Frank Henenlotter’s original Basket Case (1982) is one of the independent horror market’s quintessential celebrations of the scum-soaked streets of a pre-Giuliani New York City, alongside Larry Cohen’s God Told Me To (1976), Kent Bateman’s Headless Eyes (1971), Bill Lustig’s Maniac (1980), and Buddy Giovinazzo’s Combat Shock. Basket Case presented a more whimsically rotten side of the Big Apple than its counterparts, while still setting a vulgar precedent. In short, Henenlotter did for NYC what John Waters did for Baltimore. The writer/director followed up his debut with the psychedelic, penis-shaped brain monster epic, Brain Damage (1988), and then returned to continue the Basket Case saga with the appropriately titled Basket Case 2 in 1990 – the same year he made his fourth film, the tastefully-titled Frankenhooker. The third and final film in the series, Basket Case 3: The Progeny was released in 1992, after which point Henenlotter took a more than decade-long break from filmmaking.
Basket Case 2
After surviving a fall from a hospital window, Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck) and his surgically-separated twin brother, Belial, become media targets. Duane’s aunt, Granny Ruth (Annie Ross), whisks the duo away to a secluded mansion, where other freaks-in-hiding live out their days away from public scrutiny. When a snooping tabloid reporter finds the location of the mutants, Duane and his new family must stand together to keep their freedom a secret. And, in all the chaos, Belial might actually find true love! (From Synapse’s official synopsis)
The first sequel is a mixed bag that jettisons the filthy, seething streets of Manhattan and their oddly endearing characters in favor of corrupting suburbia with grinning bad taste. This severe contrast is the intended appeal of the sequel, though, minus the grit and grime of the city, Belial and Duane do lose a bit of their bite. Basket Case 2’s real charm is its mock-sweetness and maudlin moral lessons, which make it more of a children’s entertainment spoof than a satire of serious horror franchises (though the flash-bulb-assisted murder of the slimey cameraman is a potently scary sequence). Given all of the foam-assisted creature effects on display, it’s not unlike a deranged Sesame Street version of Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932). Or, at the very least, a companion piece to Alex Winter & Tom Stern’s less gory/still not quite kid-friendly Freaked (1993). While attempting to soften the grim tone of the original movie and reverse the dynamic between Belial and Duane, Henenlotter bogs down his script with a few too many broad strokes, lampooning everything from the equal rights movement to religious ideology, and corrupt tabloid frenzies. Still, Basket Case 2 is pretty gosh-darned cute and the brothers’ story at the center of the script is conceptually strong. Even the heavy-handed dad humor elicits a few chuckles and it’s hard not to smile at Gabe Bartalos’ over-the-top and cartoony special effects.
Basket Case 2 was first released on anamorphic DVD via Synapse, then as part of a Basket Case Trilogy set from Second Sight in the UK, which itself coincided with a Blu-ray collection from the same company (the same HD transfer was used for CMV Laservision’s Blu-ray). This is the RA/US Blu-ray debut, also from Synapse, and features a brand new HD transfer taken from the 35mm camera negative. I don’t have access to the other Blu-ray versions for direct comparison, so I am reviewing it based on its own merits and improvements over the DVD version. There are some minor scratches and white flecks throughout this 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer (the 16mm footage from the first Basket Case is, of course, in rougher shape), but the DVD’s compression artifacts are all but eradicated. Clarity is impressive and the fine film grain does not create issues for softer gradations or tighter details. The comic book colors get a sizable boost as well, especially candy reds, neon blues, and Re-Animator greens. The original 2.0 sound is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. The mix is a bit flat, but dialogue is clean and the occasional stereo effect works nicely (gunshots and growling freaks in particular). Academy Award (Best Adaptation Score, The Buddy Holly Story, 1978) and Razzie Award (Worst Musical Score for, Under the Rainbow, 1981) winning composer Joe Renzetti’s synth score gets the widest right/left channel spread, though it is used quite sparingly.
The extras have been recycled from Synapse’s DVD and include:
The Man in the Moon Mask (6:19, SD) – In this interview the “Half Moon” actor (and star of Dawn of the Dead) David Emge discusses his role and acting under several pounds of foam rubber.
Beyond the Wicker (22:34, SD) – The always affable special effects makeup artist Gabe Bartalos shot this cute little retrospective featurette, in which he talks about making Basket Case 2. It includes on-the-street interviews with Henenlotter and producer James Glickenhaus, along with loads of vintage behind-the-scenes video and photos (some from Frankenhooker, since the productions overlapped).
Basket Case 3: The Progeny
After being separated again from his conjoined twin brother, Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck), Belial finds out he’s going to be a deformed daddy! Mrs. Belial or “Eve” (Denise Coop) delivers a litter of bouncing baby monsters, but the blessed event turns into a nightmarish ordeal when the police kidnap the little critters. They should know it’s not safe to anger Belial! (From Synapse’s official synopsis)
The third and (so far) final movie in the trilogy doesn’t switch up the formula very much, opting instead to continue the story of Basket Case 2, going as far as to open with the final five minutes of the second movie (the separation scene from the second movie is used yet again as well). There isn’t a whole lot of behind-the-scenes information available about this one, but I assume Henenlotter was only making this one for the money and not because he had any major drive to tell another Basket Case story. He and co-writer Robert Martin build a loose plot around the basic structure of the second movie, move the story further away from the city, add more freaks, and wrap the entire narrative around Bartalos’ make-up effects. The new content revolves around increasingly silly road-trip shenanigans (some of which would be right at home in a Muppet movie – such as the impromptu group singing of Logan & Price’s “Personality”), and increasingly grotesque body-horror shenanigans. Reportedly, Glickenhaus wanted an even more family-friendly vibe for the third movie and some of Henenlotter’s gorier ideas were scrapped before filming even began (the MPAA was very hard on independent horror at the time, so it’s possible that the producer just wanted to avoid more arguments). I suppose there is a bit less gore (the violence is more in-line with something like Beetlejuice), but there’s definitely more smut and steady escalation of reckless filmmaking. Eventually, Henenlotter and his cohorts really cut loose (future 3rd Rock from the Sun producer/writer Jim O'Doherty is a special delight whenever he unleashes a stream of improvised lines) and the further from routine that Basket Case 3 wanders, the closer it gets to being the best movie in the series. Unfortunately, the gags frequently lack rhythm and the first half is awkwardly paced, making the lead-up to the unhinged finale a bit of a slog.
Basket Case 3 was also first released on anamorphic DVD from Synapse and was included in Second Sight’s Basket Case TrilogyBlu-ray collection. Again, I don’t have the UK Blu-rays at my disposal, so I’m comparing this US HD debut to its DVD counterpart. This 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer – taken from another new 35mm camera negative scan – follows the lead set by Synapse’s Basket Case 2 transfer. Cinematographer Robert Paone’s photography mimics Robert M. Baldwin’s work from the second film well enough that there’s little delineation between their work. The outdoor locations make the biggest difference, because the compositions tend to be brighter. Grain structure is a smidge lumpier, but print damage and compression artifacts are no longer prevalent. The palette leans more pastel than neon this time, which fits the mock-wholesome tone. Colors are strong, consistent, and neatly supported by deep blacks. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtrack features some pretty lively stereo effects, including both environmental ambience and gross-out sound effects. The vocal track has a few shrill moments, but no notable distortion. Renzetti returned as composer with more quirky electronic cues (he had scored Frankenhooker in the meantime). The music doesn’t pop up very often, but sounds smooth and well-balanced when it does.