“What’s in the basket? Easter eggs?”
Absolutely, lady, absolutely. Wow. Sometimes you get hit in the head by a fly ball you didn’t see coming and it’s actually a good thing. I didn’t know Frank Henenlotter’s still hilarious and unnerving 1982 feature BASKET CASE had gotten a superb MoMA restoration last year until I overheard two guys talking about it and I just had to walk up and ask if it was true. It indeed was and now thanks to Arrow Video, you can get yourself a copy of this cult horror hit and see what the fuss is all about. Or just see it again as a fully restored masterpiece of low-budget movie making madness.
If memory serves me correctly, I actually saw the film for the first time way back during its initial 1982 run at the Waverly theater, but I think it was the disappointing edited version that came off as a bit crueler and cruder. I say “think” because it was a midnight showing and I recall falling asleep at one point and missed about 10 or so minutes. Oops. A few years later, upon renting the unrated version on VHS (I think it was from one of the legendary Kim’s Video locations in NYC), I was shocked to see footage I hadn’t recalled and the film was actually much funnier than I’d remembered.
You won’t find that older cut here (thankfully), but you’ll get that beautifully restored MoMA version plus a whopping amount of special features that make this the best version of the film to date. Despite the low budget, Henenlotter and company managed to make one of the most memorable horror films ever that still resonates. It’s also a great “New York flick” thanks to showing off the seedy side of NYC. Ah, that Times Square area – SO dangerous, but it was quite the compelling place to prowl back in the day. I managed to survive plenty of trips to that place, but it was certainly not a spot to hop down to with stars in your eyes lest your vision be clouded by a fist to the face or a well-placed shiv ruining your day.
Anyway, the story is a simple one, but executed (heh) brilliantly. Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck) drops into a seedy New York City hotel carrying a basket nearly everyone is very curious about. While he comes off as an innocent and likeable (yet naive guy), he’s on a mission to get a bit of revenge against a few doctors for a certain operation performed on him when he was younger. You sort of know something weird and possibly evil is inside that big wicker case, but it’s a case of “shut up and prepare for a shock!” because the film works best if you don’t know what’s coming.
Other than the spoiler videos above and below, I’m taking the somewhat very intentionally vague route here because it’s best to see this knowing as little about it as possible. Yes, it’s entirely possible that there will be folks new to the BASKET CASE experience and yes, I tip my cap to you if you’re that type of virgin. Now, where was I? Oh, right. Duane finds a few friends during his stay in NYC including a hooker with a heart of gold (Beverly Bonner) and Sharon (Terri Susan Smith), a cute receptionist who becomes his girlfriend. Things get a bit out of hand as the revenge stuff continues and Duane’s basket-bound surprise starts wanting things Duane can easily obtain.
What’s always been (and still is) impressive about the film is how well Henenlotter knew (and knows) how and when to make you laugh (often) and scream (just as often or more). Horror and comedy are both sides of the same coin and sometimes on both sides of that coin fighting it out. This film just flows (double heh) with opportunities to show that off and yes, even if you’re squeamish as hell, it still comes recommended because it’ll prepare you for how funny many horror films actually are once you get over your initial hesitation and some fears. Henenlotter makes a great comment during one interview on the disc where he noted that the studio cut version lost the humor because chopping out the bloodier effects watered down the laughs considerably.
This film works because it’s an exercise in excess made by a guy who knew where he was going. That’s how you get a naked Duane running around at one point, folks. Originally, it was supposed to be another main character, but Henenlotter (who did the film’s stop-motion work and initially hated it) ended up calling up Van Hentenryck and asking him to step up, which he gladly did. The fact that the scene was shot in the middle of a freezing February winter makes it all the more amazing (and the Trouper award goes to… Kevin Van Hentenryck!). The film ends as all is revealed and that somewhat cranky surprise and Duane tangle for a final time. Well, that is until the more oddball sequels were made. I’ll need to see the third film again at some point, but Basket Case 2 was a weird enough flick that justified its existence by ending up being better than expected and worth a look (does Arrow have plans for this? I hope so). For the record, Henenlotter didn’t like the third film all that much, but it seems to have its fans.
As for special features, holy hill of beans, Batman! This one’s stacked with stuff upon stuff:
Brand new audio commentary with writer/director Frank Henenlotter and star Kevin Van Hentenryck
Archival audio commentary with cast and crew
Basket Case 3-1/2: An Interview with Duane Bradley – Frank Henenlotter revisits Duane Bradley decades after the events of the original Basket Case
A Brief Interview With Frank Henenlotter (it’s not actually him, but you’ll see!)
Seeing Double: The Basket Case Twins – a brand new interview with Florence and Maryellen Schultz, the twin nurses from Basket Case
Brand new making-of featurette containing new interviews with producer Edgar Ievins, casting person/actress Ilze Balodis, associate producer/effects artist Ugis Nigals and Belial performer Kika Nigals
Blood, BASKET and Beyond – a brand new interview with actress Beverly Bonner
Belial Goes to the Drive-In – a brand new interview with film critic Joe Bob Briggs\
In Search of the Hotel Broslin – 2001 archive location featurette
The Frission of Fission – new video essay by Travis Crawford
Slash of the Knife (1972) – short film by Frank Henenlotter
Belial’s Dream (2017, 5 mins) – brand new Basket Case-inspired animated short by filmmaker Robert Morgan
Behind-the-scenes of Belial’s Dream
Trailers, TV Spots and Radio Spots
Extensive Still Galleries
Between what’s here, the booklet with new writing on the film and a few gallery sub-features, there are about 18 or so bonuses to check out and yes, all are essential viewing. Alrighty then. I’ve yakked on enough about this one. In brief, it’s absolutely grand and comes highly recommended. Go buy it (that’s an order!) and keep it handy because it’s a perfect ‘go-to’ film when you need a lift (but not of the sort Duane gets at the end!).
Score: A+ (Yeah, I said it’s perfect!)\
Review disc provided by the publisher
I’m one of the few (or many?) who’ve never seen this one…but I’ve heard plenty about it, and your review backs up all that I’ve heard. Hopefully my library has this version…I’m just a little worried about what’s inside the basket (I’ve never seen Eraserhead, either, but I’m sure they have some particular similarities).
Oh, if your library has this, go grab it and definitely watch those special features, as they make this all the more enjoyable.
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