'Basket Case' is basically a dramatic tale about the devotion and love shared between two brothers. Admittedly, on the surface, the movie is actually a bizarre and twisted horror flick, and a pretty terrible one at that — the sort many are inclined to call "so bad, it's good." As one of the siblings goes on a murderous rampage in the streets of New York City, the screen is filled with ultra-cheap effects, the screeching of hapless victims, and buckets of gory blood. It's enough to actually make you laugh at the silliness more than cringe with fright. But beneath the hysterically amateurish acting, the outrageousness of the violence, and the ridiculous plot, we find an attempt at genuine storytelling, goofy as it may sound.
The script comes from the wild imagination of its director, Frank Henenlotter, a decently well-known name amongst collectors of exploitation films. His career as a filmmaker would eventually produce two more B-horror movies in 'Frankenhooker' and 'Brain Damage' — so absurdly over the top they're really more like comedies than anything else. But before those, 'Basket Case' sets Henenlotter's filmic style and tone for audiences, clearly displaying a love for making the movie first and public reaction second. Or rather, it feels as if he made it for himself and his close friends to enjoy, not for any box-office fame. Though I'm sure he wouldn't turn it away had things gone in that direction.
Made on a micro-budget, one which even today wouldn't amount to much, the camerawork aims to be seen as professional and serious, which is where that emotional core of the two brothers fits in. But Henenlotter can't seem to hide his enthusiasm and excitement as the overall production feels humorous and intentionally comical. You have to laugh at the thought that someone could carry their grossly monstrous brother, Belial, in a wicker basket. It's part of the fun and amusement as we watch innocent and adolescent-like Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck) arrive in the city and empty a bag of hamburgers into the basket.
It's not until later with the death of Dr. Needleman (Lloyd Pace) that we understand the sort of gruesome depravity the creature is capable of. And of course, the entire sequence is outlandish and not the least bit scary. Still, the scene also reveals a more calculated narrative brewing underneath as we learn the twosome use to be conjoined twins and are now wreaking vengeance upon the doctors responsible for separating them. The death of the main doctor (Diana Browne) is one of the corniest and funniest things ever. The flashback sequence with their very hateful father (Richard Pierce) and caring aunt (Ruth Neuman) is another moment of cheesiness, showing the movie's limited production.
Complicating the twins' plans are the affections of Sharon (Terri Susan Smith), Needleman's receptionist pretending not to wear a wig, striking a relationship with Duane. The possibility of finding love and even independence adds some diverting melodrama as Belial finds his inner green-eyed monster, which funnily evolves into red eyes as things progress to the mawkishly worse. Then there's Beverly Bonner's hooker with a heart of gold Casey adding another layer of amusement. Taken as whole, 'Basket Case' remains a visibly cheap and amateur production that most are not likely to run out and purchase. But for collectors and enthusiasts of obscure B-horror flicks, the Frank Henenlotter movie is just as entertaining and silly as ever.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Image Entertainment and Something Weird Video brings 'Basket Case' to Blu-ray on a Region A locked, BD25 disc, inside a blue eco-vortex keepcase. At startup, the disc goes straight to the main menu with music and full-motion clips.
Crawling its way unto Blu-ray is this shockingly good AVC-encoded transfer of 'Basket Case.'
Struck from the original 16mm camera negatives, the picture is very nicely detailed with plenty of visible textures around the faces of actors, clothing and the interiors of the many scummy buildings. It's not likely the sort to astound most viewers, but it really is the best that could be expected given the source. Presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, contrast falls on the lower end of the grayscale though it's nothing that ruins the overall presentation, which remains decently clear and well-balanced throughout. Black levels are stable and fairly accurate with better than expected shadow delineation. The image is awash with a visible layer of film grain and shows a good amount of depth throughout. The palette is noticeably brighter and more colorful, especially reds, but it never feels synthetic or unnatural.
Overall, it's a terrifically strong, remastered high-def transfer of a very low-budget cult favorite.
The audio for 'Basket Case' also appears to have been captured from the original elements.
Even though it doesn't leave as much of an impression as the video, the uncompressed PCM mono soundtrack is still quite good, considering its origins and production history. Most important are the vocals, and they are excellently delivered in the center. Listeners can make out every word uttered clearly and with great fidelity detail. The various sound effects can also be heard without issue in the background, and the limited dynamic range provides appreciable depth and presence.
The only noticeable issues, which are the result of the original recording and not the codec, are the higher frequencies sounding a tad too sharp and clipping. Thankfully, this only happens when female characters scream hysterically at the sight of Belial. Much of the track is also rather flat and canned with voices often echoing during the several interior scenes. But again, this is due to the budget of the production, as the rest of the lossless mix offers a fun listen for fans.
Not everything has been ported over from the previous 2001 Anniversary DVD release, such as the radio interviews and TV clips from Beverly Bonner's Laugh Track, but a majority of the special features can be found here along with one new intro.
Filmed on a shoestring budget of next-to-nothing, 'Basket Case' is a surprisingly entertaining B-horror flick about a pair of separated conjoined-twins on a murderous revenge trip through the streets of New York City. Writer/Director Frank Henelotter provides an amusing and enthusiastic atmosphere where the over-the-top violence is seen as part of the fun and laughs, making it an enjoyable item for collector's of obscure exploitation films. The Blu-ray arrives with a far better than expected audio and video presentation, and it carries most all the supplements from the anniversary DVD edition. Fans will definitely want to pick this up while others should give it a rent for a few good laughs.