Basket Case (1982)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #322

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Number of Views: Three
Release Date: April ,1982
Sub-Genre: Cult Film
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $35,000
Running Time: 91 minutes
Director: Frank Henenlotter
Producer: Edgar Levins
Screenplay: Frank Henenlotter
Special Effects: John Caglione Jr., Kevin Haney, Ugis Nigals
Cinematography: Bruce Torbet
Score: Gus Russo, David Maswick
Editing: Frank Henenlotter
Studio: Basket Case Productions
Distributors: Analysis Film Releasing Corporation, Image Entertainment
Stars: Kevin Van Hentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, Beverly Bonner, Robert Vogel, Diana Browne, Lloyd Pace, Bill Freeman, Joe Clarke, Ruth Neuman, Richard Pierce, Sean McCabe, Dorothy Strongin

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Suggested Audio Candy

Eon “Basket Case”

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It’s a well documented fact that you can’t choose your family. It’s all about genetics and sometimes science decides to play its callous hand. Never more so than with legendary director Frank Henenlotter’s utterly preposterous midnight matinée classic from 1982, Basket Case. It’s over thirty years now since we were first asked the elephant-in-the-room poser “what’s in the basket?” and, while this bizarre little movie has long since been consigned largely to vague and affectionate memory, it’s still fondly remembered by cult film enthusiasts the world over.


Henenlotter spent his childhood watching low-rent exploitation and it clearly had a profound effect on him. The work of Herschell Gordon Lewis was clearly an inspiration to him and in 1972 his first foray into film-making, 16mm short Slash of the Knife, shared the spotlight with John Waters’ Pink Flamingos at a 42nd St. grindhouse midnight show and his passage into the industry became clear. It took a full decade for Basket Case to gestate from seed to breed but, when it did, it garnered enough plaudits to afford him the pocket change to birth two increasingly moronic but somehow affable sequels.

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This was a labor of love like no other, as attested by the fact that Henenlotter and his tiny crew shot certain key scenes without a permit. Hell, even many of the end credits are entirely fictitious and one particular scene involving a wad of cash money is actually the entire budget he had at his disposal. It’s evident of course but Henenlotter had already cut his teeth and used every red cent he had to realize his contorted vision. The shoot was a troubled affair and his skeleton crew even walked off set in protest at one point, an act of defiance they would repeat six years later during filming for the equally demented and cherished Brain Damage.

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It tells the tale of unlikely brethren Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck) and Belial (also voiced by the same actor), a pair of former Siamese twins separated by doctors but still as thick as thieves years later. Duane is a charismatic small town boy with high hopes for his first stay in the Big Apple. His brother however is far more cantankerous and bears a grudge against the surgeons who performed the procedure. While Duane is clearly benefactor of any looks, Belial likes to think himself the brains of the operation, and even resembles one, albeit kneaded to within an inch of its continuation. An ominous wicker basket provides his personal quarters and he objects massively if he is disturbed by those lacking empathy.

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Despite the fact that Basket Case is over-played to the point of campy and appears little more than a throwaway fable about a gnarled spat-out piece of chewing gum with a chip where its shoulder should be, it contains numerous psychosexual elements and a lashing of social commentary to boot. We live in a society that shuns what it doesn’t understand and those afflicted with deformities are cast aside as freaks. If Belial chooses to attempt mingling with the locals then he will likely be pelted with raw vegetables and made a spectacle of. If Frankenstein’s monster couldn’t catch a break then what chance does Beliel stand of gaining acceptance. It’s only natural that would grow tiresome over time so it’s no small wonder he wants off of the leash.


Once the sweet scent of love fills Duane’s flared nostrils and receptionist Sharon (Terri Susan Smith) comes on the scene, Belial begins to dig his heels in and generally throw a spanner in the works. Cue all manner of crude stop-motion gymnastics as our basket case lives up to his billing and commences his rampage. It’s unashamedly a B-movie and thus is afforded the chance to take certain liberties at its disposal, the most bankable being the ability to make its audience laugh. Beneath its wicker veneer however lays a mildly tragic insight into brotherly love and mutation.

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In many respects this is the film Abel Ferrara would make if he double-dropped acid and is strictly for The Deadly Spawn amongst us. Those affiliated with all things ridiculous will be powerless to resist finding out “what’s in the basket,” which ironically becomes something of a running joke throughout the film’s duration. It is has dated now then consider, if you will, that it was dated when it arrived; there’s never any question that was Hennenlotter’s sole intention. As an homage to all before that inspired it, Basket Case suitably celebrates the ridiculous and its irregular heartbeat thumps gravely enough to make us powerless not to peer inside. What we are presented with is as unabashed as it is downright fugly, and how can that not win you over just a little?

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Grue Factor: 4/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: Basket Case was re-released in theaters adorned with the subtitle The Full Uncut Version! after distributors about-faced on their initial decision to excise the gore from Henenlotter’s film and attempted to pitch it as a comedy. There is bountiful grue and the film teetered on the outskirts of the whole video nasty debacle. It’s more video unsavoury if I’m honest; often sleazy expressionism with a smattering of poetic justice for good measure.


Read The Deadly Spawn Appraisal

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Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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