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Basket Case Blu-ray Review

6 min read

A love letter to monsters and the seedier side of humanity.

What They Say:
The feature debut of Frank Henelotter (Brain Damage, Frankenhooker), 1982’s Basket Case is a riotous and blood-splattering “midnight movie” experience, how immortalized in a lavish new 4K restoration by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

Duane Bradley seems like a pretty ordinary guy. His formerly conjoined twin Belial, on the other hand, is a deformed creature who lives in a wicker basket.

Arriving in the Big Apple and taking up a room at a seedy hotel, the pair set about hunting down and butchering the surgeons responsible for their separation.
Firmed on a shoestring budget against the backdrop of 1980s New York (where it played on the midnight movie circuit for over two-and-a-half years), Basket CAse has clawed its way from its humble origins to become one of the most celebrated cult movies of all time.

The Review
Audio:
The audio is presented in its original, uncompressed mono, restored from the original 35mm magnetic tracks. Everything is clean, clear, and in perfect sync.

Video: 
The film received a 4K restoration based off of the original 16mm negative and presented in its native aspect ratio. The picture is clear and vibrant, with little cleaning of the original film grain.

Menu:
The menu loops a scene from late in the movie, where Belial menacingly watches Duane sleep. All features are easily accessed from the main menu, with lengthy descriptions of the supplemental material so that you aren’t left guessing about the nature of some of the cryptically-titled documentaries and interviews.

Packaging: 
The disc is housed in Arrow’s usual packaging. The case is the thicker, sturdier type of Blu-Ray case used by the likes of Criterion. The cover is reversible, with one side showcasing new art commissioned and the other containing art from the original poster. The case comes sleeved in an o-card that also features new commissioned art. The backs of both sides of the cover and the o-card all contain the same details on the Blu-Ray’s extras, specs, etc. All in all it’s in standing with all of Arrow’s releases and looks great on the shelf.

Extras: 
Brand new audio commentary with writer/director Frank Henenlotter and star Kevin Van Hentenryck
Basket Case 3-1/2: An Interview with Duane Bradley – Frank Henenlotter revisits Duane Bradley decades after the events of the original Basket Case
Seeing Double: The Basket Case Twins – a brand new interview with Florence and Maryellen Schultz, the twin nurses from Basket Case
Brand new making-of featurette containing new interviews with producer Edgar Ievins, casting person/actress Ilze Balodis, associate producer/effects artist Ugis Nigals and Belial performer Kika Nigals
Blood, BASKET and Beyond – a brand new interview with actress Beverly Bonner
Belial Goes to the Drive-In – a brand new interview with film critic Joe Bob Briggs
Outtakes Featurette
In Search of the Hotel Broslin – archive location featurette
Slash of the Knife (1972) – short film by Frank Henenlotter
Belial’s Dream (2017, 5 mins) – brand new Basket Case-inspired animated short by filmmaker Robert Morgan
Behind-the-scenes of Belial’s Dream
Trailers, TV Spots and Radio Spots
Extensive Still Galleries
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sara Deck
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet with new writing on the film by Michael Gingold

Content:
In general, Frank Henelotter’s movies have a great deal of empathy and affection for those society frown upon and consider sinners or low lives. Brain Damage deals with drug addition with a great deal more grace and nuance than any other movie made during the Just Say No Reagan-era 1980s, and the title says it all with Frankenhooker. Basket Case, Henelotter’s first feature film, is no different.

Duane Bradley is new to New York, having just arrived from a sheltered life upstate, and he settles into a “respectable” hotel near Times Square. Mind you, this is early 1980s Time Square, complete with porno theaters, prostitues, and all the other “grimy” elements future mayors would work to remove from the area. Despite that reputation, few of the people Duane meets are ever presented in a negative fashion. The prostitute who lives two doors down, Casey, is a friendly, understanding woman who shares a few drinks with Duane and listens to his hard luck story without any attempt to game the situation, and even the loud-mouthed, grumpy manager of the hotel is mostly talk, rushing to people’s aid when anything sounds out of the ordinary.
In fact, Duane may be the only person deserving of any real shaming, and even that’s something well out of his control. Duane isn’t alone on his trip to New York, as he’s here with his basket-bound former siamese twin Belial on a quest for revenge.

Duane and Belial were born conjoined, and Belial was born extremely deformed, looking like a tumorous mound of flesh with a face and two twisted, clawed arms. Their mom died giving birth, and their father rejected them. Their father eventually conspires with a trio of doctors to illegally and forcibly separate the twins so that Duane can live a “normal” life, and while both twins survive the operation, this does not sit well with either of them.

Duane acts as Belial’s guide, seeking out the doctors who operated upon them and delivering Belial to each location so that he may enact his wrath. These scenes are pretty great, often using a first person perspective so that we watch Belial as he sneaks about after his prey. The effects and gore are pretty great, especially considering the film’s $35,000 budget. We even get a couple of cool stop motion animation scenes where Belial hops out of his basket and causes havoc that feels more like something out of a Pee Wee’s Playhouse segment than anything, and it’s pretty great. The inexplicable hand saw contraption that dispatches their father is a stand out, as is the final shot of Dr. Kutter’s death, as she screams in agony with half a dozen scalpels and scissors protruding from his bleeding face. If the movie didn’t have a great image in the form of Belial, Dr. Kutter’s face would be the stuff of classic movie posters.

Between the “monster out of place” plot dealing with Belial and the sympathy generated by Henelotter’s style, the whole thing comes off as an exploitation take on the classic Universal monster movie formula. Belial is only monstrous because his father saw him as a monster and tried to have him killed. Had he been allowed to be raised by his far more caring aunt, he’d just be “different,” not unlike the denizens of New York’s “seedy” streets. It’s society’s attitudes towards birth defects and the like that led to the birth of the monster, not the actual defects. A lot of it is played for laughs, especially with the way some of the characters deliver their dialogue, but it’s a shared laughter you get from people who love the thing they’re making and love the monsters they’re creating.

The extras are bountiful, and the highlight for me was a short sequel that takes place after the two sequels from the early 1990s. It’s a documentary/found footage deal where some people track down Duane and Belial decades after their initial escapades. The outcome is predictable, but there are some weird little touches leading up to that ending that make it a fascinating watch.

In Summary: 
It might not be as outrageous and transgressive as some other movies that gained their fame through the “midnight movie” phenomenon, but it’s easy to see how Basket Case became such a favorite. It’s a goofy yet affectionate take on the classic monster movie set in a specific time and place that lends it all a certain degree of empathic credibility. It’s a great monster movie and a great peek into a long-lost era in New York’s history.

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: A
Extras Grade: A+
Released By: Arrow Video
Release Date: 27 February 2018
MSRP: $39.95
Running Time: 91 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Review Equipment:
Toshiba 55L711U18 55” 4K UHD TV, Playstation 4 w/ HDMI Connection

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