Basket Case, 1982Regan Macaulay
Basket Case is a B-movie cult classic written and directed by Frank Henenlotter. It’s about a young man who carries around his deformed Siamese-twin brother inside a basket. The deformed twin brother seeks vengeance upon the doctors who separated the brothers years ago. Oh, and the film is now part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art!
Basket Case is a 1982 American slasher film written and directed by Frank Henenlotter, and produced by Edgar Ievins. Kevin Van Hentenryck stars as a normal-looking person who seeks vengeance for the unwanted surgery that separated him from his deformed conjoined twin brother.
The film gained an audience in the 1980s due to the advent of home video and has been considered a cult film. The film spawned two sequels, Basket Case 2 (1990) and Basket Case 3: The Progeny (1991), which were also directed by Henenlotter.
The movie was shot on 16 mm film. Basket Case had a budget of only about $35,000, financed by a small production team largely with its own rental money to enable the film to be realized. Director Henenlotter did not have control over the post-production, and the result was dark, murky, and converted to a different aspect ratio. The film was shot in part on Manhattan’s 42nd Street. Henenlotter wrote the film as he walked around Times Square, which he called a “seedy, wonderful atmosphere.”
The special effects for Belial consist largely of a puppet in some scenes and stop motion in others. When Belial’s hand is seen attacking his victims, it is really a glove worn by Henenlotter. The puppet is used in scenes with an actor and where the eyes glow red. The sequence for Belial’s rampage used stop motion animation.
What can I say … this film is absolutely derranged and a whole lotta fun! I can’t recommend it highly enough. The premise is ridiculous and the acting is just plain strange, but it’s all very compelling. Add that to some truly seedy looking locations, the 80s vibe, and super fun practical and stop motion FX and you’ve got yourself a B-movie winner!
I scrounged up some fun facts about the movie, and a few errors, too:
- Most of the credits that appear at the end of the film are fake. The crew was very small and, rather than repeat the same names over and over again, they decided to just make up names.
- When Duane checks into the Hotel Broslin, he takes out a wad of cash. According to director Frank Henenlotter, that money was the film’s entire budget.
- In addition to providing a face cast for the Belial puppet, Kevin Van Hentenryck also performed the mutant twin’s voice effects.
- According to Frank Henenlotter, he was emboldened to make the movie because he believed that nobody would ever see it. He claims to have been ‘horrified’ when it became a success.
- Frank Henenlotter also admits that he didn’t really know what he was doing while making this film as it was his first feature-length directorial effort. As such, he actively experimented with the tone: if a scene wasn’t scary, it could be funny, and if a scene wasn’t funny it could at least be entertaining for its shock value.
- The film’s budget was so low that the crew would go dumpster diving for discarded furniture and plumbing to dress the sets.
- In an interview in issue #16 of Fangoria, director Frank Henenlotter stated “I hate to admit this…but any time you heard a woman walking, that was me in high heels.” The sound effects were all looped later and created mainly by Henenlotter and producer Edgar Ievins.
- The “bedtime story” that the boys’ aunt reads to them is Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” Specifically, she is reading them a speech by Caliban, a deformed, animalistic creature that once attempted to rape the protagonist’s daughter and was enslaved as a result. The speech, found in Act 3, Scene 2, is considered amongst Shakespearean critics as a moment of humanity for Caliban, as he comforts a newcomer to his island home by describing its natural beauty and tranquility.
- Puppetry for Belial was performed by the producer’s eight year old daughter after the puppet shrank down to be too tight for adult hands.
- For the shot where Belial is reaching out of his basket towards the TV, director Frank Henenlotter (who was operating the hands) directed the scene while stuffed inside the dresser.
- The production ran out of funding halfway through shooting. To further economize the film, remaining crew members started doubling for various roles behind the scenes.
- The film couldn’t afford a camera dolly, so a wheelchair was used to accomplish tracking shots
- When the guy steals Duane’s basket at the movies he kicks the lock off, including the latch, but in the next shot, when Duane runs into the bathroom, part of the latch is still connected to the basket.
- After Sharon is killed, you can see her clearly still breathing as she lies nude on the bed.
- When Dr. Cutter is being strangled and bitten by Belial in her office, the crew member’s arm can clearly be scene operating the puppet in multiple shots.
Critical response (Wikipedia):
On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, Basket Case holds a 77% approval rating based on 26 critic reviews, with an average rating of 6.53/10. The consensus reads: “While Basket Case definitely delivers all the gonzo gore promised by its cracked premise, it’s really set apart by its rich vein of genuine pathos.”
Variety called it “an ultra-cheap monster film” with fine acting but criticized the blowup from 16 mm. David Harley of Bloody Disgusting wrote that “it’s exactly the kind of movie it sets out to be.” Heather Wixson of Dread Central rated it 3.5/5 stars and called it an “insane masterpiece that lovingly celebrates the sometimes schlocky and sleazy side of cinema”. G. Noel Gross of DVD Talk rated it 5/5 stars and called it “an undeniable, unavoidable and unforgettable clasSICK”. Patrick Naugle of DVD Verdict wrote, “The movie is just pure shock value” but “a heck of a lot of fun.” John Kenneth Muir wrote that it is “a fine, competent low-budget effort that generates thrills and discomfort not only from its tale of symbiotic (and separated) Siamese twins, but from its authentic sense of place. New York City has never felt more delightfully and dangerously squalid.” Muir goes on to call it “oddly compelling, deeply disturbing and inexplicably touching”.
Rex Reed‘s quotation (“This is the sickest movie ever made!”) used in promotion was not from any printed review. Reed had sought out the film after hearing negative reviews and was asked his opinion after emerging from the cinema. Unknown to Reed, the person who asked him was director Frank Henenlotter. Initially furious that his comment was used to promote the film, Reed eventually relented and granted permission.