Sunday, June 6, 2010

Three Heads: Basket Case

Does the name Frank Henenlotter ring a bell?  Unless you're a weirdo like me (hello, half my audience), it will not.  The man is a very fringe director who has only made a handful of movies.  However, three of them are weird as hell and connected, so let's talk about them.  His debut film was Basket Case, a tale of brotherly love, doctors and murder.  Not the trio you usually see together, but let's just roll with it.  The movie is also the breakout role for Kevin Van Hentenryck.  Yes, that Kevin Van Hentenryck.  Seriously though, this movie has a serious cult status, so I need to be careful how much I mock it.  Will it live up to nearly 30 years of internet and fan-boy hype?  Find out in my review of...
The film begins with a doctor running into his house, which is apparently located in the woods somewhere.  Look out- the Big Bad Wolf is going to get you!  He makes a desperate call to a colleague to warn them that someone from their past is out to get them.  His phone goes dead, however, and he's killed by an unseen creature as the title card appears.  We cut to New York City where a young man is walking around with a giant basket.  He is bothered by a bunch of people as he walks around Times Square.  He eventually ends up in a dive hotel full of low-class people.  Their eyes raise when he pulls out a wad of bills to pay for his room.  As time goes by, we see him talking to himself.  Hmm, that can't be good.  There are also weird sounds coming from the basket as well.  When asked about the contents of the basket by someone, he dodges the question and simply says that it's clothes.  The neighbors are a small set of characters on their own, including the landlord who looks like Mario, the greedy old man down the hall and the prostitute with a heart of silver.  As it turns out, our hero is in NYC for some sort of plan.  His first act is to go to a doctor, speak to him and leave.  He stops to talk to the flirty receptionist, but a voice in his head seems to cause him ire.  That night, the woman leaves and a basket shows up in the doctor's office.  Inside, there is a small mass of knotted muscle with a face and claw that kills him.  O-kay.
As it turns out, the thing has been in there the whole time.  What is it?  We don't know for a while, so let's make do with the mystery.  Our hero skips his plan, lies to the thing and goes off on a date with the receptionist.  At the hotel, the greedy man breaks in and tries to steal the wad of cash.  Unfortunately for him, the creature is angry and kills him for his offense.  The struggle ends up with the man dead in his own room, however, and the police are called.  After running off on his date, our hero is questioned by the police about the noises from his room and the contents of the basket.  Luckily for him, the creature is not there when the basket is opened.  In the meanwhile, we learn that the doctor from Scene 1 had called the dead doctor and another woman.  At a party, our hero gets drunk and talks to the prostitute.  He tells her that the thing in his basket is actually his brother and that they were conjoined twins.  This sets up a flashback where the dad hires three doctors to separate the pair after every hospital he's gone to has denied his request.  The scene is traumatic as the kid is grabbed and the pair of physically-separated.  I hope you like this scene, because it shows up in Part 2 and 3 as well.  The twin was dumped out in the trash, but rescued by the boys' aunt.  When she died, they went to NYC to get revenge.
Do I like this film because it's a freaky rip-off of The Abominable Dr. Phibes?  No, but it helps a little.  The brothers face some internal strife as our hero wants to get out of the revenge racket when this is all done, but his brother doesn't want him to go.  Speaking of revenge, they track down the third doctor (not to be confused with John Pertwee), who turns out to be a vet.  I guess you can't be picky when you're desperate.  She has a pair of nurses that are fat redheads with matching casts.  Um, why?  Anyhow, the duo kill the doctor and push her head into her drawer full of scalpels.  Right on cue, the nurses come in and find her with a face full of cutlery.  Back at the hotel, there is more strife and the pair argue out loud.  Things get worse when the brother wanders out through the window in the middle of night and goes to see the girlfriend.  By the way, if you wanted a scene with Kevin walking naked through the street, you're in freak.  This is presented as a dream with Kevin's character, although it's obviously the brother.  Anyhow, the thing breaks in and makes whoopie with the girl, apparently killing her in the process.  The brother shows up and takes him away, which leads to them arguing at the hotel.  They struggle and both fall out the window, with our hero being choked the whole time.  The film ends with them falling to the ground dead....or does it?
This movie is good, but is definitely an acquired taste.  The whole thing is low-budget, strange and full of odd characters.  To me, that's appealing, but I'm certainly not the norm!  A lot of the special effects don't hold up well, especially the movie's use of stop-motion effects.  It's a little silly to use them in 1981, but so did Clash of the Titans.  I guess that's good company, huh?  The acting is about as well as you get from low-budget movies of this ilk.  I will say that Kevin does a good job of acting naive and silly.  This is definitely a star-making role for him, even if his acting stopped for about 12 years after 1992 and hasn't exactly been all that much since.  The director has crafted an interesting tale here that works as a nice slice of low-budget, NYC film-making.  Does he match up to Larry Cohen?  No, but they're certainly different creatures entirely.  If you like movies like this, you should take it upon yourself to see this movie too.  If you have, you already know what I'm talking about.
Next up, the sequel that took nine years to arrive.  In that time, the director appears to have gone insane.  Stay tuned...


  1. See I think the cheesy special FX only add to the unique charm, just like the intentionally terrible scripting and acting and the awesomely terrible wigs lol..

  2. Much like my review of 'Ghoulies 2,' don't mistake a factual statement about the quality of the F/X as me saying that I didn't enjoy it. The stop-motion work does add a certain charm to it.

    Personally, I'm just not as fond of them in modern cinema.