Monday, October 30, 2023

Ten Days of Terror!: Basket Case

Film: Basket Case
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on basement television.

Basket Case is a rare instance where I have seen the sequel of the film before I saw the first one, so I knew something of what to expect here. Additionally, there is an overt reference to this movie in the Frank Henenlotter filmBrain Damage. That being the case for me, there weren’t a lot of surprises going into Basket Case. It’s a prime example of the sort of low-rent horror from the early 1980s that I at least partly grew up on. I don’t know that anyone would ever really say that this is a good movie, but it is one that is in some respects a great one.

Here’s the thing about Basket Case: this is either a movie that you have already seen because you have the sort of sensibilities to like Frank Henenlotter movies or you would never watch this in a hundred years. That being the case, I’m not going to worry about some potential spoilers here. I won’t spoil the actual ending, but I will certainly dive head-first into things that otherwise remain secret through the first act and into the second act. If you want no spoilers at all here, you’ve been warned.

Much of our time is going to be spent with Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck), who carries a gigantic wicker basket with him everywhere. The big mystery for the first act of the film is what might be in the basket that Duane carries everywhere and keeps locked. What we’re going to discover eventually—something that is literally spoiled on the most famous version of the movie poster—is that the wicker basket contains Belia (an uncredited Tom Tolan), Duane’s hideously deformed conjoined twin.

Duane and Belial have come to New York City to complete their revenge on the doctors who separated them years before. They’ve already managed to kill the first of these doctors in their upstate hometown, but the other two are in the city. Duane takes a room in a cheap hotel and sets about looking for Dr. Needleman (Lloyd Pace). They find him and case the office, and Duane finds himself attracted to Sharon (Terri Susan Smith), Needleman’s receptionist. They plan a date for the next day, but before that happens, Duane and Belial go back to the office. Belial murders the doctor and steals his address book, allowing them to track down the third person responsible, Dr. Kutter (Diana Browne, who looks like a poor man’s Sigourney Weaver).

While the revenge story is a big part of Basket Case, the budding relationship between Duane and Sharon is important as well, because this causes the start of a split between the two brothers. While Belial is unable to speak, he does communicate with Duane telepathically and the two share a psychic bond. Belial knows that Duane has feelings for Sharon, and when the two kiss, he becomes enraged and trashes the hotel room. While revenge is going to drive a lot of the action, the falling out of Duane and Belial over Belial’s feeling that Duane will abandon him for a normal life is going to really be the driver of the plot.

I need to talk about this scene for just a second. This scene contains some of the absolute most ridiculous and silly stop-motion animation that has ever appeared in a movie. It was clearly done on the cheap, because it also looks like they’ve kept about one frame in four. If there weren’t already comedic elements in Basket Case, this scene would absolutely make it an unintentional comedy. This comes back for a few moments at the end of the film with similarly hilarious results. The thing is that there are several places where Belial, who is essentially a head with two arms, is clearly played by someone in prosthetics, and it genuinely looks good. The stop-motion could have been avoided entirely, since it is definitely avoided in other places.

There are some surprising ways that Basket Case can be interpreted. Perhaps the easiest is to look at it as a sort of treatise about abortion. Should Belial be considered a life that was worth saving? Should Belial have been allowed to live? Is Belial unquestionably a life at all?

These are questions that certainly can be answered, but it’s fair to ask if they are worth being answered. It might be better just to watch this as the low-end horror movie that has an idea far better than its execution and leave it at that.

Why to watch Basket Case: It may be wholly unique.
Why not to watch: The worst stop-motion you’ve ever seen.


  1. Poor man's Sigourney Weaver? No thanks.

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