Basket Case: Say Hello to My Little Friend
Flipping through the less than exciting options on my television, a movie catches my eye: Chasing Banksy. I watch the last half of the film. As luck would have it, it is disappointing. The credits begin to roll and I see a familiar name. It is director Frank Henenlotter, known for directing and writing such “quality” horror films as Frankenhooker, Brain Damage, and today’s topic, the cult film Basket Case.
Basket Case is a 1982 horror film written and directed by Henenlotter. Although labeled a horror film, Henenlotter considers himself more of a creator of exploitation than horror. In Total Sci-Fi Online, he explains “When I do exploitation it gives me the freedom to go a little nuts. I mean, I’d only say I work in ‘horror films’ so that the people that sell it have a safe label to put on.” Whatever tag you choose, the film is a cult classic.
Inspired by the grindhouse films of the 70s, Basket Case is a warped freak show mixed with dark humor. It deserves credit for not trying to be another Friday the 13th or Halloween clone (both from that period). It has an innovative script yet no real budget, partially filmed around 42nd Street in guerilla fashion. The crew worked fast without permits or notice by the police. Shot at a time when Times Square was the home of peep shows, drug dealers, and porn theatres, it was so degenerate that in 1981 Rolling Stone magazine called it “the sleaziest block in America.” The location and budget add to the film’s dark and dismal feel.
Basket Case centers on an average guy named Duane who carries around a large wicker basket. The basket is a curiosity to everyone who meets him. We soon learn that he is a twin conjoined at birth. His brother is Belial, a name synonymous with the Devil (self-fulfilling prophecy?). Belial is a legless mass with arms and a distorted face. When young, a team of (presumably) evil doctors separate the two against their will.
After the surgery, Belial is thrown out with the trash. Duane rescues his twin (guess what’s in the basket?). Despite no longer being conjoined they are still telepathic. And naturally, they are now old enough to seek vengeance on the doctors who separated them.
The naive Duane and Belial head to the big city. Although he seems unassuming, Duane orchestrates the revenge. Naturally, Belial does the dirty work. It’s not long before we see the monstrous evil of Belial as he gets bloody revenge on the doctors.
Belial comes to life with the use of stop-action photography and puppetry. The low-budget effects give Belial’s movements a choppy appearance. They add to his creepiness. No matter how creepy he seems, you have to feel a little compassion for him. Torn from his brother who can go on and live a conventional life, Belial is a terrifyingly deformed mass who can not live in society. He must stay in the wicker basket.
Even in exploitation/horror films, there has to be a romance. Duane falls for the receptionist of one of the doctors. Situations arise allowing Belial’s bloodlust to grow as he kills more than just the doctors. As time passes, the evil twin grows jealous of his brother and his relationship. Belial’s frustration leads to an eventual showdown.
The film is gory fun, released initially without the bloody scenes to target the audience as a disturbing dark comedy. However, its popularity grew when they added the edited scenes back and brought it to midnight showings around the country. I recommend it to any cult or horror enthusiast. Grab your popcorn and kill the light. You don’t have to be a basket case to enjoy it.