No one makes Frank Henenlotter movies like Frank Henenlotter.
Sure other directors make horror/comedies, exploitation pictures, and generally odd cinema, but any minute of a Frank Henenlotter film is instantly identifiable as belonging to his singular mad genius. My personal favorite among his filmography remains Frankenhooker (1990), but you can’t help but be charmed by his very first feature, Basket Case. The lovely folks at Arrow Video are also fans and have just released the film to Blu-ray with a fantastic 4K restoration and an over-sized basket-worth of extras.
The story is simple. Duane Bradley (Kevin VanHentenryck) is a young man in New York City who arrives at a seedy hotel with only a big basket, a wad of cash, and the clothes on his back. He hides the contents of the basket from people, and it’s for the best — his “twin” brother Belial sits inside. Belial, a lump with small arms and a face, was separated from Duane’s torso when they were teens, but they reunited and have now arrived in the city with a singular purpose. They want revenge on the doctors who performed the operation.
The plot of Basket Case sounds simultaneously grotesque and ridiculous, and Henenlotter delivers on both counts. Belial’s attacks on the doctors, along with anyone else who crosses his path, are bloody affairs that see geysers of blood and torn flesh left in their wake. His screams terrify and hurt the ears, and his victims try to keep pace with drawn-out, guttural yells of their own as Belial’s claws rake across their faces. It ends on an equally bleak note too that ends the brothers’ story in a decisive manner guaranteeing that there would be no sequel. (And definitely not two follow-ups.)
For all of its violence and bloodletting, though, and sometimes even because of it, the movie is home to a healthy dose of blackly comic humor. The brothers’ psychic relationship leads to some dark fun, and some of the supporting players have a good time playing up their characters. The laughs aren’t played broadly — that’s saved for the two sequels that Henenlotter definitely didn’t make seeing as how this first one ends — and instead they’re more situational or purely in response to the absurdity onscreen.
Basket Case is an odd little creation that plays by its own rules in its characters’ quest for revenge. It most definitely isn’t for everyone, but if you can stomach the blood and appreciate the humor it’s a film you’ll carry around with you for a long time to come.
Arrow Video bring’s Hennenlotter’s debut feature to Blu-ray with a fantastic new 4K restoration completed for NYC’s Museum of Modern Art. The film was shot on 16mm, but their work still delivers as sharp and distinct a picture as you could imagine. Not content to simply deliver the film with the best possible image, the label has also loaded it with extras new and old that offer insight into its production, have fun with the filmmakers, and reveal an immense love on the part of all involved for the film itself. All of the supplements below are worth a watch, but the ones with Henenlotter are must-sees. The guy is an endless stream of knowledge, insight, and candor.
- *NEW* Commentary with Frank Henenlotter and Kevin VanHentenryck
- Commentary with Henenlotter, producer Edgar Ievins, actress Beverly Bonner, and filmmaker Scooter McRae
- *NEW* Basket Case 3-1/2: An Interview with Duane Bradley [8:30] – A playful interview with the lead character of Basket Case
- *NEW* Me and the Bradley Boys [16:24] – VanHentenryck discusses his work on the films.
- A Brief Interview with Director Frank Henenlotter [3:50] – This is an odd one, and it’s unclear if the subject is wearing briefs or freeballing the interview.
- *NEW* Seeing Double: The Basket Case Twins [8:55] – The nurses talk about their brief time on the film.
- *NEW* Blood, Basket and Beyond [6:04] – Beverly Bonner recalls her work with Henenlotter.
- *NEW* The Latvian Connection [27:33] – Features interviews with behind the scenes players including Belial performer Kika Nigals
- *NEW* Belial Goes to the Drive-In [6:55] – The always fun Joe Bob Briggs recalls his first experience seeing the film at Cannes and his attempts to premiere its unrated cut stateside.
- Basket Case at MoMA [37:12] – Q&A from its restoration premiere at the Museum of Modern Art
- What’s in the Basket? [1:18:41] – Fantastic feature-length making-of covering all three films
- In Search of the Hotel Broslin [16:08] – Henenlotter and rapper R.A. “The Rugged Man” Thorburn go looking for the film’s locations.
- Basket Case Outtakes [6:13]
- *NEW* The Frisson of Fission [23:03] – Visual essay by Travis Crawford
- “The Slash of the Knife” [30:13] – Rare short film by Henenlotter, available with or without commentary
- “Slash of the Knife” Outtakes [5:30]
- “Belial’s Dream” [4:49] – A Basket Case-inspired stop-motion animated short by Robert Morgan
- *NEW* Making “Belial’s Dream” [2:06]
Buy Basket Case on Blu-ray from Amazon