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Basket Case

Something Weird Video // Unrated // September 27, 2011
List Price: $17.97 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted September 20, 2011 | E-mail the Author
Basket Case! It's the uplifting story of two brothers from a sleepy little town in upstate New York making their way to the Big Apple for the very first time. Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck) and
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Belial had always been really, really might even say they were joined at the hip. 'Course, if you did say that, you'd be off by a little; they were joined a bit higher up than that. See, the Bradley Brothers were Siamese twins. Not quite as much of a family resemblance as you might expect out of a set of twins, though. Duane's always been tall and gangly; Belial is more of an oversized head with stubbly little claws for hands, a mangled spine, and...actually, that's about it. Back when the two kids were still in their teens, their pop paid a bunch of doctors under-the-table to hack that hideously deformed growth outta Duane's side. Where everyone else saw an eight-inch-tall monster, Duane just looked at Belial as his brother. He fished his disembodied brother out of the trash (!) and hid him away, and now that the two of 'em are old enough, they've made their way to the big city to look up some old friends. Those sleazy doctors tore these two brothers apart, so I guess it's only fair now that these two brothers are gonna tear them apart...

Basket Case is 91 minutes straight of all the dark, sticky, demented stuff I love so much about cult and exploitation cinema. It's kinda funny to give the commentary on this Blu-ray disc a whirl and hear Frank Henenlotter say that this was his stab at making something more commercial after hammering out a bunch of aggressively weird 16mm shorts. Basket Case isn't exactly business as usual. I mean, it's about a pint-sized, telepathic killer blob of flesh in a wicker basket. "Commercial" isn't the first word that springs to mind after seeing the hysterically disturbing necrophilia that's whipped out here. Even though the entire film was shot on a budget that can barely buy you a new Volvo these days, the splatter is really inspired and still holds up really well thirty years later, and its shoestring price tag never gets in the way of Henenlotter's ambition. Basket Case even takes a stab at stop-motion animation, for crying out loud. As entrancingly weird as Basket Case can get, it's far too sharply written, directed, and edited to ever trot into so-bad-it's-good territory.

Even when the seams show, like in the few short snippets of stop-motion and in some of the clumsier performances, it still winds up feeling like a check in the 'Win' column. So much about filmmaking anymore is an invisible art; Basket Case is more unmistakeably handmade. It's off-the-charts demented and depraved, yeah, but I feel a connection with Basket Case that I hardly ever get with anything else...that
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feeling that a tiny handful of people banded together to make a movie that's so fucked-up yet so completely sincere. Just 'cause it's about a killer-head-in-a-basket doesn't mean it's not a labor of love. The seediness and sleaziness may be the marquee draw and all, but what makes Basket Case work as a movie is that there's a real emotional undercurrent to it all, and most of the key characters are genuinely compelling, finding some impossible middle ground between wide-eyed campiness and the darkly tragic. A mutant head fucking a corpse? Yeah. A veterinarian with a trayful of scalpels sticking out of her face? Yup. Basket Case could've settled for empty exploitation, but there's more to it than that, and the meaty stuff -- like a brotherly relationship that's half love, half tormented obligation -- is sprinkled in without feeling like some kind of after-school special. The construction of the whole thing is pretty damned perfect, more nimbly paced and devoid of filler than any of the grindhouse flicks that inspired Henenlotter to step behind the camera in the first place.

Even though the flick is ringing in its thirtieth anniversary, Basket Case doesn't feel even a little bit stale or dated. Actually, it's not all that tough to argue that it's gotten better with age. It's set in the seedy, grimy New York that Travis Bickle wanted to see flushed down the fucking toilet. One scene is even set in one of those infamous 42nd St. grindhouses, complete with some nameless chop-socky flick splattered all over the screen. This is a New York I've hardly ever seen outside of movies like Smithereens. So much of Basket Case is set in a flophouse called the Hotel Broslin, and it's practically a character in its own right, such an integral part of the flick that rabid fans would desperately try to track down the actual hotel when trekking out to New York. The oddball folks who call the Broslin home add an enormous sense of personality to Basket Case that's generally lacking in exploitation.

So, yeah, the amateur film critic in me wants to keep blathering on and saying "no, wait! Really! Basket Case is legendarily sleazy, yeah, but it's a genuinely good movie too!", but you probably get the general idea by now. There's all that for sure, but most of all, Basket Case is a hell of a lot of fun. Of all the classic cult and exploitation flicks to claw their way out of the early '80s, Basket Case ranks right up there among the very best. Oh, and as it turns out...? Something Weird Video has given it a release on Blu-ray to match too.

Look, I don't know if you've clicked on any of the screenshots scattered around this review or not, but if you haven't, take a sec and pop this sucker open to full-size:

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Yup. I know. Right there with you. Can't even talk about this Blu-ray disc without dropping an F-bomb or two because Basket Case looks that fucking incredible on Blu-ray. Bear in mind too that we're talking about a movie that on the technical end of things has pretty much always been barely watchable. Back when Basket Case was making the rounds in theaters, the low-rent 35mm blowup was frustratingly dark and murky. Frank Henenlotter wasn't really thinking about aspect ratios or whatever when his 16mm camera was whirring away, just shooting whatever he could see in the viewfinder, so those early screenings wound up being heavily cropped too. Early video releases stripped away those mattes, yeah, but were still plagued with the same headaches that dragged the look of the movie down theatrically. It really wasn't until Something Weird's DVD release from ten years back that Henenlotter was happy with the way any sort of release of Basket Case looked, and this new HD transfer...? In a totally different league altogether.

I'm kind of in awe at how richly detailed Basket Case is. Despite being shot on a shoestring budget and on 16mm to boot, the level of detail unearthed here outclasses an awful lot of the 35mm studio catalog titles on Blu-ray. I mean, I'll take this over either of the Friday the 13th sequels that Paramount put out on BD, Return of the Living Dead, or...hell, even a kinda-sorta-recent movie like The Girl Next Door. Its colors are strikingly vivid but never come across as being artificially pumped up. Contrast is consistently robust throughout. The gritty texture you'd probably expect from a thirty year old flick shot for next-to-nothing on 16mm is present and accounted for. The texture feels completely natural, never coming across as noisy or distractingly digital. The bitrate isn't all that remarkable, but the 1.33:1 framing definitely lightens the load on the compression, and I didn't ever notice the granules clumping together in a blocky mess or anything like that. There are essentially no flecks of dust, nicks, or tears to get in the way. The headaches a lot of Blu-ray reviewers usually gripe about -- heavy-handed noise reduction, edge haloing, and all that -- never rear their head. I did notice some big, blue splotches from time to time, but with as mindbogglingly gorgeous as everything else about Basket Case is on Blu-ray, that sort of thing really isn't that tough to ignore.

I know I might catch some flak for giving Basket Case a perfect five star rating, but I really, really don't care what those people think. There's no grading on a curve or anything here; this is seriously a world-class effort from Something Weird, leaving me just about as much as in awe as I was throughout Anchor Bay's surreally gorgeous restoration of The Evil Dead a little while back. Basket Case puts a hell of a lot of big-budget studio catalog titles to shame, and this Blu-ray disc does it with a bargain bin pricetag to boot. Seriously unreal.

Basket Case is presented on Blu-ray at its intended aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The AVC encode is really lightweight, coming in at 15 gigs even, and the movie and its extras fit on a single layer Blu-ray disc with plenty of room to spare.

Something Weird didn't skimp on the aural end of things either. Basket Case is presented in its original mono on Blu-ray and...hey! PCM too. The audio is remarkably clean and clear throughout, not bogged down by
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any intrusive hiss, pops, clicks, or assorted background noise. It sounds impressively pure too -- limited by the original recording, which can admittedly get rough around the edges, but it's otherwise every bit as great as anything I could have hoped to hear. There's definitely no mistaking this for some Dolby Digital mono track with an anemic bitrate like most shops would've slopped out on DVD. There is one chaotic sequence late in the film that gets all crackly and distorted, but that's shortlived, presumably unavoidable considering how flawless everything else sounds, and easily forgiven. Again, a first-class effort straight across the board.

The monaural PCM track is just about it as far as standard audio options go. No dubs and no subtitles this time around.

For whatever reason, not all of the extras from Something Weird's 2001 DVD special edition have made their way onto this shiny new Blu-ray disc. Missing in action are two radio interviews with actress Terri Susan Smith along with excerpts from Beverly Bonner's Laugh Track cable series. All the best stuff is on here, though.
  • Introduction (2 min.; SD): Whatever questions or concerns you might have about Basket Case clawing its way onto Blu-ray, Frank Henenlotter fields 'em all in his two-minute intro.

  • Audio Commentary: I'm probably about to write way, way too much about Basket Case's commentary track, but to sum it up really quickly...? Essential. I had such a blast listening to this commentary, which features writer/director Frank Henenlotter, producer Edgar Ievins, co-star Beverly Bonner, and, uncredited, filmmaker Scooter McRae. Super-chatty, overflowing with personality, and astonishingly comprehensive, there are too many highlights for me to possibly rattle off here. A few of 'em anyway, though...? Henenlotter talks about writing down key dialogue on mustard-stained napkins at Nathan's, editing the flick in his bedroom with British gear and at the wrong framerate, how the movie had all the splatter stripped out of its original theatrical release only to be rescued by the mighty Joe Bob Briggs, and trying to clumsily cover up bloody handprints they left on the wall of a stolen location. A big part of what I love so much about this commentary is the picture they paint of what it was like to be a part of that whole grimy, grungy 42nd St. scene: from piss fountains and scurrying rats in the theaters all the way to covering up glory holes while filming at the Hellfire Club. This is one of those tracks that's so great that I'd grab the disc off the shelf just to listen to the commentary.

  • Outtakes (6 min.; SD): Backed by some ridiculously awesome wah-funk, Basket Case's outtake reel showcases a bunch of the usual goofing around along with splatter touchups, behind-the-scenes snippets, and...hey, why not?...even a couple of tits.

  • In Search of the Hotel Broslin (16 min.; SD): In this mini-doc
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    from 2001, Frank Henenlotter and underground rapper R.A. the Rugged Man stroll through New York showing off all the different places where Basket Case had been shot twenty years earlier. The gag in the title is that there never actually was a Hotel Broslin, but Henenlotter and R.A. hit up all the different locations that were spliced together to look like a flophouse. The two of 'em also drop in on the Hellfire Club and learn how Basket Case rescued the infamous S&M joint from zoning hell. Henenlotter and R.A. keep the doc a whole helluva lot more interesting than just fifteen minutes of "so, this is where we shot that scene...", and they also show off the original Belial stop-motion puppet, a bottle of blood from Basket Case that Henenlotter's kept in the fridge for decades, a bunch of merchandise and promotional stuff, and...hey! Joe Clarke.

  • Photo Gallery (5 min.; SD): Along with lobby cards and stacks of artwork from all across the globe, Basket Case's photo gallery dishes out plenty of behind-the-scenes splatter and oodles of shots of Belial.

  • Promotional Stuff (5 min.; SD): Two trailers, one TV spot, and a gaggle of radio promos round out the extras.

The Final Word
Frank Henenlotter's demented, blood-spattered valentine to all the exploitation flicks on the 42nd St. circuit is a cult classic if there ever was one. It's kinda tough to think of a better choice for Something Weird to pull off the shelf for their very first release on Blu-ray, and they made it count too: Basket Case looks and sounds phenomenal in high-def. I mean, there really wasn't any question going in that I was gonna give Basket Case a thumbs-up no matter how this Blu-ray disc turned out, but with a presentation this surreally gorgeous and pretty much every shop online carrying it for eleven bucks...? One of the easiest recommendations I've had to make all year. I'll say it again in bold and italics too! Very, very Highly Recommended.
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