Basket Case

Certificate: 18
Running time: 91 mins
Director: Frank Henenlotter
Starring: Kevin Van Hentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, Diana Browne
Genre: Horror/Comedy/Exploitation
Country: USA

Call him a horror director at your peril, Frank Henenlotter prefers to see his cinematic offerings as Exploitation films in the vein of The Mad Doctor of Blood Island or The Twilight People.  His 1982 Siamese slasher (made for $35,000) Basket Case is a prime example of the man’s ethos.

Duane Bradley (Van Hentenryck) arrives in New York with a laundry basket under his arm and an agenda.  When he was a child he underwent surgery to remove his Siamese twin who was subsequently left for dead.  Now in his twenties Duane and his physically stunted super strong mass of flesh of bone brother are on a mission of revenge against the doctors responsible for their separation.

Most people have certain expectations of acting quality for low budget movies let alone low budget horror movies from the 1980’s but the truth of the matter is that there is a lot of quality in the performances here, a lot more than most multi million dollar movies.  Anyone who’s tried to sit through any of the Transformers films will know what I’m saying.  Kevin Van Hentenryck has moments were he looks a little startled and wooden but for the most part his rabbit meets headlights expressions work perfectly as he plays the role of Duane somewhere between sociopathic frat boy and abused spouse.  His interactions with his ‘little bro’ are always enjoyable and at times hilarious.  His first encounter with Terri Susan Smith (Sharon) is one of an actor with great comedic timing and is, alongside the drunk scene with Beverly Bonner (Casey), one of the performing high points of the film.  Smith herself is excellent as love interest Sharon, she has a sweetness coupled with an underlying sexuality with a hint of naivety that’s wonderful (she’d need to be a little inexperienced and na├»ve to keep coming back to one so odd).  Smith is also a bona fide trooper as she plays out one of the most difficult to watch, distasteful yet brilliant sex scenes committed to cinema let alone committed to horror cinema.  Beverly Bonner is hilarious in the nosey neighbour / hooker with a heart of gold who’s down on her luck, her delivery and capital 'A' performance has all the love and hallmarks of some of John Waters’ nearest and dearest actors from his crazy guerrilla film making days in Baltimore.

The effects of the film have aged greatly but rather than detracting from the film it adds a new element in the way of (not just more comedy) a love of invention in film making.  It’s obvious that Henenlotter didn’t have a lot of money of assistance when making Basket Case and his Ray Harryhausen-esque effects, though crude, are heart warming.  Other effect based sequences are marvellous and work wonderfully well, the attack on Dr. Kutter (Diana Browne) for instance looks as gruelling as the day it was released and has been replicated by directors over the thirty years since.

The true star of the film, like most Frank Henenlotter films, is Frank Henenlotter.  His direction is one of knowledge as he instinctively knows how to construct a film.  His use of the camera, editing and general framing / construction of scene are wonderful and create a level of tension (at times) that are far superior to the films budget.  Likewise his script is solid, he has one premise and some careful exposition to drive the characters with everything serving the premise of the narrative.  The best thing about Henenlotter is that even though his films are genre pieces that live comfortably within their codes and conventions he’s a fearless writer and director.  If you look at his oeuvre you will see a steady succession of set pieces that are extremely risky and disturbing that other directors might shy away from, these are the moments that Henenlotter drives straight into and (much like John Waters) has built a reputation for being able to do so with a real sense of humour.  Recently when he was asked by a Studio executive to make a film “more like Saw” Frank did the only thing he could do and walked from the project which is a real shame as he’s a genuine talent with an original and disturbing way of looking at things.


Dr. Theda said...

Cool Post ... over the past two days this film was one of the posts that I was working on a assembly of images to place within that.... I will inform in my post to also see your post on this enjoyable movie.... Keep up the great work.
your "fiend" ......the Doctor

John Baxter said...

Thanks man, you are a fiendish gent. Looking forward to seeing yours.

Maynard Morrissey said...

Frank Henenlotter is one of the 80s most entertaining directors and the BC franchise is undoubtedly the most hilarious franchise in horror history.
Great write-up!

John Baxter said...

He's fantastic, it's a shame he hasn't been more prolific but it just means we savour each film he brings out. Thanks for the compliment man.

Direct to Video Connoisseur said...

I checked this out a little while ago for the first time in ages, and I think it's actually gotten better over time. Great stuff.

John Baxter said...

Totally agree, age has really added something to the film. It's a sign of something special that age can only enhance what is already there.

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