Film Review: Basket Case – 6/10

‘This isn’t a hotel, it’s a nuthouse!

I think Frank Henenlotter’s bonkers cult classic is best described using the keywords that Amazon Prime has picked out to advise potential viewers of its content: “horror”, “campy”, “terrifying” and “sad” – for this film is all of those things and more…

Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck) is a fairly normal kid from upstate New York who moves to the big city to start a new life. He might be a bit naive, sure, but he’s also polite and generous. The fact that he carries his medically separated conjoined twin around in a wicker basket should be neither here nor there. Alas, we live in a judgemental society, and Duane’s reputation is further diminished when the twin, hilariously named Bilial, begins to murder people. It’s unclear what the victims actually die of because most of Bilial’s attacks consist of the little fella simply rubbing their faces a little bit.

There is low budget and then there is Basket Case. We aren’t even talking about The Blair Witch Project levels of poverty here. And yet, writer-director Frank Henenlotter manages to make something that is utterly bizarre, yes, but also mostly entertaining. The puppet of Bilial is both preposterous but also strangely frightening and there are moments of intentional humour here that really pay off. It’s safe to say that Henenlotter understood the assignment. So much so that he hadn’t said everything he needed to say with this movie and so went back for two sequels.

Basket Case is obviously crackers but it is worth watching not just for the kitsch factor but also because it provides a genuinely fascinating snapshot into New York in the ’80s. Henenlotter filmed on location without permits and in doing so accidentally created a time capsule of an era that is now lost forever. So much so that the Museum of Modern Art selected this film for preservation and oversaw a full restoration. Utter madness.