Leave it to the Museum of Modern Art to lead the charge in preserving our favorite horror midnight movies! After bestowing us with a terrific restoration of Night of the Living Dead, we're treated to a beautiful new restoration of the 1982 horror comedy classic Basket Case released courtesy of Arrow Video. The flick is a silly, hilarious, and damn creepy rollercoaster ride of schlock cinema. Fans will love seeing the newly minted transfer as you're now able to see everyone's favorite mutant twin brother in glorious detail. While the A/V presentation is a highlight, the boon of this release is the exhaustingly intensive bonus features package that will give you hours worth of material to pick through and digest. If you're fans of the film, this is an easy call - even if you already owned the previous release - consider this one Highly Recommended.
Time and time again I am called back to my wonderful youthful years where I would spend any number of hours on the weekend watching all the horrific sights the glowing box of our television set had to offer. As I've detailed in several of my reviews, growing up in the greater Detroit area I got to enjoy a wide range of horror films courtesy of a local television station. Every Saturday morning right after the cartoons ended, I'd switch the dial over to Channel 20 for the horror movie double feature. So many of my favorite movies are tied to memories of me as a small child barely out of diapers watching a variety of slashes stalk and dismember some hapless scantly clad coed cut for television broadcast. Frank Henenlotter's 1982 Midnight Movie classic Basket Case starring Kevin Van Hentenryck and wicker basket was one such viewing event. 35 years later this film still gives me the creeps while inducing fits of laughter.
Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck) has just arrived in the Big Apple. Growing up in upstate New York, he was a victim of a horrific illegal operation intended to remove him from his grotesque conjoined twin brother Belial. Carrying his mutant murderous brother in a locked wicker basket, Duane checks himself in a dingy tenement hotel on a mission to find the surgeons who performed the operation. Originally intent on helping his brother Belial achieve his scheme of revenge, Duane begins to feel his need for independence when he meets a beautiful girl called Sharon (Terri Susan Smith). When the blood-soaked bodies start to pile up, Duane's chances for normal happiness away from his deformed brother diminish quickly.
Now, like so many flicks of this sort, I'm not going to say that Basket Case is a "classic" in the traditional critical tour de force manner. Instead, I'm calling it a classic as a fan of schlock cinema. I put this movie on the same goofy pedestal occupied by the likes of Frankenhooker, Ghoulies, or Plan 9 From Outer Space. It's a cheaply but competently made piece of independent horror cinema that not only lives up to its premise, it's endured the test of time. While it was followed by two inferior and somewhat odd sequels, the original remains a fun romp that never fails to give you a few jump-scares along the way.
As I've seen Basket Case a dozen times or so over the years, this latest outing left me with a wish that some of our biggest filmmakers would return to their roots. I'm thinking about filmmakers like Sam Raimi or Peter Jackson who got their start making low-budget horror flicks with latex creatures that were cooked in the home oven. As these personalities moved on to bigger and more expensive projects, it feels like their sense of creativity and visual wonder got lost in the CGI either. While Raimi kicks back every now and again with flicks like Drag Me To Hell or the first episode of Ash vs Evil Dead, I lament the loss of Jackson's on-the-fly creativity that he brought to shows like Bad Taste or Dead Alive. I loved seeing the latex Belial pop out of the basket - or watching his stop-motion counterpart tear apart a hotel room. Sure it's goofy as hell and elicits its share of laughter, but it's great because it works. It's a creature come to life and not merely an effect created in post-production.
Sure, Basket Case isn't the finest example of filmmaking, but for what it is, it's a great source of entertainment. Director Henenlotter made the most of what he had with a cast of amateur actors delivering stilted lines of dialogue. He made the most out of a latex puppet that had limited forms of expression beyond opening its mouth and screaming. With a great turn by first-time actor Kevin Van Hentenryck in the lead, Basket Case proves to be a gem of schlock cinema. It's a movie I'm very happy to sacrifice shelf space for. Every time I watch it I'm always entertained.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Basket Case arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Arrow Video. Pressed on a single BD-50 disc, the disc is housed in a clear Blu-ray case with reversible artwork options and comes with a wicker-styled slipcover giving you the joy of sliding it off and seeing Belial's deformed face staring up at you! The disc opens to an animated main menu with traditional navigation options.
Similar to what MoMA pulled off for Night of the Living Dead, it's easy to tell a lot of care and time went into this 4K restoration effort. By going back to the original 16mm negative and a 35mm interpositive, the results are a clear and marked improvement over the previous 2011 release by Something Weird Video/Image Entertainment. The biggest and most notable difference if you're aiming to do some side-by-side work is the increased presence of the film's natural grain structure. Considering it's low-budget origins, this isn't a bad thing at all and if anything adds to the film's gritty and grimy aesthetic. Details also feel richer and more defined, more than a few times you can actually see the seam joining the two halves of the Belial puppet together. You can also see and appreciate the work that went into the make up effects for the victims, there's plenty of great gore work to be seen. Colors are on point for a film of this vintage and I dare say a bit more natural and vivid than the previous release. Black levels are strong, some scenes can get a little hazy, but overall the image has a great sense of depth and dimension to it. All in all, I'm very happy to see such care and attention was provided for this release. Here's hoping MoMA partners with some more outfits like Arrow or Criterion for future genre releases!
While the restoration information said that MoMA did go back to the well for this release sourcing the audio from the original elements, this audio mix is indicative of the rough around the edges production. If I had to get right down to nitty-gritty specifics, a lot of the audio can feel flat and a tad lifeless - but it's always sounded that way in various scenes. The audio has always had a low budget quality to it was heavily canned sound effects and obvious dubbing and ADR work for various actors. There are moments where there is a natural sense of space to the elements, but a lot of the time the mix can sound a tad flat and processed. The Gus Russo score is still a lot of fun adding to the flavor of the film. Dialogue is still clean and clear throughout without any issues. All around this is a fine mix that serves this film well.
Once again I am tipping my hat to Arrow Video for churning out another terrific release that is loaded to the brim with bonus footage. Between two commentaries and nearly a dozen of other features and short films, there is a lot to pick through here and there is some pretty insightful stuff in there. Some of it archival, others newly produced, fans should be very happy to dig through everything here.
New Audio Commentary featuring writer and director Frank Henenlotter and star Kevin Van Hentenryck join forces for this one. It's a pretty great track as they share a nice history working together. Kinda like old friends getting back together and talking about the good old days while giving a bunch of great information about the film.
Archival Audio Commentary featuring Henenlotter, producer Edgar Ievins, actress Beverly Bonner, and Scooter McRae. This is the same audio commentary that was on the 2011 release - well worth the listen but maybe not quite as much fun as the new one.
What's in the Basket? (HD 1:18:41) This is the most expansive and in-depth feature of the film as it takes a look back at the franchise's three films.
Basket Case 3 1/2: An Interview with Duane Bradley (HD 8:30) This is kind of a mockumentary style interview with the lead character.
Me and the Bradley Boys - Interview with Kevin Van Hentenryck (HD 16:24)
Director Frank Henenlotter Interview (HD 3:50) This is an odd sort of an "interview" - honestly don't quite know what to make of it. You're just gonna have to see it for your self.
Seeing Double: The Basket Case Twins (HD 8:55)
Blood, Basket and Beyond -Beverly Bonner Interview (HD 6:04)
The Latvian Connection (HD 27:33)
Belial Goes to the Drive-In (HD 6:55) This is an awesome interview with critic Joe Bob Briggs who helped turn Basket Case into a successful midnight movie. Honestly wish this segment was longer.
Basket Case at MoMA (HD 37:12) This is a cool look at the premiere of the restored film at MoMA followed by a cast and crew audience Q&A session.
In Search of the Hotel Broslin (HD 16:08) Shot in 2001, this is a fun look back at the film's various shooting locations.
The Frisson of Fission (HD 23:03) This is an interesting look at the use of outcasts as heroes or villains in movies.
Slash of the Knife - Short Film (HD 30:13) Directed by Henenlotter - serves as a sort of fake PSA about circumcision. It's a bit goofy but interesting to see where the Basket Case filmmaker got his start.
Basket Case Outtakes (HD 6:13) There's some pretty nice behind the scenes sort of stuff here, it's short but cool to see.
Slash of the Knife Outtakes (HD 5:30)
Belial's Dream Animated Short Film (HD 4:49)
Making Belial's Dream (HD 2:06)
Basket Case Image Gallery
Promotional Gallery (HD 7:40) Trailers, TV Spots, and a Radio Spot.
Slash of the Knife Image Gallery
You got to love it when what was supposed to be disposable midnight movie schlock that was churned out on the quick to make a buck turns into a cult classic. Basket Case may not be the greatest event in filmmaking - but it's a hell of a lot of fun and has entertained its legion of fans for over three decades. It's all the more fun and amazing that an institution like MoMA would recognize it and take such tremendous care in restoring it to the best possible condition. Kudos to Arrow Video for bringing what is arguably the definitive home video experience for this horror/comedy gem. With a stellar new video restoration and transfer along with a solid audio mix, this Blu-ray release provides a bounty of bonus features making it an impressive and truly special release. It's easy to set aside that 2011 release and snap this one up. Highly Recommended.