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Duane Bradley is a young man who arrives in New York carrying a basket. "What’s in the basket?" he is asked on different occasions. The truth is his brother is in the basket. Duane and Belial were born Siamese twins. Their father viewed Belial as a deformed monster, and arranged to have them separated – against their will – by an illicit surgeon. Having fled together, they now seek out the doctor who performed the operation. Belial proves vicious and bloodthirsty, and begins to intrude on Duane’s attempt to have a normal relationship with the surgeon’s secretary. After a confrontation between the two brothers, they fall from the window of the Hotel Broslin to the street below...
This is a very low budget film which writer/director Frank Henenlotter never expected anyone to see, but proved to be one of the most rented horror films of its time. The horror emanates through the subject matter; in the same sense that Frankenstein’s creation didn’t choose to be what he was, here Belial is seen as the accident of birth and acts accordingly. Of course, the film hinges on the ‘thing’ in the basket, but through its narrative explores what it is to be different, society’s natural reaction to deformity, and the ‘normal’ person’s downward spiral into psychosis. Whether any of this was intended is a question open to debate. The plot is sensibly kept simple and straightforward, being much more about the on/off relationship between the brothers than the revenge motive.
When Belial moves across the floor by himself the sequence is handled by stop-motion, a technique which proves both humorous and impressive. What else can I say except, for a little movie expected to pass by unnoticed, Basket Case makes quite an impact without letting the penchant for 1980s body horror get in the way of an unusual story.
In Basket Case 2, Duane and Belial are rushed to hospital. Their dramatic fall from the window is being talked about on all the news channels. Their lost aunt, known as Granny Ruth, rescues them from the hospital, and takes them to her ‘house of freaks.’ They begin to settle in, with Duane even attempting another relationship, this time with Ruth’s helper. However, a reporter’s attempt to expose them to the world (thwarted by Belial’s killer instinct), and the revelation that the young woman he has fallen for is not as normal as she seems, sends Duane off the deep end, culminating in his sewing Belial back on to his side...
Henenlotter this time goes for the not always successful angle that if one works, then more will work even better. So we have a multitude of human deformities, one of which looks like a frog. There is a strict benign purpose behind the other ‘residents’ of Ruth’s house, and this is undoubtedly so that Belial still stands out as the real threat. In this day and age it might be a little unsettling how these deformities are treated by the writer/director, as they are quite obviously played for laughs and bizarreness. When Ruth tells them to find Duane, they wander around and up and down within short spaces like some kind of chaotically choreographed dance. Having said that, they all seem to have curiously vivid characters.
By the start of Basket Case 3, Duane has been kept in a padded cell by Ruth, and it has taken several months for him to come to his senses. Belial has once again been separated from him and, during this time, the deformed brother has had a sexual liaison with Eve, one of Ruth’s ‘guests,’ and she is now pregnant. They all jump in a bus and drive to a doctor friend of Ruth’s, who is the only one she trusts to help them in this time of need. Unfortunately, they attract the interest of the local Sheriff’s Department. When Eve is killed and her Belial-like children are taken, Belial goes into a rage which means no one is safe...
If it hasn’t already happened, this is where it gets really ridiculous. Strangely enough Duane takes rather a back seat position in this last film of the trilogy. It’s all about Belial and his equally bloodthirsty babies. You see just as much of the other so-called ‘freaks’ as you do the main character. By the end I was thinking that I’d seen more than enough now, so it’s just as well there are no more films. The original film is simple and effective, with a King Kong-type conclusion, but the sequels are out-and-out played for laughs.
Special Features include: ‘What’s in the Basket?’ – a documentary on the making of the trilogy; an interview with the film poster artist, Graham Humphreys; an Introduction to the first film by Frank Henenlotter; Outtakes & Behind the Scenes; a Photo Gallery; Trailers; an Audio Commentary by the Director, the Producer Edgar Levins, and Actress Beverly Bonner; and the 2001 Video Short: The Hotel Broslin. In all, a good package.
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