Basket Case (1982)

The tenant in room 7 is very small, very twisted and very mad.
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Basket Case - The tenant in room 7 is very small, very twisted and very mad.

Belial is one of the many names for The Devil. The meaning of the word in Hebrew is "worthless" and this could quite accurately describe the motivations for the anger-fuelled murder spree of Belial and his brother Duane in Henenlotter's first feature length horror movie. This also begs the question "What kind of parents call one member of a Siamese twin duo something as out-there as Belial when the best you can come up with for the other one is Duane?" Another valid question could be "If the devil is so evil then why does he dedicate all of his time to punishing bad people?" but that would be irrelevant with regards to a review of Basket Case. Basket Case spawned two sequels - Basket Case 2 and Basket Case 3: The Progeny - which quite rapidly escalate in absurdity.

Henenlotter is know for offbeat horror movies, thick on the gore and addled with lowbrow humour. Basket Case fulfills these criteria. As mentioned before, Duane Bradley and his brother are Siamese twins who were separated against their will. Duane is the normal looking one with few distinguishing features to highlight his past except for a sizeable scar on his torso (from the operation) and a need to own a hairstyle that would make R.J. MacReady feel inadequate (probably a consequence of the mental trauma caused by the operation). Belial is not so lucky in the looks department resembling a recently expelled snot with arms. Despite this, Duane still loves his brother and carries him around in a basket that would make any non-average bear shoot his load if he found it unattended in Jellystone Park. The twins decide to go on a road trip to seek revenge on the doctors that separated them and questioned Belial's worth as a human being.

All of the characters in Basket Case are quirky but maintain an air of believability, they are exaggerations of recognisable character types from the real world. Belial is still a mentally damaged monster and is prone to monstrous urges (and sexual urges) and this combined with Duane's love for his sibling makes for some quite harrowing emotional struggles between the two. Struggles which really test the limits of brotherly love. There is also a subtle element of monstrosity apparent within Duane which occasionally rears its ugly head and gives an additional complexity to his character.

The story contains a depth that is missing in a lot of recent horror movies churned out by the industry. The murders are motivated and backed up by past events yet their execution is interrupted by relationship struggles. This creates an element of uncertainty as to how the story will progress. There is an obvious attention to detail. For example, when the flashback of the separation operation is shown we discover that Dr. Needleman provided the anesthetic, Dr. Kutter did the cutting and... errr... Dr. Lifflander did the other bits.

The script (also written by Henenlotter) is obviously tongue-in-cheek but doesn't resort to stupidity for cheap laughs, there is a nice balance between the subtle and the ridiculous which creates an engrossing fantasy world despite the outlandish subject matter. In contrast, the world created in Basket Case is also an unsavoury place inhabited by sordid and sleazy denizens; people down on their luck and struggling to get a small share of the thinly spread happiness available. These "dregs" of society provide a darkness to the film but also a glimmer of hope when they express compassion for their dreggy cohorts. These glimmers help to paint the more affluent doctors as the bad guys when their uncompassionate decisions in the past finally result in bloody retribution.

Despite the fact that Belial's deformities enable him to seemingly only hug people to death, these hugs result in painful drawn out deaths for the victims as they bounce around trying to prevent their inevitable demise. The gore effects are exquisite for such a low budget film. The monster effects can be a bit hit and miss. Belial's appearance can change quite drastically between shots and he occasionally goes into a stop-motion sequence reminiscent of Ray Harryhausen animation. The transition between puppetry and animation is not the smoothest but, knowing that the cash carried around by Duane at the beginning of the film was the entire budget, this is easily forgivable. It doesn't detract from what is obviously a film created by people with a passion and a flare for filmmaking.

Basket Case combines all of the elements necessary for a what would now be referred to as a grindhouse classic. An original idea, a solid story supported by enthusiastic actors, buckets of blood and a story too absurd to take itself seriously.
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Categories: Slasher Movies
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