's very tiny and very ferocious bubba Belial. The two are in town to systematically chew -- one of them quite literally -- through a gaggle of quack physicians they were wronged by many years before. Their wrath is ravenous and even, well, creative. Like when Belial turns a broad into a human porcupine with his gnarled fist full of scalpels. In a Shakespearian twist, all this revelry is complicated when Duane falls for a bright-eyed receptionist (Terri Susan Smith) with a revolving door on her virtue and a dime-store wig. Belial is enraged by and jealous of his brother's Romeo antics which, fueled by his own sexual frustration, spawns a murderous rift between them with obvious Biblical parallels. Despite the flick's grim finale, the first of two increasingly wacky sequels finds our pint-sized terror continuing his search for romantic fulfillment among his own ilk at a bizarro commune of sideshow oddities (think Clive Barker meets Sid & Marty Krofft). While Basket Case 3: The Progeny follows the fruit of Belial's loins in an apparent ode to Larry Cohen's immortal It's Alive franchise.
Notables: Two breasts. Eight corpses. Monster cam. Nekkid dream sequence with untethered wangdoodle. Eye gobbling. Lock picking. Toilet diving. Hypodermic closeups. Apartment trashing. Gratuitous visit to Statue of Liberty. Boozing.
Quotables: Tenant taunts the young stranger, "[You're] all alone in this cold, CRUEL world." Sharon can't believe a strapping fella like Duane is single, "Don't they have girls up state?!" Duane lovingly describes his brother, "He's deformed! He's a freak! He looks like a squashed octopus!" There's just been too much excitement for the Broslin's manager, "This isn't a hotel! It's a nut house!!!"
Time codes: First of five people to ask "What's in the basket?" (5:34). Feeding time at the Hotel Broslin (9:20). Kung fu scene from The Bodyguard (22:10). First clear look at Belial (31:06). Stop-motion creature animation by Henenlotter (36:55). The shocking origin of these troubled brothers (49:00). Belial returns to his basket after a midnight panty raid (1:09:48). Frank's dedication to gore legend Herschell Gordon Lewis (1:30:50).
Audio/Video: Originally, this film was shot on 16mm and blown up to 35mm for its theatrical release. Henenlotter personally supervised this brand new fullframe digital transfer from choice source materials. It has never looked better. The utilitarian Dolby Digital mono track preserves all the buzzes and pops that were always there.
Extras: A lively and info-packed commentary by Henenlotter, actress Beverly Bonner (Casey the kindly hooker), producer Edgar Ievins and Scooter McCrae who worked on the first sequel. As familiar a face as Kevin Van Hentenryck at fan events, it's a real shame he didn't make the recording -- at Frank's apartment. Also missing is Terri Susan Smith who changed her name to Ahu and left acting to pursue her spiritual and musical interests. Henenlotter's "In Search of the Hotel Broslin" documentary squires viewers to various locations used in the flick, and revisits some familiar folks as well. Oddly, it's co-hosted by rapper RA The Rugged Man, who bares absolutely NO resemblance to Leonard Nimoy of the REAL "In Search Of" series. There's a six-minute reel of outtakes. Clips from Ms. Bonner's alleged comedy program. Two vintage radio interviews with Ms. Smith. Theatrical trailers, TV and radio spots. Motion-video menus with audio. Printed insert with liner notes. This is also among the first of the Something Weird titles to abandon those reviled snapper cases.
Final thought: Rex was only half right. Basket Case is an undeniable, unavoidable and unforgettable clasSICK -- making this special edition an absolute must-purchase for any self-respecting CineSchlocker. Collector Series.
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G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.