Basket Case Blu-ray Review (originally published 2018)
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)
Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case (1982) is arguably the independent horror market’s quintessential celebration of the scum-soaked streets of a pre-Giuliani New York City, above even such horror and exploitation classics as 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 (1984/6). As Henenlotter’s feature debut, it also set the precedent for his entire career as it presents a more whimsically rotten side of the Big Apple than its aforementioned counterparts. And, in setting this vulgar precedent, Henenlotter basically did for NYC-branded horror what John Waters did for Baltimore-branded hagsploitation. 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  and Basket Case 3: The Progeny ), 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 mould-caked hotel rooms, then makes a point of skipping the protagonist’s tour of the city’s major landmarks (aside from a fleeting shot of the Statue of Liberty).
Fun fact: When 4Kids TV rebooted the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for TV 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) – entitled Insane in the Membrane and currently available on YouTube – the writing team scrapped an episode entitled Nightmares Recycled, which would have told an alternate backstory for a character Garbageman. Garbageman, who was a sort of update 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. More fun facts: 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.
Until recently, Basket Case was only 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. UK company Second Sight got their hands on the complete trilogy and released a remastered Blu-ray box set in 2012. This brings us to Arrow, another UK-based company, and their simultaneous UK/US Limited Edition release. Arrow has developed a good reputation for in-house restoration, but they received help from an unlikely source for Basket Case: namely, the Museum of Modern Art, who wanted to include the film in their official library. 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. The 1080p transfer is presented in its intended 1.33:1 aspect ratio and is an upgrade in terms of overall detail, its thinned-out, but not smoothed-over grain texture, and overall hue vibrancy (especially reds and greens). That said, it’s still a 16mm film shot by first-time filmmakers using the cheapest hardware they could find, so you probably won’t want to make it your new demo disc.
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. A lot 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. Everything, including Gus Russo’s limited keyboard score, is pretty flat, but nothing’s muffled, distorted, or compressed by excessive noise reduction.
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.
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 the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.