Jarv’s Schlock Vault: The Basket Case Trilogy
“They kept us hidden. We were the ‘big family secret’. everybody hated us”
Basket Case is a story about love. Honestly. It’s a story about one man’s love for his brother. It’s also a story about jealousy, passion, revenge and the trauma of separation anxiety manifesting in homicidal vengeance. However, most of all Basket Case is the story of a little mutant that lives in a wicker basket.
I’ve read some awful bollocks about this film in the last few days (one of the worst offenders was actually in the Special Features on the DVD), and that preceding paragraph is my parody of the utter nonsense that people write about this film. It isn’t “seminal”, it certainly is not “one of the most important horror movies from the period”. It is, however, a fun little romp with a hideous and, I believe unique, monster. Seriously, we’re not talking about Alien or The Exorcist here. We’re talking about a low budget little shocker with a disgusting beast killing people. It didn’t exactly spawn a load of imitators, even if it did birth 2 sequels of varying quality, and so where the rubbish about this film comes from is lost on me completely.
Plotwise, this is a simple little film. Duane and Belial are Siamese twins. Duane looks normal (sort of), but Belial is a hideous mutant growing out of Duane’s torso- the only person that understands the brothers is their (frankly loopy) aunt. Their father is a bit of a bastard, so has the brothers forcibly separated (a truly wince-worthy scene). However, Belial doesn’t die. Rather he develops telepathic powers and persuades Duane that they need to go on a revenge spree.
So off the brothers go to New York to stay in an utter dump in a very, very shitty bit of town.
The rest of the film can be very quickly summarised- the bodies mount up, Duane falls in love, Belial is less than impressed at this and hops aboard/ murders Duane’s girl- ungrateful little shit that he is. The brothers fight, and then attempt suicide by jumping out of a window.
To be absolutely honest, this isn’t a classic. It is not even the best of the Basket Case Trilogy. However, it is highly original and thoroughly entertaining. It’s also the only one that could be remotely classed as experimental, and I’m pretty certain it’s the only pure horror film of the 3. I know that sounds like a silly thing to say, but I feel justified in saying that 2 is a horror comedy and 3 is absolutely a comedy- veering as it does into the downright farcical. That’s not that there aren’t laughs to be had (watch out for Duane feeding Belial) but it’s essentially a horror movie with a few chuckles.
Needless to say, though, Basket Case isn’t scary. I can’t stress this enough, it just is not remotely frightening because it’s about a homicidal mutant that lives in a basket (for fuck’s sake). It’s meant to be, and there are moments that are unsettling- most noticeably the separation scene- but the actual kills themselves are just not remotely scary- and the rape sequence at the end is fucking ridiculous.
I do have to give them credit though, because they really did try their damndest with this film, but pretty much the entire reason that it isn’t frightening relates to this. They just tried too hard with Belial. The central premise of the film is about a small mutant living in a basket. However, they realised that it would be pointless to make the able bodied brother the killer, so therefore they had to find a way to make Belial not only a grotesque monster, but also one able to move around and rip faces off. This was a mistake- and a huge one. They did, to be fair, learn from this mistake and not repeat it in the sequels, but Belial is a major problem for the film.
Firstly, the design of the monster is, well, crap. He’s minging, true, but he is also obviously rubber. There was an easy fix to this- don’t show him as overexposure will rob him of his power. To tell the truth, the first time I saw him I was reminded of a crappy 80’s rubber toy called a Boglin.
To illustrate, let’s play a game of spot the difference:
Sigh,- this is precisely what I mean about trying too hard. If you’ve got an obviously rubber monster with serious limitations, then you hide it. You do NOT under any circumstances construct several bizarre stop motion animation sequences (full marks for effort though) where Belial climbs around the hotel room honking like a tugboat being molested. You also don’t place him on a naked chick’s mid section in a vague effort to look like a rape.
Secondly, the acting is (as it to be expected) atrocious. Kevin Van Hentenryck is suitably dopey as Duane, which is fair enough, because Duane is clearly not the brains of the outfit, but his drunk scene is bordering on wretched. Terri Susan Smith is rubbish as the love interest, though, and she really drags the film down. The supporting cast of degenerates in the hotel are all entertaining and all fairly well acted. Auntie is superbly insane, but she’s in it far too briefly.
Overall, would I recommend this film? Yes, but not as happily as I recommend its sequel. It’s a clever, twisted, fucked up little movie, with giggles aplenty. My quibbles are really just hair splitting, and also down to me comparing it to its sequel.
Highly enjoyable, but not the best of the series.
Basket Case 2
“I think it’s time we really confronted your feelings about your *separation* from Duane. To you it was more than losing a brother. You also lost a piece of yourself.”
Huzz-fucking-ah. Now we’re talking. This is a film that not only understands the golden rules of horror sequels but also revels in them. The ethos of this film is make it bigger, make it dumber, make it messier, and above all make it more fun. It’s mad, gross, obscene stuff- the cinematic equivalent of asylum art, except not drawn in human faeces on the wall of a padded cell. Because that would be nasty.
I fucking love this film.- this is everything the first one could have been, and I have to admire Henenlotter for it. Basket Case 2 is simply a demented monster of a film, a tour de force of stupidity and grossness. He said that he wanted to originally call it “House of Freaks” but wasn’t allowed to. Lord knows why, it isn’t as if this could possibly be any more offensive as (just in case you don’t know) this is the notorious mutant sex film.
However, the studio (for want of a better word) did allow him the freedom to make his house of freaks film, and once given the chance, he grabbed it with both hands, let his imagination run riot and produced the most entertainingly fucked up cast of characters ever seen on screen outside of a cartoon. They’re fucking hilarious and quite rightly the stars of the show. Even the human characters are freakish on the inside; what with them all being ludicrous one-dimensional caricatures. This “ugly on the inside” point is made with the subtlety of a frat house gang bang by the delightfully insane Granny Ruth (a frankly hilarious performance by Annie Ross, but more on that later).
So, I bet your wondering what the plot is- well, it’s fucking nuts. Completely and utterly nuts. I would have loved to be in that writing meeting as the drugs must have been free flowing, and no idea too outlandish. Anyhow, Basket Case 2 takes up the story immediately at the end of Basket Case 1. Our heroic brothers have taken a nosedive out of the window and are bleeding to death on the concrete when they are rescued and taken to hospital. Inexplicably Duane is more fucked up than Belial, but neither of them are going to be swimming to Tahiti any time soon. Cue some Belial crawling on the wall, a bit of glowing red eye nonsense and the usual telepathic shenanigans. Duane is possessed by Belial and forced to rescue him in a trolley and escape from the hospital. Once outside, they are picked up by Granny Ruth and Susan (a fetching Heather Rattray- but don’t even think about it any onanistic degenerate that may be reading this, she is certainly *not* wank material. Well, not if you don’t want traumatising and really putting of your stroke.) and transported back to (via a fake freakshow for a quick murder) Granny’s sprawling pad.
Once there, Duane is nursed back to health, and Belial is introduced to the other residents of the house. Wow. Freak after freak after freak. It’s like the clientele of many a Weatherspoon pub in a grim northern city late on a Friday night. I won’t go into details, because a picture tells a thousand words so:
Anyhow, Belial has a purpose here, there is another separated Siamese twin, and he’s to make friends with her (that’s not fucking loopy or anything). Admittedly, this scene is a bit annoying, what with Granny’s interminable monologue about all the special skills her pets lodgers have.
In the meantime, a sleazy reporter is hot on the trail, desperate to find Granny Ruth and Belial while Susan nurses Duane back to health- with the inevitable romantic consequences.
The stakes rise, the brothers kill several people, and then in possibly the most horrendous juxtaposition I’ve ever seen Duane declares his love to Susan while Belial makes not so sweet rubbery love to the other mutant. Needless to say, Susan is a mutant, and this sparks Duane to accidentally throw her out of the window. A touch of an overreaction, admittedly, and he was warned, but it is totally understandable. I mean, look at it from Duane’s point of view: he’s finally going to pop that cherry and his dream woman has an unborn baby (that resembles a cross between a chestburster and a penis) living inside her that pops out for air every now and again. As I say, understandable. However, reasonable as his reaction clearly is, it isn’t so logical to go completely fucking loopy and sew your homicidal mutant brother back on to your own side.
Cue credits. What a film!
The acting from all the characters is competent, Kevin Van Hentenryk even seems to be having some fun this time- even if his part involves the thankless task of wheedling dialogue addressed to a wicker basket. However the star of the show is Annie Ross who puts in a performance that fluctuates between Maggie Smith in full Miss Jean Brodie schoolmarmish flow and the outer reaches of demented scenery chewing. It’s one of the finest schlock performances ever- this isn’t hyperbole, it’s that good.
The design and makeup/ monster effects are greatly improved from the first film. To begin with, they don’t show the freaks in harsh light. Secondly there’s no stupid stop motion of Belial shuffling on his ass around the walls like fuck knows what. A lesson well learnt there.
The script is downright hilarious with lines like “He’s a bit nervous, it’s his first interview” punctuating ridiculous monologues and frankly daft attempted hard boiled dialogue. Granny Ruth, predictably, gets most of the best lines, but there’s more than enough goodies to be shared by all.
And now for the whinging: this film is a creatively demented gem. It’s simply superb. However, it’s short. And not only is it short but a fair whack of run time is devoted to the separation scene from the first film (which is, to be fair, the most frightening thing in either film). Why, you lazy buggers, why did you do this? I know it’s a sequel, but for the love of the flying spaghetti monster, did you really not have enough material for another quarter of an hour? You’ve got a guy with half of a surfboard growing out of his face, are you honestly trying to tell me that you couldn’t come up with another 10 minutes?
That’s it, though. That’s my only complaint. Some may complain about the cheesiness and some may complain about the horrid mutant sex, but really, go in with an open mind and you’ll laugh until you hurl.
Highly, highly recommended- Simply unmissable. Ignore the pretentious drivel about it being the spiritual heir of the classic 1933 Freaks (it isn’t) and ignore the bollocks written about it on the internet (Says he without the slightest shred of either irony or self-awareness). It’s just a great time- a creature feature with a bawdy sense of humour and a well defined sense of the ridiculous.
Basket Case 3
“You’re an animal, Duane, but I’m an animal, too, and I know how to handle animals like you.”
Oh dear. I can’t tell you how much I don’t want to do what I’m about to do. What is it about horror series? They always take it too far and produce an absolute load of rubbish at the end- Leprechaun did it with the wholly underwhelming Back 2 Da Hood, Halloween did it (the remakes do not exist in this dojo), Friday 13th did it as did Nightmare on Elm Street before being partially resuscitated by New Nightmare. Many is the film series that ends with a whimper. I really wanted this to be the exception, for Henenlotter to make a trilogy that gets better with each one, but they couldn’t do it.
In the beginning there was Basket Case, a fun little film that was reasonably well made and quite entertaining, then there was Basket Case 2 which took a chainsaw to sanity resulting in one of the most stupendous gigglefests that I’ve ever seen. Then they decided to push their luck and make Basket Case 3: The Progeny. The warning signs are clear- there’s a colon in the title (colons invariably are attached to terrible films: AvP: Requiem, for example), it’s a part 3, and it was released a full decade after the original. Yet, I ignored the alarm bells ringing in my head and decided to push through and complete the trilogy.
The thing is, and I know this is going to sound nuts, but there was a sort of thematic logic to Basket Case 1 and 2. The story of the homicidal Belial and his somnambulant brother Duane made sense in a twisted sort of way. Even Basket Case 2 which cannot see sanity with a telescope kind of made sense. This, on the other hand, is almost completely incoherent, and worse than that, is stuffed with more slapstick garbage than a Three Stooges marathon.
It is not a total loss, which I’ll come back to in a bit, but it really is the stunted rubber dwarf of the series, and deserves to get cornholed by another stunted rubber dwarf.
Picking up from the hilarious end of Basket Case 2, this sequel carries on with the story of the brothers, Granny Ruth, and her freak troupe. It turns out, apparently, that mutant rubber toys can give birth if molested by another mutant rubber toy. However, understandably, the field of mutant rubber obstetrics is filled with risk and unpredictable obstacles. Therefore, Granny Ruth has decided to decamp the whole brigade, and drive across America to the only doctor that she feels comfortable with. It’s pretty obvious what’s coming, and there are absolutely no prizes for guessing why Granny Ruth only trusts her old friend Uncle Hal.
Anyway, poor old Duane has been written off as a nutbag (wonder why) and is currently in a straight jacket. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he’s being dragged across country with the freaks and Belial won’t talk to him any more. Apparently, Belial is still a bit upset about the whole stitching incident, for some reason (he has completely forgotten things like, say, raping Duane’s girlfriend), and more than a little stressed about the state of his mutant rubber bride.
Our less than intrepid gang arrives at Uncle Hal’s where it turns out, surprise surprise, that Little Hal is a freak and also Granny Ruth’s son. Anyhow, Duane breaks out, gets arrested before being sexually tormented by the Sheriff’s daughter Opal (probably the best bit of the film), Eve gives birth, the cops kidnap the progeny, and all out carnage ensues.
This shouldn’t be too bad, really, and looking at that plot it seems to fit in with it’s far more illustrious predecessors. But it doesn’t. The script is as ropey as always and the acting is again supported by Kevin Van Hentenryk and Annie Ross who aren’t bad at all. KVH is on fine form as Duane giving comfortably his best dopey performance of the series. However, it just doesn’t. It simply sucks- and this is why:
Basket Case 3 is an unfunny, cringe-worthy comedy. Henenlotter was clearly into the Columbian marching powder, or at least I hope he was, because he’s finished his series with an annoying, slapdash, careless little film that I struggle to think of many good things about. Not to mention the fact that there are continuity errors all over the place, and really stupid ones as well.
There is just so much of it that is painful. The song and dance routine on the bus, for example, was probably a great idea on paper. On the screen however, it falls flatter than Holland. But the real pain and suffering is all down to one man: Jim O’Doherty. He’s simply dreadful, and he runs unchecked like a river of sewage in full flood. He isn’t helped by his diabolically bad monster costume, but I’m not going to make any excuses for him. He simply sucks the life out of the film- I could pick many examples of his terminal awfulness, but I’m just going to pick on two. When he is first reintroduced to Granny Ruth, there is the most atrocious “Mommy” scene that merely manages to scale the heights of painfully embarrassing. He wails, he gibbers, he’s a twat. Secondly, and far worse, Henenlotter was clearly convinced that he’d unearthed some kind of unpolished comic diamond here, and let the goon off the leash. Thus resulting in a painful, obviously improvised, performance during Eve’s birth scene. It’s harrowing for all the wrong reasons.
Now I’ve got that off my chest, I’m going to talk about the other stupid little errors that make this film so irritating. For example, Eve is a small rubber thing like Belial. She’s about (give or take) one and a half feet tall yet manages to spawn about 12 little ones. I’m not the worlds greatest expert on rubber mutant physiology, but unless she’s got a womb like the fucking TARDIS then this is just bullshit. I’m positive that it was done for laughs, but it just isn’t funny, it’s retarded and not in a good way. To make matters worse, after the cops kidnap one of the offspring, it’s dropped and the cop falls on it, killing it with his arse. That’s the level of comedy we’re talking about in this film.
Is there anything positive in it, I hear you ask? Well, yes there is- leaving aside the pitch perfect performances mentioned above there is one genuine moment of comic genius in the film- it comes when Duane is in the slammer. When Opal breaks out her S&M gear and attempts to whip Duane into shape I started laughing. However, when her father comes in and grounds her I started howling, and when he finishes the speech with “and you are not going to get that pony” that was it for me. He’s lecturing a teenage nymphomaniac dominatrix with a fetish for convicts and the best threat he can come up with is taking away her pony? That is truly inspired. It is a real shame the rest of the film is not up to this standard.
Overall, would I recommend it? No. It’s just a bad film. However, it is worth watching to complete the series, but if you do decide to miss it, then you will not be missing out on anything. Basket Case 3 is proof that you can have too much of a good thing, and as there is far too much lame comedy and not enough proper Basket Case gorgeousness then I can’t help but wonder what could have been.
It’s a highly entertaining trilogy and this ending just lets it down.
A real shame.