Release Date(s)1982 (September 27, 2011)
Studio(s)Something Weird Video (Image Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: C+
- Extras Grade: B
Horror and comedy have been bumping uglies since before Abbott and Costello met Frankenstein and the rest of the gang. But the hybrid genre really came into its own in the 1980s. Directors like John Landis, Joe Dante, and Sam Raimi loved both genres and, more importantly, understood what made them work. For the first time, we had movies that were both scary and funny. This was something new.
Too often left out of discussions of the 80s horror-comedy renaissance is the work of New York-based filmmaker Frank Henenlotter. He took the form and reshaped it for exploitation audiences. His movies were a little sleazy, a little nasty, and a whole lot of fun.
His first feature, Basket Case, stars Kevin Van Hentenryck as Duane, a naïve young man freshly arrived in the big city with a wad of cash, a backpack, and an oversized wicker basket. He checks into the Hotel Broslin, the sleaziest of all sleazy dive hotels, home to a bizarre assortment of transients, drunks, hookers and has-beens. But all the weirdos in New York pale in comparison to what’s in Duane’s basket. He’s carrying around Belial, the grotesque, misshapen Siamese twin who was separated from him as a teenager. Duane and Belial are going after the doctors who performed the procedure and woe to whoever gets between them.
To me, Basket Case has always been one of the quintessential New York movies. It perfectly captures the seedy atmosphere of the city in the early 80s (or, at least, how I imagine it was, since I wasn’t there). The locations, characters, and dialogue all feel authentic. Henenlotter’s cast is on his wavelength and pitch their performances accordingly. As for Belial, he’s one of the most original, bizarre monsters the 80s had to offer. The fact that the weird, rubbery creature never seems quite “real” (whatever that means) only adds to the surreal ambience. Through a mixture of puppetry, sound effects and even stop motion animation, Belial comes to life in ways more sophisticated creatures never do.
Henenlotter provides a new video introduction to the Blu-ray release, explaining the decisions made in transferring the film to HD. Basket Case was originally shot in 16mm, then blown up and transferred to 35mm for theatrical exhibition after it was acquired. For the Blu-ray, they went back to the original 16mm negative and the 1.33:1 aspect ratio correctly preserves that format. As Henenlotter points out, nothing is ever going to make Basket Case look really spectacular. Even with these inherent limitations, the disc looks a lot better than you might expect. Since it hasn’t gone from 16 to 35, the movie looks brighter than I’ve ever seen it. Yes, there is film grain but 16mm is a rougher format than 35mm. This truly is like watching a pristine 16mm print fresh from the lab. It’s a great transfer of a less-than-great source material.
The audio is a bit harsher, with a somewhat unpleasant tininess in the upper ranges. But again, this is likely an inherent problem with the original soundtrack. Could they have gone in and given this a 5.1 remix to fix these problems? Sure, I guess. But then it wouldn’t be the same Basket Case we know and love.
Other than the new intro, there isn’t any new bonus material here. In fact, a few extras from the 20th Anniversary DVD have been dropped, including radio interviews with actress Terri Susan Smith and clips from Beverly Bonner’s Laugh Track, a cable show hosted by the actress who plays Casey. It’s disappointing these had to be dropped but the remaining material is top-notch. The audio commentary by Henenlotter, Bonner and producer Edgar Ievins is a must and the featurette In Search Of The Hotel Broslin is a fascinating trek down memory lane. You also get outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage, trailers, radio and TV spots, and a gallery of exploitation art and behind-the-scenes photos.
Basket Case was a terrific first film and Frank Henenlotter’s subsequent efforts, Brain Damage and Frankenhooker, were even better. It’s always disappointed me that for whatever reason, Henenlotter hasn’t been as prolific a filmmaker as I’d like. Still, he’s an underrated talent. With luck, this Blu-ray will introduce a whole new generation of fans to Belial and Duane and leave them hungry for more.
- Dr. Adam Jahnke