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Basket Case

    Robert Morgan

  • Basket Case

    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: February 27, 2018
    Director: Frank Henenlotter
    Cast: Kevin Van Hentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, Beverly Bonner, Robert Vogel, Diana Browne, Lloyd Pace, Bill Freeman, Joe Clarke, Ruth Neuman, and Richard Pierce
    Year: 1982
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    The Movie:

    Frank Henenlotter's twisted, gritty 1982 horror-comedy Basket Case is not just one of the finest of its kind. It's also one of the 20th century's most popular midnight movies and a bonafide cult classic that has endured strongly in the 35 years since it first premiered in the U.S. Because of its uniqueness and ability to connect with audiences always hungry for exciting new experiences, the film has lost almost none of its demented appeal and the cult following that began to form among moviegoers lining up around the block of New York City theaters in the year of E.T., Blade Runner, and John Carpenter's The Thing continues to grow and thrive to this very day.

    Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck) has arrived in New York City, fresh off the bus from a rural upstate town with a thick wad of cash in his pocket and a large wicker basket under his arm. Once the innocent young lad takes up residence at the seedy Hotel Broslin and we learn that a mysterious creature with a voracious appetite for bags of hamburgers and hot dogs is the occupant of the basket, the purpose of Duane's visit to the Big Apple starts to come into focus. He is on the hunt for Kutter (Diane Browne) and Needleman (Lloyd Pace), two of the three doctors responsible for removing his deformed conjoined twin brother Belial when they were children - the third, Lifflander (Bill Freeman) met with a grisly demise during the opening credits.

    Even if you've never seen this film, you've probably deduced by now that Belial is alive, well, and spending most of his days in the basket until Duane calls upon him to rip apart their intended targets with his bare claws. Belial can't speak, but he and Duane are able to communicate with each other via a telekinetic connection that the hideous mutant basket dweller often dominates. Complicating matters considerably is Duane's unexpected romance with Needleman's friendly receptionist Sharon (Terri Susan Smith), a relationship that makes Belial violently jealous and unable to accept his brother's newfound happiness especially if it risks endangering their mission of bloody retribution against those who tried to separate them in the first place.

    I was ten years old when I first saw Basket Case, and I didn't get to see the full movie at the time. On a Saturday night in early 1989, as I paged through the latest issue of Starlog with a cover story about The Fly II, my mom came across USA Network's sadly-missed Saturday Nightmares, a weekly program where I caught many of the horror flicks that impressed upon my fragile, highly susceptible to influence young mind. Before she hurriedly changed the channel to some innocuous family show I hated with every fiber of my being, I caught a scene where a misshapen monstrosity dwelling inside a wicker basket tore an elderly man's curious face to bloody strips of sinew. It wasn't until 2001 when I purchased the Something Weird Video DVD release while clerking at Tower Records and enjoying a killer employee discount and finally watched the complete and uncut Basket Case for the first time. It's been one of my favorite comedic fright flicks ever since.

    Having made several short films prior to Basket Case, Frank Henenlotter stepped behind the camera for his feature directorial debut with the confidence of a seasoned professional and the imagination of a born storyteller raised on a steady diet of the finest exploitation flicks ever made. His love of mordant humor, oddball characters, and unconventional horror was apparent from the beginning of his career, and his first full-length film remains his best, even if lacks the visual polish and superior acting found in later efforts like Brain Damage and Frankenhooker. Basket Case lives and breathes the pre-Disneyfication of the Deuce, each frame of celluloid seeping in the danger and desperation of life in the biggest of American cities like a fine hot tea, and Henenlotter revels in the distinctive sights, sounds, smells, and faces that made the New York City of that era an unforgettable place to exist.

    As with any decent film, strong casting is essential, and Basket Case to this day still boasts one of the strongest casts Henenlotter ever worked with. Some of the actors were past collaborators of the director from his early days making warped short films such as The Slash of the Knife (featured on this Blu-ray) and were accustomed to his filming style and offbeat ideas. Van Hentenryck is at the head of the pack among the cast standouts, giving Duane an authentic wide-eyed innocence and exhausted complexity that makes his inner struggle feel relatable despite the unusual circumstances. These qualities would fade considerably in the better-funded sequels made nearly a decade later, but here they work perfectly in tandem with the lanky actor's youth, and he's always game for whatever Henenlotter asks of him.

    Other notable performances are given by Beverly Bonner as the gold-hearted lady of the evening Casey, Robert Vogel as the Hotel Broslin's cranky manager and desk clerk, Terri Susan Smith as dear sweet Sharon, and Diana Browne as the horribly unsympathetic Dr. Kutter. Joe Clarke is also worth watching in his few scenes playing O'Donovan, the shifty Irish wino whose curiosity about the contents of Duane's room leads to a grisly encounter with Belial. Several of these actors never made another film, but they really gave it their all for Basket Case.

    Henenlotter keeps the gore minimal but uses plenty of stage blood, effective make-up, and the power of suggestion (aided by some crafty editing by the director himself) to make the film's violent moments seem more gruesome than they are. Though most of the carnage is kept off-screen, the pay-offs are impressively graphic and often comedic in design, which ideally suits the tone of the film. One set-piece in particular - Belial's mid-film, jealousy-fueled hotel room rampage - was brought to life through crude, yet enjoyable stop-motion animation that makes the sequence look like an acid trip attempt to remake a Rankin-Bass holiday special. Cinematography by Bruce Torbet, who later worked with Henenlotter on Brain Damage and shot Brian DePalma's early feature Murder a la Mod, captures every detail of the cheap seediness of Basket Case's lived-in world.


    Basket Case's first Blu-ray release came courtesy of Something Weird Video in 2011 as a Region A edition that featured a terrific high-definition transfer representing the best the film had possibly ever looked since its theatrical premiere. Second Sight likely used that transfer for their own high-quality Region B steelbook edition released a few years later that also featured improved HD presentations of the two sequels and an exclusive feature-length retrospective documentary to sweeten the deal. I didn't think it was possible for that latter edition to be topped, by gum, Arrow Video went and did just that.

    For starters, the film has undergone an extensive restoration at the behest of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The original 16mm camera negative was scanned in 4K resolution by Cineric in New York, who also performed image stabilization and the removal of multiple traces of dirt, debris, scratches, and other examples of potentially problematic print wear. Cineric also scanned a 35mm interpositive element in 4K from which they could pull particular shots to replace in the scan and restoration of the negative. The film is presented in its original 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio.

    This is it, folks. There is no way Basket Case can look better than this. It's just not possible. The film has been fully restored to its gorgeously grimy splendor. Colors are bright and pop off the screen, while black levels are deep and visible and enhance the creepier, more unsettling scenes. Previous HD scans brought out the seedy texture of the hotel and bar interiors with stunning sharpness, but the new transfer improves on that as well and reveals even more moody ambience in the street scenes. The grain structure is healthy and authentic and there is no noticeable shift in quality between the two print elements sourced for the restoration.

    The English LPCM 1.0 mono soundtrack was restored from the original 35mm magnetic tracks by Audio Mechanics in Los Angeles. The track is surprisingly immersive for a single-channel experience as the dialogue, music, and ambient effects are integrated together in the complete sound mix with precision and clarity and separation in the important elements is present and strong. Absent of distortion and damage, the audio also sports balanced volume control. English subtitles have also been provided.

    Arrow has packed this release of Basket Case with a host of new and archival bonus features. In addition to the fresh material, they have secured the rights to practically every supplement produced for previous Something Weird and Second Sight DVD and Blu-ray editions for a truly complete set.

    First off, we have two audio commentaries. The first was recorded for this edition and brings together Henenlotter and Van Hentenryck for a casual, friendly look back at the making of the film, with the director expanding on anecdotes he has shared in past interviews and commentaries with his usual fast-paced candor and plenty of affectionate wisecracks. His star makes for a game collaborator in the commentary booth. Henenlotter returns for the second track, which first appeared on the 2001 Something Weird DVD release and teams him up with producer Edgar Ievins, co-star Beverly Bonner, and filmmaker Scooter McCrae (who worked on the first sequel). The group dynamic doesn't take any time to get used to and each participant has plenty of recollections and observations to share during this entertaining track that compliments the new commentary well without much overlap existing between the two.

    The first of the new video features is “Basket Case 3 ½: An Interview with Duane Bradley” (8 minutes), a strangely amusing short film written by Henenlotter and Van Hentenryck and directed by Henenlotter. The director also plays the role of an off-camera interview who travels with his cameraman to a remote location outside of Woodstock, New York to interview Van Hentenryck in character as Duane, who seems eager to have other human beings to talk with but also warms them of Belial's presence. He catches us up on what he's been up to since the end of Basket Case 3 (he lives under an assumed name and sells shoes now) and all is well and good before his brother decides to make an unwelcome cameo in the final moments.

    Van Hentenryck is also interviewed - as himself - by Henenlotter for the new featurette “Me and the Bradley Boys” (16 minutes), in which he discusses how he came to be cast as Duane, working with the director, performing some of the odder moments in the script, and more. Henenlotter then turns the camera on himself (sort of) for “A Brief Interview with Director Frank Henenlotter” (4 minutes), and if you can suspend disbelief for a few minutes and accept that a young man with mutton chops who smokes cigars in the nude is the real man, you might enjoy this. “Seeing Double: The Basket Case Twins” (9 minutes) next sits down with actresses Florence and Maryellen Schultz, who are also Henenlotter's cousins, for a fond remembrance of their time working on Basket Case and recollections of growing up with the director as family. Beverly Bonner is the star attraction of “Blood, Basket, & Beyond” (6 minutes), which quickly catches up with the actress for some of her own stories from the production and an update on her performing career in the decades since.

    “The Latvian Connection” (27 minutes) compiles new interviews with producer Ievins, casting person/actress Ilze Balodis, associate producer/special effects artist Ugis Nigals, and Belial puppeteer Kika Nigals. Besides being four of the people who made Basket Case a reality, they also share Latvian ancestry. The interviewees discuss their participation in the making of film with detail and humor. “Belial Goes to the Drive-In” (7 minutes) talks with the legendary drive-in movie critic Joe Bob Briggs about how he first discovered Basket Case at the Cannes Film Market and fought to bring it to American theater screens in its intended full-strength version rather than the compromised R-rated edit that its distributor tried to get away with before fans cried foul. The interview was conducted in front of what used to be the famous Waverly Theater in New York City - the same venue where Basket Case played to great crowds at midnight screenings for years - and is now an IFC theater.

    “Basket Case at the MoMA” (37 minutes) is a Q&A session with Henenlotter, Van Hentenryck, Bonner, the Schultz sisters, and Ugis Nigals that followed the October 30, 2017 premiere of the restored print at the Museum of Modern Art. “What's in the Basket?” (79 minutes), the feature-length documentary from the Second Sight release, grants a fair amount of time to covering the production of each film in the trilogy with extensive cast and crew interviews. An extra that has been around since Something Weird's DVD release, “In Search of the Hotel Broslin” (16 minutes) finds Henenlotter and rapper R.A. the Rugged Man (the latter a producer and co-writer on the director's 2009 feature Bad Biology) visiting old filming locations and encountering a few familiar faces in the process.

    Outtakes (6 minutes) are presented with music and sound effects from the film since the original audio has been lost and contain a few shots of deleted scenes and plenty of goofing around from the cast and crew. “The Frisson of Fission: Basket Case, Conjoined Twins, and 'Freaks” in Cinema” (23 minutes) is a new video essay by Travis Crawford that explores themes presented in the film and places it in context with past cinematic depictions of deformed persons. The section devoted to image galleries is divided into six categories: Promotional Stills, Behind-the-Scenes, Ephemera (props, merchandise, the original Belial puppet), Advertisements (newspaper ads, 2nd anniversary party invitations, etc.), and Video Releases.

    In the Promo Gallery, you'll find three theatrical trailers (5 minutes), a TV spot (1 minute), and two radio spots (2 minutes). The trailers and TV spot were scanned in 4K resolution from original film elements - the first two trailers from 35mm prints, and both the third trailer and TV spot from their 35mm camera negatives. Needless to say, they all look fantastic.

    Henenlotter fans will get a huge kick out of the inclusion of the director's 1972 short “The Slash of the Knife” (30 minutes), a mock horror-exploitation spoof of hysterical medical information films about the dangers of being uncircumcised that has rarely been seen since its first and only public screening 45 years ago. The transfer is scratchy and grainy and the source elements are unknown, but the feature comes with another informative and infectiously funny commentary from Henenlotter - this time joined by editor/cinematographer Mike Bencivenga - as well as an outtakes reel (5 minutes) presented with music and dialogue from the short since the original audio has been lost and a small image gallery consisting of a promotional ad and script pages.

    Finally, we have “Belial's Dream” (5 minutes), a surreal, David Lynch-esque stop-motion animated short film by Robert Morgan inspired by Basket Case. It comes with its own brief behind-the-scenes featurette (2 minutes) about the creation of the unusual creatures in the short. Arrow has also included a reversible cover sleeve with new artwork by Sara Deck on the front and the original poster art on the back. Exclusive to the first limited-edition run of this release is a collector's booklet containing a new essay about Basket Case by Michael Gingold, Martin Trafford's original comic strip “Cham-pain in the Park!” with Belial and Duane, and notes about the transfer.

    The Final Word:

    One of the ultimate cult films gets a Blu-ray edition that can only be described as definitive. As if the restored picture and sound wasn't great enough, the bottomless bounty of bonus features makes Arrow Video's new Basket Case Blu the one to own. Perfect scores in every department, this will surely make my list of the best home video releases of 2018. Absolutely essential, and obviously comes with my highest recommendation.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    • JLG
      Senior Member
      JLG commented
      Editing a comment
      the Belial's Dream short is pretty cool. really enjoyed watching that
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