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  • Writer's pictureGabe Powers

Basket Case 4K UHD Review 



Arrow Video

4K UHD Release: April 30, 2024

Video: 1.33:1/2160p (HDR10/Dolby Vision)/Color

Audio: English LPCM 1.0 Mono

Subtitles: English SDH

Run Time: 91:14

Director: Frank Henenlotter


Duane Bradley is a pretty ordinary guy. His formerly conjoined twin Belial, on the other hand, is a deformed, fleshy lump whom he carries around in a wicker basket. Arriving in the Big Apple and taking up a room at the seedy Hotel Broslin, the pair set about hunting down and butchering the surgeons responsible for their separation. But, tensions flare up when Duane starts spending time with a pretty blonde secretary and Belial’s homicidal tendencies reach bloody new extremes. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)


Note: I'm recycling parts of my older Blu-ray review. If you're only reading this to get my opinion on the new 4K UHD transfer, kindly skip to the Video and Audio sections.



Over the decades, Frank Henenlotter has largely graduated from cult culture maker to cult culture elder statesman and scholar with his documentary work, including Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore (2010, co-directed with Jimmy Maslon), That's Sexploitation! (2013, co-directed with Donald A. Davis, David F. Friedman, and Arthur King), Boiled Angels: The Trial of Mike Diana (2018), and contributions to other documentaries, like Calum Waddell’s 42nd Street Memories: The Rise and Fall of America's Most Notorious Street (2015). All the while, throughout his feature and documentary work, he acted as a chief chronicler of cinematic filth in New York City, dating back to his audacious, zero-budget 1982 debut, Basket Case.


The Big Apple hasn’t ever been lacking representation in independently-produced horror – from Larry Cohen’s God Told Me To (1976) and Kent Bateman’s Headless Eyes (1971), to Bill Lustig’s Maniac (1980), and Buddy Giovinazzo’s Combat Shock (1984/6) – but in its joy and adoration, Basket Case remains the genre’s quintessential snapshot and celebration of the scum-soaked streets of a pre-Giuliani NYC. It does for NYC-branded horror what John Waters’ Multiple Maniacs (1970) did for Baltimore-branded drag hagsploitation. As a singularly vulgar, yet whimsical debut, it also set a high precedent for Henenlotter’s entire career, one he arguably only surpassed with his technically and thematically more sophisticated sophomore film, Brain Damage (1988).



Basket Case captures the essence of gross-out camp horror before B-movie studios Troma Entertainment and Full Moon would make it a house brand (though, of course, after H.G. Lewis had established splatter comedy in the ‘60s). It has a mean edge that went missing from Henenlotter’s later, more technically sophisticated and cartoonish work (especially its two belated sequels, Basket Case 2 [1990] and Basket Case 3: The Progeny [1992]), while also maintaining an oddly convincing sweet quality. It’s quite easy to feel sorry for poor Belial, even though he’s essentially a psychotic, screaming pile of foam rubber. Still, deep down, Basket Case is a loving ode to the 42nd Street grindhouse strip. Like an unofficial documentarian, Henenlotter follows Duane down the seediest side streets, into the piss-soaked movie theaters, and up the stairs to mold-caked hotel rooms, then makes a point of skipping his tour of the city’s major landmarks (aside from a fleeting shot of the Statue of Liberty).


Fun facts nominally related to this review: When 4Kids TV rebooted another group of monster icons from New York City, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, for television in 2003, the creators took the show in an increasingly dark direction that often referenced cult horror movies. After getting in trouble for an episode based on David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986) – season 4, episode nine, entitled Insane in the Membrane (not available streaming on Paramount+, but currently available on YouTube) – the writing team scrapped an episode entitled Nightmares Recycled, which would have told an alternate backstory for a character called Garbageman. Garbageman, who was a sort of variant of the character Muckman, who was already inspired by Troma’s The Toxic Avenger (1984), was planned as the rejected conjoined twin of series villain regular Hun.



Apparently, they wrote and even storyboarded a Basket Case-like sequence in which the two characters were separated by a “crocked, back-alley surgeon,” after which the preteen Garbageman was literally thrown away – abandoned in a dumpster – while Hun was saved and raised by his parents. The Garbageman design was essentially a legless monster man housed within a tank-like metal mech suit. Basket Case’s rejected twin, Belial, dons a similarly weaponed robotic body during the climax of the third Basket Case movie.


Video

Basket Case was initially released on US VHS via Media Home Entertainment and was later available via Image Entertainment as part of their Something Weird Video library. This included a vanilla DVD, a 20th anniversary special edition DVD, and a matching Blu-ray debut in 2011. UK company Second Sight got their hands on the complete trilogy and released a remastered Blu-ray box set in 2012. Then Arrow issued a remastered HD version in 2018 with help from the Museum of Modern Art, who sponsored the remaster in order to include the film in their official library. This 4K UHD debut utilizes that same MoMA transfer.



With help from Henenlotter himself, the original 16mm AB negative was scanned in 4K. Certain shots were apparently not usable and were replaced with 4K scans of the 35mm blow-up interpositive. Then everything was cleaned, balanced, and color-timed under the director’s supervision to make this particularly junky, grainy, and badly-lit cult feature look as good as possible. 


This is only the second 4K UHD transfer I’ve ever seen that was based on a 16mm source, the other being Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). But Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a bonafide artistic achievement, expertly shot with the utmost care. Basket Case Case is, well, not. No offense to Henenlotter or cinematographer Bruce Torbet. While I’m sure the 1080p to 2160p upgrade makes a difference during repertory theatrical screens, the difference between the already very impressive Blu-ray and this UHD is negligible on my 65-inch television. A lot of what I said about the BD still stands, namely the significant upgrade in detail over earlier discs, but not at the risk of the nice, chunky 16mm grain texture. The hue quality is boosted, which is important, considering the inherent muddiness of the photography. The UHD’s HDR enhancement also helps in this regard, naturally, and it helps to differentiate between shadows and highlights during those darkest shots. Do note that the images on this page are from the Blu-ray and only for basic illustrative purposes. 



Audio

The original mono sound is presented in uncompressed 1.0 LPCM. MoMA and Arrow have, again, done what they can with the less-than-stellar original material. Maybe a fourth of the film seems to have been dubbed in post, because lip-sync is constantly just a tad off, despite voice patterns and the timing of basic effects work matching. The fact that the sound quality also changes from shot-to-shot backs up the idea that the filmmakers were alternating between rough, set-recorded sound and post-production dubbing. I do always love the fact that Belial screams like a man, not a beast or monster, when he attacks people. Everything, including Gus Russo’s limited keyboard score, is pretty flat, but nothing’s muffled, distorted, or compressed by excessive noise reduction. 



Extras

  • Commentary with writer/director Frank Henenlotter and star Kevin Van Hentenryck – This first commentary is an Arrow exclusive, recorded specifically for this release. There is some overlap with the older extras and commentary (see below), but having Van Hentenryck in the room helps to offer some new perspectives on old stories. Besides, it’s a good, fast-moving, fact-filled commentary, even if you’ve heard some of it before.

  • Commentary with Henenlotter, producer Edgar Ievins, actress Beverly Bonner, and filmmaker Scooter McRae (Shatter Dead, 1994) – The second track was recorded for the Image Entertainment release (and was also included with Second Sight’s three-movie collection).

  • Basket Case 3-1/2: An Interview with Duane Bradley (8:30, HD) – A short mockumentary made by and featuring Henenlotter, in which he revisits Duane (portrayed by Van Hentenryck) decades after the events of the original movie.

  • Me and the Bradley Boys (16:23, HD) – Henenlotter again interviews Van Hentenryck – this time “seriously” – as the actor fondly remembers making the movie.

  • A Brief Interview with director Frank Henenlotter (3:48, HD) – The director (off-camera) interviews a thinner, younger, fully nude stand-in who doesn’t know anything about the movie.

  • Seeing Double: The Basket Case Twins (8:56, HD) – An interview with Florence & Maryellen Schultz, the twin nurses from the vet sequence, who also happen to be Henenlotter’s cousins.

  • Blood, Basket, and Beyond (6:04, HD) – Actress Bonner talks about meeting Henelotter after she appeared in a Divine stage show, appearing in Basket Case, and writing & performing a play about her character’s life after the films.

  • The Latvian Connection (27:34, HD) – Producer Edgar Ievins, casting person/actress Ilze Balodis, associate producer/effects artist Ugis Nigals, and Belial performer Kika Nigals tell their behind-the-scenes stories.

  • Belial Goes to the Drive-In (6:55, HD) – Critic and B-movie enthusiast Joe Bob Briggs praises Basket Case and recalls prepping the film’s premiere at a Dallas drive-in.

  • Basket Case at MoMA (37:12, HD) – A 2017 Q&A featuring Henenlotter, Van Hentenryck, Bonner, the Schultz twins, and Nigals, which was recorded during the premiere of the Museum of Modern Art’s new restoration.

  • What's in the Basket? (78:41, HD) – This archival feature-length making-of documentary covers the entire Basket Case trilogy (as well as Frankenhooker, 1990) was produced by Second Sight and Severin Films, directed by David Gregory, and premiered on Second Sight’s three movie collection. All of the major contributors are interviewed and are extensively informative, as well as entertaining.

  • In Search of the Hotel Broslin (16:07, SD) – In this second archival featurette from the Image DVD/BD, Henenlotter and hip-hop artist R.A. “The Rugged Man” Thorburn tour the film’s locations. It was shot in 2001 as the area was being sanitized by Giuliani’s people.

  • Raw outtakes (6:13, HD)

  • The Frisson of Fission (23:03, HD) – A new video essay by Travis Crawford (writer for Fangoria, Film Comment, and contributor to the giant tome 1001 Films To See Before You Die) covering the film and history of exploiting conjoined twins and other ‘freaks’ in popular culture.

  • Image galleries

  • Three trailers, a TV spot, and a radio spot

  • Slash of the Knife (30:13, HD) – This 1972 (mostly) black & white short was directed by Henenlotter and features a number of Basket Case actors. It apes the style of ‘30s/’40s propaganda ‘scare films,’ like Reefer Madness (1936) as it warns its audience of the horrors of men with uncircumcised penises.

  • Optional Slash of the Knife commentary with Henenlotter and co-writer Mike Bencivenga

  • Slash of the Knife outtakes (5:30, HD)

  • Slash of the Knife image gallery

  • Belial's Dream (4:49, HD) – A wonderfully creepy 2017 Basket Case-inspired stop-motion animated short by Robert Morgan (ABCs of Death 2, 2014).

  • Behind-the-scenes of Belial’s Dream (2:06, HD)



The images on this page are taken from Arrow’s older BD – NOT the 4K UHD – and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.

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