Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Basket Case

(1982) Written and directed by Frank Henenlotter; Starring: Kevin Van Hentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, Beverly Bonner, Robert Vogel, Diana Browne and Lloyd Pace; Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Rating: ***½

“Duane Bradley is such a charming character with a really nasty, sadistic streak in him. And I really like how Kevin’s (Van Hentenryck) wide-eyed innocence gets nasty in this.” – Frank Henenlotter (from 2001 DVD commentary)

“…And you know what else? He talks to me, up here. Without words. I just hear him whispering to my brain. Sometimes he talks for hours and won’t shut up. I used to be able to talk to him like that, but that’s when we were still connected…” – Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck)

We’ve all probably met or know about family members that are a little too close for comfort. If not for one, the other might have a fighting chance to lead a happy, well-adjusted life (In theory, of course. If you know someone who’s happy and well-adjusted, please alert me.). Writer/director Frank Henenlotter, one of the true independents, presents for our enjoyment, a twisted tale of co-dependency and revenge, which takes the term “brother’s keeper” quite literally. Shot in 16 mm on a $33,000 budget (according to producer Edgar Ievins), Henenlotter filmed Basket Case* in New York City without permits, off and on over the course of a year. Because of the production’s miniscule budget, he wore numerous hats, pitching in for gore effects, stop-motion animation, and cinematography.

* Fun Fact: upon the film’s initial theatrical release, distributor Analysis Films removed the sequences containing blood and gore, marketing the film as a comedy. In his DVD commentary, Henenlotter credited former New York Times columnist Joe Bob Briggs with championing the release of Basket Case in its original, unadulterated form.

Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck), has just arrived in the big city, and carries around a large wicker basket, prompting the inevitable question “What’s in the basket?” The few individuals who find out wish they hadn’t. Duane seems harmless enough after he checks into a seedy hotel,* but he harbors a sinister purpose – to exact bloody revenge against Drs. Needleman, Kutter and Lifflander (Lloyd Pace, Diana Browne and Bill Freeman), the physicians that conspired with his father to separate him from his deformed conjoined twin, Belial. In a gory flashback sequence, we have a front row seat to the covert surgical procedure. Duane recuperates in bed, while his brother is unceremoniously discarded in the trash. Duane and Belial share a psychic bond (with the exceptions of grunts and the occasional shriek, Belial is essentially mute), with each experiencing the other’s feelings.

* Fun Fact: Contrary to popular reports, there was no Hotel Broslin (the myth is perpetuated, thanks to the end credits, thanking the staff and tenants of the Hotel Broslin). The “hotel’s” exterior was actually the lead actor’s apartment building, with a prop neon sign added.

Kevin Van Hentenryck is perfectly cast as Duane, quiet, gawky and socially awkward. Duane does terrible things, but we’re with him anyway. When he falls for Dr. Needleman’s receptionist Sharon (Terry Susan Smith*), we want him to escape the crushing shadow of his brother, get the girl, and lead a normal life. We know this isn’t in the cards for Duane, but we’re secretly rooting for him.

* Fun fact: Smith sports an unconvincing wig in the film, because she had her head shaved for a punk band.

The practical effects are quaint by today’s standards, but they do the job, adding to the film’s considerable charm. Due to the limited range of movement for the Belial puppet, some of his actions were rendered in crude stop motion.* Considering the level of his deformity he really gets around, leaping on the faces of people foolish enough to take a peek inside the basket. Arguably, Belial gets around a little too well, but it’s one of those things you don’t pause to think about too much.

* Let’s face it, folks, Henenlotter is no Harryhausen, but in his words, he “had the patience level of a gnat.”

Basket Case works well at face value, as a story about a “malignant Jack-in-the-box” (in Henenlotter’s words), or as a metaphor for sibling enmeshment, taken to an extreme.  Belial doesn’t want to share his brother with anyone else, and becomes a rage-filled id monster. Of course, being regarded as a monster is strictly in the eye of the beholder. He never had the opportunity for any semblance of normalcy when he was viewed as something less than human from birth (the only ones that treat him with any compassion are his brother and aunt). It’s not nature that made him a monster, but the experiences that shaped his behavior. For Belial, becoming a monster was merely a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Henenlotter did so much with so little, introducing the world to everyone’s favorite homicidal parasitic twin. Sure, Basket Case is rough around the edges, but the flaws only make it more endearing. Filled with humor and little quirky touches (Beverly Bonner shines as Duane’s concerned neighbor), it’s an example of low budget horror done right. In Henenlotter’s words, “It holds up because it’s a real piece of perverted nonsense.” Basket Case gained its small but dedicated fan base, thanks to a simple but unique premise, told with minimal restraint. It’s got it all: a warped story, idiosyncratic characters, greed, lust, sex, blood and gore. What more could you want?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Trailer Take: Suspiria

Note: This post simultaneously appears on Realweegiemidget Reviews.

“The only thing more terrifying than the last 12 minutes of Suspiria are the first 92.”
– voiceover from Suspiria trailer

I’d like to extend a great big thanks to Gill Jacob for inviting me to do a guest post for her blog Realweegiemidget Reviews. I’m honored to participate, and I hope I don’t adversely affect Ms. Jacob’s readership. In addition to the aforementioned web site, be sure to visit the flipside of Realweegiemidget Reviews, Thoughts All Sorts. Twitter-inclined folks can stay up to date by following Gill and Company at @2ReelQuirkyCats, @Thoughtsallsort, and @realweegiemidge.

I’ve reviewed quite a few movies over the past seven years, but never tackled the previews that advertised them. As an experiment of sorts, I present for your perusal, a look at the trailer for Dario Argento’s mind-blowing horror film, Suspiria.

A movie trailer, at least a good one, is supposed to pique the potential audience’s interest and get them revved up for the movie. This is especially difficult for horror. In three minutes or sometimes significantly less, the trailer needs to capture the viewer’s attention, getting the heart pumping with memorable images or scenes. One thing that sets Suspiria apart is that the opening part of the trailer doesn’t contain a scene from the film.

It’s this opening sequence that took me by surprise as a little kid innocently watching the small TV alone, in my parent’s room (where I cut my teeth on quite a few movies and classic TV shows). The commercial (which turned out to be an abridged version of the trailer, but I’m not splitting hairs), seemed innocuous enough, with a lady, her back turned to the camera, combing her hair and getting spruced up, presumably for a date, “roses are red, violets are blue…” And then – holy crap (I’ll say no more)! Looking back, 40 years later, it all seems quite tame, but as an impressionable nine-year-old, it floored me. For years, I never made the connection with the film. Only that opening portion of the trailer remained embedded in my gray matter.

What the heck is Suspiria anyway? I have no idea, but it sure sounds good. The trailer has it all. It hooks you from the first shot, lulling you into a false sense of security, and then pow! Almost immediately, you’re asking, “What’s this movie about, and where’s it taking me?” The initial shock is followed by a pastiche of scenes from the movie, and those glowing, disembodied eyes – Yikes! Well, if this doesn’t get you in the mood to see this, I don’t know what will. The trailer works its magic, promising stylish scares, and the movie delivers the goods.

Need more convincing? Here’s the trailer in all its glory:

Shameless Plug: This trailer review is all fine and dandy, but what did I think of the movie? Well, I’m glad you asked, because I reviewed the film several years back, and you can read it here.  

Just remember: “You can run from Suspiria… You can hide from Suspiria… but you can’t escape Suspiria.”