New York at its Worst
Basket Case came into existence at the right point in history. The dirtiness of 1980s New York provides a cold, unwelcoming backdrop. It’s not physical dirt, but social. With one exception, all that’s seen of the city in Basket Case is a low-grade hotel, located on streets lined with porn shops, drug dealers, and sex workers. A theater only shows sloppily dubbed, grindhouse kung-fu. It’s not out of place either; the city struggled in the earlier part of the decade. That’s perfect for sleaze like Basket Case.
By additional luck, Basket Case is strangled by its budget. That may not help in creating a convincing monster – it’s an inexpressive, flesh-toned mud pile with a face – but it makes for a cruel aesthetic. Doctor’s offices rot; it’s more likely to become ill going for an appointment than staying home. Paint cracks on the wall, pieces of plaster sit in disrepair, and visible water damage seeps in. A veterinarian’s office isn’t any better. It’s clear Basket Case was filmed wherever the crew could sit a camera. How perfect.
Basket Case may well represent the truest part of early ’80s New York
Basket Case may well represent the truest part of early ’80s New York
All together, Basket Case turns into brazenly crude schlock, in contempt for good taste, building to a sexual climax of such cruel absurdity, it just fits. It’s a story of unconventional brotherly love, playing to the fictional mystique of separated Siamese twins. One brother is normal, the other a cranky, contorted blob who lives in a basket. A fairy tale, but one Grimm would reject due to its aimlessness.
Basket Case never seems to care about credibility. Outside of the main cast, side players give robotic performances as if never trying to impress. Poor Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck) deals with his sexual suppression in an earnest way, trumping everyone around him while trying to convince an audience his pasty, foam kin is alive.
In another film, in another time, there’s something of merit in the concept. Maybe a tale of human empathy or a perverted abortion saga. Not for Basket Case. It’s a dire slasher flick, sicking the floppy mutant against the doctors who separated him from his brother. How this beastie – named Belial – actually kills anyone isn’t particularly clear. There’s blood squirting on the walls and screaming, but Belial doesn’t even have legs, and his stubby arms inexplicably overpower victims. Or, it’s a puppet held in place by the “victim.” The staging is utterly obvious, but endearing in a gung-ho, get-it-done style of showmanship.
Unlike many of its slasher brethren, which were content to pick up an axe or a machete, Basket Case jumps ahead in the pack with signature kookiness and brazen gore appeal. It’s just too weird not to work, no matter the total film. Basket Case may well represent the truest part of early ’80s New York. It’s rotten, rusted, and crumbling, coming just two years after 1980 was the worst year for crime in the city’s history. Of course something as hideously malformed like Basket Case came out of that.
Arrow’s 16mm presentation is a delight, suited to the film itself and never feeling like less than actual film. Firm, thick grain sits over the image, capturing the grungy source material in perfect digital form. Outside of stray hairs, Basket Case doesn’t fall victim to any print damage, a remarkable achievement considering the barren production and age.
Even the color stands out, jumping around between primaries, with striking blues and reds. Blood certainly leaves an impression. Flesh tones appear natural. All of the grays and browns of New York’s worst locations stick out. The only notable lapse in overall brightness comes from the black levels, lacking in density and depth. Basket Case typically falls into a murky, tepid gray.
For a 16mm source, detail remains high. Belial isn’t more than a frumpy puppet, but this transfer is clear enough to show the texture work on its skin. He has pores, which for someone (something?) in his condition, shows a bit of life to the nearly lifeless being. Pleasing resolution resolves the source material with enough sharpness to satisfy, and no processing is applied to reach this result.
Serviceable PCM mono is restricted by the source. Inside the hallways of the hotel, dialog is strained and tin can-ish. It’s overly dry and faded, at times difficult to hear without the aid of subtitles. Shooting live in New York has its downfalls.
There’s little in the way of music, but this also suffers from low budget and degradation. Hisses and pops were cleaned at least, but there’s little to restore.
Packed with bonuses, this elite selection of features even employs some creativity. Two commentaries show up, the first an older comm with cast & crew members, the second a new one with director Frank Henenlotter and star Keven Van Hentenryck.
The first separate extra is Basket Case 3-1/2, an eight-minute short film catching up with the lead character. It’s goofy fun. Me and the Bradley Boys brings in Van Hentenryck for an interview, running 16-minutes. A (very) odd interview with the “director” defies written explanation, but prepare for something unusual when you select this three-minute piece. Tracking down the twin sisters who have a short bit part, Arrow’s team interviews this duo for nine minutes.
Blood Basket and Beyond finds Beverly Bonner for to discuss her role for six minutes. In The Latvian Connection, members of the team from Latvia speak on their parts, a beefy piece running 27-minutes. Joe Bob Briggs shows up to discuss the film for six minutes in another featurette. Taking a peek into the premiere of this new restoration, Basket Case and MoMA runs 37-minutes with dubious audio quality unfortunately. A look at the entire Basket Case trilogy runs for 78-minutes, a holdover from a previous home video release if no less entertaining. Take a trip through the locations with the director via In the Search of the Hotel Breslin, filmed back in 2001.
Think it’s done? Nah. The Frission of Fission is an excellent essay, 23-minutes worth, detailing Basket Case and a history of freakish cinema. Outtakes come next, followed by Henenlotter’s short film Slash of the Knife, with a commentary if you choose. There’s a short animated offering (also with commentary) called Belial’s Dream. Galleries finish off this outstanding bonus package.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.
It’s messy, crude, and raw, but Basket Case came at the right time to catch one of the worst periods in New York’s history.
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