Friday, November 7, 2008

Basket Case (1982)

As I mentioned in a previous post, some horror films are made in the attempt to outright shock the hell out of you. I love to see those old posters with warnings across them and unforgettable tag lines that stayed in your mind. I love to see the uniqueness of the poster art and the thinking behind some of those now-famous and collectible pieces. That's why I miss the horror trash of the eighties - it seemed that every B-horror film maker with the smallest of budgets was just out to see how low they could sink and how much they could gross you out. From horrific styles of murder and gore to stupid plot lines with deranged characters, 80's films hold their spots in history. Before they existed, there was nothing like them. And in today's modern world, there's nothing that could hold a torch to them. Whether it was to establish a reputation is to be argued by some, but Mr. Frank Henenlotter shocked the horror world when Basket Case was unleashed back in 1982. And I know if you're reading this, you're laughing to yourself because you've seen it and love it.

I first saw the VHS of this film at El Chaparral Supermarket in La Feria, Texas about mid 1986. I remember staring at the cover of Belial creeping out of the basket as it looked back at me and for weeks, I wouldn't pick the cover up. Every time I was in the store, I looked at the box but never held it. As stupid as that sounds, I must have been about 13 at the time, but one day I did and when I saw the horrific images on the back of the box, I remember throwing the box back onto the rental shelf, heart beating rapidly, and my imagination raced as to what kind of horror film this must be. I immediately vowed that I would never see it as something this horrifying would mess me up for life. And I held that promise to myself even seeing the box over and over again at various rental places and grocery stores as years went by. That is, until 2005, when the local mom and pop was easing out their VHS inventory to make room for DVD and this was on the seller's block for a measly $2.50. Hey, I was already in my thirties, right? How bad could this really be? I'd sat through atrocities like I Spit on Your Grave and The Last House on the Left, so this should be a piece of cake, right? Right...?

The plot is quite simple: Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Henteryck) makes a trip to New York and checks into the Hotel Broslin with a large basket in his hand. Being questioned by everyone wherever he goes, he keeps the contents of the basket secret and visits several doctors in the area. But there's a reason why he's visiting them. You see, Duane has a secret: In the basket, he carries around his twin brother Belial, who isn't really human per se, but a blob of skin and organs with no legs and two stout arms. They were separated by the evil Doctor Kutter (Diana Browne) and the boys have come to take their revenge on her and Doctor Needleman (Lloyd Pace) for separating them. The twins have a bond, a connection as all twins do, but since Belial cannot speak, he can communicate telepathically with his brother Duane and vice-versa. Belial spends most of his time quiet inside the basket, but when he finds out that Duane has found a love interest by means of the secretary at the doctor's office named Sharon (Terri Susan Smith), Belial wants out, and he'll do what it takes to break them apart.

Filled with humor and some of the sickest murders ever, this film is something you have to see to believe. The boys wreak havoc on those who cross their paths and Belial wastes no time in disposing of them, in rather ultra-violent ways. Some of the murders are so over the top, you wonder how people back them could stomach them. But what I love most are the scenes where Belial 'comes to life' in the form of stop-motion animation. That's right, stop-motion animation. It makes you laugh and creeps you out at the same time to see the little wad of skin and blood move around and it's something I can guarantee that you've never seen before and will never see again in a film of this nature. How this didn't get a slap on the wrist by the MPAA is pretty astounding. At least, I haven't read anywhere that this film was threatened with an X-rating. It should have, though. It pushes so many envelopes, and it pushes them off the table and onto the floor. Most of the film takes place within the Hotel Broslin, which provided the perfect sleazy setting for this kind of motion picture. It's dark, dingy, and you can smell it from a mile away. It reeks of the old days of 42nd Street - and there's even a scene where Duane is walking down the street in front those cheap and dirty theatres while being haggled by a fellow offering him every drug in the book. I always love to see scenes like those. One of the best scenes is is when Duane recalls the day him and Belial were separated. Totally cheap and totally fake, but you can't take your eyes off the screen. And the death of Doctor Kutter remains one of my all-time favorite murders and is one of the highlights you can't miss.

The pinnacle of the film is when Belial finally can take no more and escapes from his basket to roam around New York. Tired of being copped up and tired of living under his brother's thumb - and jealous of the woman Duane has found - he goes missing and the hunt is on to find the missing twin. Where he is finally found and what he is doing when they find him will actually have you saying out loud, "Oh, I think I threw up a little. (gagging noise)" It isn't pretty, kids, and it's something you don't expect. This turn of events causes the brothers to feud until they are hanging off the Hotel Broslin's sign hanging over the street below and end up on the pavement next to each other. 

Not to worry, Basket Case 2 was made several years later, so the story of the Bradley boys doesn't end here. If you're not already a fan of this film, you need to be. Thankfully, Something Weird released this on DVD a few years back and though it's not entirely cleaned up, it still looks damn good. The bonus material is great, especially some of the outtakes and alternate takes. They're worth looking at. Along with the two trailers, there's a radio spot or two. But you've got to take time and see the featurette, "In Search of the Hotel Broslin" in which Frank Henenlotter himself guides us through some of the many areas used during filming. Everything from the apartment building where the hotel stood to the building where the sign hung, to the S&M club that the bar scenes and basement scenes were shot in. And if you watch it, ignore the goof that's tagging around Henenlotter like a sick puppy, with nothing clever to say but emit a grunt here and there. Wait, he's a rapper? I rest my case. The SW DVD is marked unrated and I haven't seen the feature in its entirety to tell you how it compares to the Media VHS version that I also own.

Hands down, get this. I picked this up at Rasputin's new for less than $9. Even if you pay a little more than that, it's worth every penny. There is nothing like a bloody exploitation cheesy film to make a rainy day. And there's no film more bloody, exploitative and outright cheesy than this one. Shocking at times, hilarious at others, this belongs in your collection.
Here's one of the short (but sweet) trailers:

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