I first became aware of FRANK HENENLOTTER’s BASKET CASE through gore photos spied in FANGORIA magazine in the early eighties. As gruesome as those images were, they still could not prepare me for the reality of finally watching BASKET on VHS. It wasn’t that the film was all that tense or scary, to my young mind it was just so dang…weird. Its shoe-string budget, sleazy locations, campy dialogue and generous doses of nudity and splatter left me more perplexed than anything else. What a strange world must lie outside of suburbia!
As I grew older my tastes did not so much mature as exponentially mutate. It wasn’t long before this once perceived eccentric oddity was so up my alley that it was parked in my garage. BASKET CASE is now my type of movie. It flirts around with enough body and identity issues to be read along the lines of early CRONENBERG, but there is a playful mocking attitude toward dialogue and a reverence toward life’s outsiders that reminds me of early JOHN WATERS. FRANK, if you are reading this, I just compared you two of my favorite people on earth.
To those unfamiliar, BASKET CASE introduces us to Duane Bradley (KEVIN VAN HENTENRYCK) a young man with a basket filled with some serious family baggage in the form of his sibling Belial. The two were born conjoined but where Duane is “normal” in appearance to the outside world, Belial is a globby mound of flesh so off putting that professional doctors questioned his humanity. As teenagers it was decided that the two should be separated so that Duane could lead a “normal” life and Belial could….well, die in a trash can for all anybody cared. Now the two brothers are on a mission to track down those who separated them and make them pay for being insensitive jerks by ripping off their faces.
It all may be kooky and cartoony on the surface, but there is a spine of genuine tragedy holding it all together. As Duane becomes more comfortable in the world at large, discovering allies and potential romance, Belial becomes increasingly threatened and adds a few new names to the kill list. As committed as the two are to each other, Duane rightfully is tempted by his potential normalcy and Belial is rightfully loathe to lose, not only his free hamburger ticket, but also his only means of transportation. It’s a co-dependent standoff of epic proportions regardless of the fact that one of its players is for the most part, a glorified hand puppet.
In a genre rife with repetitive recycling BASKET CASE is a true original. It delivers scares, it delivers chuckles and it delivers a sad little tale of a relationship jinxed by the fact that only one of the two concerned has the luxury of dreaming to break free.