Friday, 18 March 2016

BASKET CASE TRILOGY Blu-ray review

In what may well be the ultimate story of the bond between two brothers (where one of them lives in a basket), out now on Blu-ray is the Basket Case trilogy.

Basket Case

There's two new residents at the Hotel Broslin; one is a shy meek young man named Duane and the other is his deformed and deranged conjoined twin brother who he carries around in a basket. Tracking down the doctors who separated them against their will, they enact gory and violent revenge in a series of creative and gruesome murders.

The creature effects are admirably cheap and dated, with Duane's brother Belial basically being a big lump of foam rubber with a head on it. The use of stop-motion animation only highlights the low budget and looks even worse in high def, but its ridiculous but intriguing premise and its clear budget limitations make Basket Case one of the ultimate midnight movies. There's a handmade quality to the filmmaking that is never less than charming, with any potential negatives (bad acting, poor lighting, dodgy effects work...) not only forgivable but ultimately endearing.

Basket Case is a love letter to the dirty, grimy New York of the 1980s. Whether it's a hotel or a doctors office, the buildings and streets look awful; not quite yet the benefactors of any urban regeneration. This is the skid row New York that director Frank Henenlotter lived in, and despite the basic plot involving Duane getting revenge on the doctors who separated them, in between the murders there's a great deal of time spent hanging around the Hotel Broslin with the various vagrants and drop outs that populate Henenlotter's world.

It's exploitation, but so over the top that it's unlikely to offend anyone. Voyeuristic and creepy, at heart, it's a story about brotherhood that's as ridiculously daft as it is great fun.

Basket Case 2

Really missing a trick by not being called Basket Case Too, the second film in the franchise picks up right where the first one ended, and transports Duane and Belial to a former retirement home populated by other people like them. And by like them, I mean they're all wholly unique creations of the effects team, like the guy with gigantic teeth or the woman with a grotesque child living inside her.

Basket Case 2 is where the franchise stepped out from the shadows to let everyone have a good look at it. The presence of Belial increased dramatically, using some much improved effects work to put him on show. If there was anyone offended by the exploitation of "freaks" that the first film offered, this is where the series gets so incomprehensibly ridiculous that it's comical. Obviously, you can't make a movie like this without some grisly deaths, so Belial and co (in a nice piece of irony from Henenlotter) take revenge on those who are out to exploit them and reveal them to the world for financial gain.

The biggest addition to the cast is Annie Ross as Granny Ruth, the new mother figure for Duane and Belial. As a kindly matriarch she is able to guide Duane through his PTSD and offer Belial some wise words about his murderous leanings. "I understand your sadness, I understand your pain, but ripping the faces off people may not be in your best interest".

The filmmaking on show improved dramatically, although in doing so Basket Case 2 loses a lot of the ramshackle charm of the original. It still has a lot to offer as a creature feature, but if the original is a film that would be shown as a midnight movie regular, the sequel is one that would be a popular addition to any video rental store in the '90s.

Basket Case 3: The Progeny

Following the laws of diminishing returns, the third and final instalment in this unlikely franchise once again picks up right where the last one left off, quickly undoing the cliffhanger ending of the second film and sending us on a bizarre road trip so Belial's girlfriend can give birth to a string of deformed mini-Belial's. Yes, really.

This third instalment takes the confusing step of confining Belial to his basket for an overly long period of time, focusing on the performance of Kevin van Hentenryck as Duane. He really comes into his own here, playing the crazed "aw shucks" big kid with great relish. Spending the first half hour in a straight jacket, Duane meets a pretty girl and tries to patch things up with his brother, whose impending fatherhood hasn't quelled his murderous tendencies. But the lack of Belial seems odd, almost like he is being kept back for a big reveal that doesn't happen.

Due to the heavy prosthetics none of the "unique people" are able to talk, so are reduced to these broad caricatures and spend a lot of time filling the frame with little else to do. The only new character able to contribute anything is Granny Ruth's son Hal, who despite having more arms than he could count on two hands is at least able to speak. He's another addition to the rogues gallery of impressive but ridiculous effects work, showcasing some creative mastery but not exactly based on reality. Don't approach this thinking you're going to get progressive views on body types; that's not what the Basket Case series is trying to tackle.

The almost complete lack of blood and guts and generally farcical tone makes this the weakest of the three films by quite a margin. It's a comedy, and quite a goofy one at that. Having said that, the final showdown is legitimately insane, and any film about a deformed psychotic killer who lives in a basket ending with a song and dance number can't be dismissed completely.

Basket Case was never meant to become a franchise, but although the original is the undisputed high point of the series, having the opportunity to binge watch all three is a unique experience that should be attempted by all fans of midnight movies. There is an over-arching theme of "family" to all three films that is incredibly sweet, and the series is memorable for some truly unique creature effects. Although all of director Frank Henenlotter's films have to some extent used the medium of exploitation cinema to ask questions about society, the Basket Case trilogy is his most loved baby, despite being a funny looking one.

Verdicts
Basket Case
3.5/5
Basket Case 2
3/5
Basket Case 3: The Progeny
2/5

Special features on the first disc include a great 90 minute doc that sees Henenlotter talk about the series and his career as a whole. Special features on the Basket Case 2 & 3 discs are non-existent, but the films were covered well on the thorough documentary on the first disc; and let's face it, there's only so much you can say about the sequels.

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