A young man hides a ghastly secret; it lives in a basket and it’s starting to terrorise and kill tenants of a sleazy New York City building.
Basket Case as promised on the video’s cover is filled with preview trailers that serve as a showcase of classic Roadshow video titles of the year it was released.
The video opens with trailers for Rolling Thunder, Hysterical and Jaguar Lives. The end of the feature promises the viewer to keeping watching and it’s for good reason; trailers for Fire And Ice, Flesh For Frankenstein, Alligator and Mr Mom follow.
Horror-comedies are a tough cookie to crack. The hybridisation of two genres, one of which is typically known to ‘scare’ and the other known to generate ‘laughs’ makes a delicate combination, one that must be evenly balanced to succeed. Today, it isn’t uncommon to see mildly successful horror-comedies and lately they’ve been stemming from the zombie sub-genre. Cooties (2015), Zombieland (2009) or ’00’s British spoof Shawn Of The Dead (2004) have become pillar examples of the contemporary horror-comedy.
There are two key elements that serve as crucial components to the commercial success of the hybrid horror-comedy genre; the first being the film’s ability to retain and display a sense of self-awareness; the filmmakers and cast actively and consciously aware of what they are making, that in turn, becomes a film with a sole purpose to entertain. It must balance both horror and comedy evenly, black-comedy becomes the key word here. The second component is the films marketing; how do you market a funny horror movie? It’s tricky. Slither (2006) a critically acclaimed B-movie masterpiece failed to impress box office audiences at the time of its release amidst the fact the film qualifies as an instant classic, sitting well with critics and horror fan-boys (James Gunn’s recent success is proof this film was ahead of its time). This hit and missibility is an example of cloudy waters that the horror-comedy sails, either the films’ worth is understood and sits well with audiences or they’re marketed wrongly and forever remain misunderstood (and under appreciated) damaged goods (for the record, VHS Mate is a big horror-comedy fan).
In the mid, ’80s home video was starting to boom. Many titles that failed to impress audiences at the box office (or were simply not fit for wide release to mainstream audiences) were beginning to make their way straight onto home video. Suddenly, the home video format became the channel to release anything that sat on the fringe of mainstream cinema, especially cult cinema. Shoe-string to low-budget budgeted trash flooded the market and with it, came exploitation, grindhouse, sleaze, the notorious banned video nasties and all sorts of weird and boundary pushing films that came from all over the world. One of these films, Basket Case (1982) sat beyond the fringe and in a little picnic basket ready to whip video fans into a frenzy.
Basket Case is a classic. It ruled drive ins and it ruled on home video. The film looks the part but this isn’t due to the VHS format but due to the original film being shot on 16mm, then reformatted for home video release resulting in a choppy, grainy and blotchily dark-filled look that once upon a time ,would have served as a flaw and a hindrance to video audiences. However, today serves as more of a testament to its grittily, cheap, horror aesthetic that high definition cannot duplicate.
Director Frank Henenlotter (Frankenhooker) goes straight for the jugular by delivering a simple concept that doesn’t try to be anything other than a low budget, freaky laugh-fest that manages to serve as a ‘how-to’ template for indie-filmmakers (that should be used today). The simple but bizarre premise sees Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck) arrive in the bustling New York City, strangely carrying his picnic basket around town like a handbag or a guy that goes to picnics for a living. As tenants of an apartment block begin to hear strange noises and observe odd behaviour, it is soon revealed that within Duane carries the basket for very good reason as inside is something ghastly; Belial, Duane’s detached siamese twin and he’s not very friendly. Belial has a bad temperament and unremorsefully kills anybody often for no reason at all. Belial’s main prerogative is to exact revenge on the doctors who separated the once conjoined twins against their will. As the film progresses, Duane’s love interest Sharon (Terri Susan Smith) becomes the target of Belial, who is overtly jealous Duane’s attention has shifted to Sharon.
Belial, the films antogonist is a nasty, aggressive and deadly little piece of work that sits well among the annals of horror film villains. He may be deformed and technically he is a human but its his (does it have a sex?), its unremoreseful and blatant enjoyment of murder makes the antagonist a twisted force of nature. The creature design has become nothing short of iconic making Basket Case a precursor to critter-driven films like Gremlins (1984) that see puppets as pocket-rockets of character dynamite and black-comedy fun. Belial’s demeanour is aggressive and makes for some humorous scenes in which it lashes out and mauls a myriad of throwaway characters. One amusing scene in particular, sees Duane purchase Belial a television set to evade his boredom and ease his restriction that comes from living within a wicker basket. Belial refuses to be a couch (or basket) potato, and lashes out by throwing furniture around the shabby apartment, smashing the television set to pieces. The scene blends both real-time practical effects with stop-motion that instantly makes Basket Case the sort of horror movie we don’t see anymore; one open to weirdness, experimentation and wholly presenting itself as a masterpiece of drive-in schlock. Basket Case is a proud low budget film that unashamedly refuses to stay coy within its wicker basket, instead obnoxiously commanding audience delight.
The film has been called cheesy, labelled as trash and summoned as ridiculous and frankly it’s all three of those descriptions, but it has managed to remain a classic; it balances humour, violence, laughs, gore and cheap scares in addition to blending different styles of effects that support its place among video classics.
Overall, the film serves as a time capsule from the golden age of trash-horror. Basket Case works because of its consistent use of storytelling elements that give the film a foot to stand on. Most notably, the film is conscious of its nature and the screenplay doesn’t veer off into pointless sub-plots that permeate heavy backstory nor does the narrative refrain excess . Basket Case is a film we don’t see today because the art of trash-cinema is lost. It once begged to weirdness and without weirdness we don’t get originality. Funnily, Basket Case hasn’t received any reboot treatment and still circulates tape collector circles as a coveted video must-have. In addition, the film has a DVD release and has also been restored from the original film print for a Blu-ray release that keeps cinema fans and schlock lovers content.
Basket Case is a low budget horror-comedy masterpiece that spawned a myriad of sequels and is a solid genre pillar. The film is a blueprint for later films that begged to comedy over horror such as Gremlins, Ghoulies (1984) and Critters (1986). The film liberates the dark annals of trash cinema by refusing to be anything other that what it is; a mean, deformed, blood-hungry freak in a basket that was never fit for the mainstream picnic anyway.
Love it! One of the best reviews of one of my favorite schlock 80’s horror flicks. (I rank it right alongside C.H.U.D. and The Boogens which for me, is a compliment. ;)) Very glad I discovered your site, it’s awesome. Thanks for the great entertainment.