Basket Case (1982)

Basket Case is a film which wears its sleaziness with pride. The end titles announce that the film is dedicated to Herschell Gordon Lewis, whose 1960s drive-in dreadfuls Blood Feast and 2000 Maniacs have only recently achieved any kind of British distribution - inevitably as video nasties. Producer Ievins and director-writer Henenlotter have gone out of their way to recreate Lewis' wretched style, a combination of graphic gore (slightly abbreviated in this 'good taste' version), off-the-wall humour, the kind of mise-en-scène usually only found in hardcore pornography, and inadequate performances.

For about half its running time, Basket Case's deliberate ghastliness is amusing. All the characters are socially handicapped to such a degree that the leads of Trash could look down on them, and the nearest that the script comes to a romantic line is Dr Kutter's "You're cute when you slobber". Most reviews have cited De Palma's Sisters as the source of the plot, but Duane and Belial are much less like the twinned Margot Kidder than the proptagonist(s) of "The Mannikin", one of Robert Bloch's more unpleasant short stories.

Unfortunately, the film establishes it situations with much more invention than it develops them. The flashback includes not only the best sick joke (Mr Bradley's legs falling out of frame after he has been sawn in half) but the most imaginative and affecting images (Belial weakly clawing his way out of a twist-tie garbage bag; the aunt cradling Belial as she reads aloud to the brothers). Sadly, the revenge motif, with Belial killing the doctors who performed the separation, and Belial's jealous attempts to frustrate Duane's relationship with Sharon, are not strong enough to sustain the film beyond the resolution of its mystery. The main problem lies with the overstated performances of all concerned, as satirically feigned badness all too easily turns into genuine badness.

Henenlotter's previous works include the evocatively titled - but unseen - shorts, Son of Psycho, Lurid Women and Slash of the Knife. His approach to the skid-row splatter movie can best be judged by the account he gave to Fangoria, chief organ of the sleaze scene: "Crude? Rather than putting in a credit for special effects, we were thinking of crediting ordinary effects... All the animation scenes were ad-libbed, and every take we shot is in the film. Ray Harryhausen can certainly sleep tonight."
KIM NEWMAN

First Published In: Monthly Film Bulletin vol.50 no.591 (April 1983) pp.92-93 (UK)


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