Frank Henenlotter’s zippy gore favourite still exudes a seedy charm and features one of the 80s’ most memorable monsters, the vengeful toothy blob known as Belial.
Belial was once attached to his siamese twin Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck), a normal young fellow in every other respect. When their father had them separated at the age of 12, Belial was thrown out with the garbage, only the telepathic link with Duane saving him. Reunited, the brothers dispatch their dad and spend the next eight years in the care of a kindly aunt, the only person not repulsed by Belial’s appearance. When she dies, Duane, now 20, places Belial in a wicker basket and heads to New York to find the doctors who performed their separation and seek bloody revenge.
Basket Case’s best scenes take place at the Broslin Hotel, the crummy fleapit on Times Square where Duane and Belial come to stay. Henenlotter populates the hotel with assorted winos, women of dubious morals and general weirdos, and there’s a hilarious performance from Robert Vogel as the hotel manager who seems to sit 24 hours a day behind his little window in the lobby. Acting-wise he’s probably the best thing in it – Kevin Van Hentenryck does manage a certain tortured naivete, but is otherwise resolutely wooden, while the rest of the cast run the gamut from terrible to hopeless. But they do at least seem to be having fun.
Despite their vow of revenge, cracks do start appearing in Duane and Belial’s relationship. Duane gets interested in Sharon (Terri Susan Smith), the kooky receptionist of one of the doomed doctors, their first kiss sending his brother into an insane rage (courtesy of some wonderfully awful stop-motion effects). As in his later Brain Damage, Henenlotter attempts to give his story of a boy and his monster more depth than most, and the way Belial puts a stop to Duane’s budding friendship with Sharon is both gruesome and uncomfortably funny.
In a way, Henenlotter lessens the impact of what could have been darkly twisted in the vein of Eraserhead by playing so much of the film for obvious laughs. But this is still a delightfully unwholesome yarn, aptly dedicated in the end credits to gore-godfather Herschell Gordon Lewis. Followed in 1990 and 1992 by a pair of inferior sequels.
American director of trashy horror comedies. Made his debut in 1982 with the cult splatter favourite Basket Case, which he followed in 1988 with the similarly themed, equally gruesome drug addiction-analogy Brain Damage. Frankenhooker was a taste-free updating of Frankenstein, while Basket Cases 2 and 3 followed in the early 90s. After a long gap overseeing the preservation and distribution of vintage grindhouse movies, he returned to directing with Bad Biology in 2008.