Review: Basket Case (1982)

Basket Case

Directed by Frank Henenlotter
Starring Kevin Van Hentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, Beverly Bonner, Robert Vogel

Brotherly love is a curious thing. It runs deep, see. If a man needs to choose between macking on a pretty girl or helping out his brother, he’ll always choose the latter. Just ask the man with the basket.

A mysterious drifter from the midwest checks into an NYC hotel carrying a basket under his arm. Upon his arrival, strange things start happening. Rooms and people alike are ripped to shreds. Loud noises interrupt every quiet night. The drifter’s name is Duane and he seems friendly, but there’s something strange about that basket. He always has it with him. Sometimes it moves on its own accord.

“What’s in the basket?” everyone asks. It turns out Duane’s keeping what’s left of his conjoined twin brother inside, and the two of them are seeking revenge on those who did them wrong in the past. But there’s more in that basket than just a deformed brother.

Basket Case is set in a world where trash litters every hotel stairwell and paint looks like it was smeared onto the walls with a mop. Personal hygiene isn’t a major concern, and hairstyles run from bad to hideous. Clothing is mismatched and usually too revealing. Everything is falling apart or stained. Murder victims scream so hard you can see their fillings. This is an ugly movie with an ugly message. A message that hurts because it’s true.

Duane and his brother Belial are inseparable, even after being sliced apart years ago. Duane carries Belial in a basket, which usually rests on the side where the two were once conjoined. When people ask Duane what’s in the basket, he tells them different things, like “clothes” or “nothing.” He loves Belial, but he knows no one would understand their relationship. For all its ’80s slasher trappings, Basket Case tackles some interesting themes. If only it weren’t so messy.

Frank Henenlotter is a man with priorities. Fake blood? Got gallons of it. Boobs? Got a few of those. A decent script? Getouttahere. He knows what horror fans want, and he knows how to deliver it. The hotel manager is a loud stereotype with a thick mustache and thicker glasses. His sole purpose is peppering the plot with chuckles. Beverly Bonner is entertaining as Casey, one of Duane’s neighbors. The rest of the cast isn’t recommended to even look at, let alone put in a movie. But the actors aren’t the problem. Henenlotter devotes time to characters he doesn’t need to. As the film progresses, he shows us the monster too much for it to continue being frightening. But this all arguably adds to the film’s charm (if you can call it charm).

Duane feels guilty for being more normal-looking than his brother. He also feels like he has yet to find a place in the world. And is there room in his world for Belial? Is there room in his world for anything else? He makes sacrifices for his brother, and gets nothing in return. The thing is, Duane loves the wrong person. And that’s what Basket Case is about. Misplaced love. Oh and sure, there’s tons of violence and gore, too, but that’s window-dressing. We feel sorry for Duane because we know how he feels.

“What’s in the basket?” Casey asks him one night.

“My brother,” Duane admits.

And his brother is who he’s fighting for. No matter what.

Links:

Amazon – Basket Case 20th Anniversary Special Edition DVD
Amazon – Basket Case Blu-ray
Amazon – Basket Case VHS
YouTube – Original Theatrical Trailer

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