Release Date: April 7th, 1982
Directed by: Frank Henenlotter
Written by: Frank Henenlotter
Music by: Gus Russo
Cast: Kevin Van Hentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, Beverly Bonner
Analysis Film Releasing Corporation, 91 Minutes
Basket Case is a movie that is on the great Joe Bob Briggs all-time top ten list. Well, at least according to an episode of his old show Drive-In Theater back in 1992 when he screened it and Basket Case 2. Well, it deserves it, as it is one of the greatest drive-in scare flicks ever projected over a sea of cars in drive-ins across America.
I hadn’t seen this movie in a really long time but I’m glad that I got to revisit it, since it was free from one of my many add-on subscriptions that I have on Amazon Video. The last time I saw it was probably in the early 1990s when I checked it out a few times from Reel Image Video in Sunrise, FL.
Basket Case is gruesome but it is also a barrel of laughs. It employs both horror and comedy elements and it is really a perfect marriage of the two. Since the film is incredibly ridiculous to begin with, the fact that it doesn’t take itself too seriously is refreshing. There are too many silly horror films, especially from the era that Basket Case came out in, that tried to be serious. This is a film that knows exactly what it should be, what it is and it flows perfectly. The tone is a great balance of gross out scares and lightheartedness that any sane person wouldn’t think could exist in something so grisly and bizarre.
In this picture, we meet a twenty year-old boy named Duane. He just arrived in New York City and checks into a hotel carrying a large basket. As the film goes on, you learn that his brother Belial lives in the basket. When he was twelve, Duane and Belial were separated by crooked doctors. Belial, nothing more than a lumpy head with arms was thrown into a trash bag and discarded. Duane found Belial and the two set off on their lifelong mission of exacting revenge on the people that wronged them. First they kill their dad, then they pick off a doctor. In New York City, they are looking for the final two doctors that wronged them. All the while, Duane meets a cute girl and Belial gets jealous.
There are several factors that make this film fantastic. The brotherly bond between the human boy and the rubber stump that is Belial is actually really compelling. Also, the supporting cast is made up of all the people who live in the hotel. They are all dynamic and interesting characters and just a great ensemble. The love interest, played by Terri Susan Smith, who has only acted in this movie, was sweet even if she was a bit naive and needy. Duane, despite helping Belial carry out his revenge plot, was a really likable guy. Belial, even though he is hideous and murderous can still be sympathized with once you see his backstory play out onscreen.
The special effects are not great but they are still effective. The killer rubber stump is scary and even if it isn’t articulate, except for when the director was hiding under the basket and moving its arms around, it still just works for the film. The stop-motion animation sequences of Belial trashing the hotel room and then moving around later in the film aren’t well executed, even for 1982 standards, but for anyone who loves no-budget horror pictures of this era, it is hard not to appreciate the effort. Director Frank Henenlotter really made chicken salad with chicken shit. Despite the financial and technical challenges his films have faced, he makes magic happen and that’s all anyone can ask for, really.
Basket Case is far from a perfect film but it doesn’t need to be. It is great for what it is. It is wonderful because of its flaws and its ability to overcome its challenges. Somehow, it all just comes together and it works.
Frank Henenlotter went on to make two sequels to this film. He also directed the cult classic Frankenhooker and the underappreciated and mostly forgotten Brain Damage.