“What’s in the basket?” was a question asked in the early 1980’s by many a character in the Basket Case films, usually answered by a bloodcurdling scream and a pile of viscera soon after. This one-of-a-kind trilogy (is that an oxymoron?) has made its mark on the world of horror and earned a reputation as a nasty set of films with a comedic edge.
Second Sight films have therefore recently re-released this Steelbook Blu-ray set that covers the entire Basket Case trilogy, from its humble, if gore-splattered, beginnings to its plot-heavy, dark humour filled finale. We are first introduced to Duane, the instigator of this whole seedy affair, in New York City, carrying around a wicker basket that emits strange, guttural noises. We soon find out he is hunting down the surgeons who separated him from his Siamese twin brother years before and has some very nefarious plans for them. The second and third films differ slightly from this streamlined narrative and become a little more muddled, as Duane and his iconic brother, Belial, join a commune of deformed “freaks” and forge new, exciting and dangerous relationships with the people around them. In all honesty, it gets pretty weird.
Before examining the worth of the video store infamy surrounding these films, it must be said that the presentation of the steelbook blu-ray itself is wonderful, championing the 80’s VHS model with some colourful, original artwork that gives it the aura of a collector’s item. The special features attached to each film have also been put together with a clear passion and effort from Second Sight and if there are any dedicated gore-hounds out there who want to find out more about the deranged process behind the trilogy, they are sure to find their questions answered here. The transfer itself is lovingly rendered but purists of cult horror may be disappointed that, in upgrading the quality, the aesthetic filth and grime that gives a film like Basket Case a nostalgia-factor may be lost.
As with most trilogies, the first film is by far and away the best, and most interesting, of the three. Working with a very small budget, director Frank Henenlotter strung together a camera crew and some small time actors to come up with something fairly unique. His ability to create three dimensional characters and wrangle semi-charismatic performances from what seem like amateurs is something to be applauded but, admittedly, this only works in the setting of a horror film. What really gets people invested in Basket Case is the nature of the basket itself and the horror that lies within it. For the first portion of the film, you wonder if Henenlotter is pulling a Jaws, resisting the temptation to show the creature to the audience in order to build up tension, but that is thrown out the window quite quickly during the first murder scene. Exemplifying the trilogy really, the scene goes from genuinely frightening to laughably hokey to gloriously violent in a matter of moments. You get the feeling that Henenlotter didn’t care too much about making a classic and on the special features he does say that he “thought nobody would see it”. Basket Case actually ended up making a lot of money and played on the midnight movie circuit for a number of years, prompting Henenlotter to begin work on sequels.
Sadly, the following films don’t quite match up to the pioneering spirit of the original. Although there were darkly comic undertones in the first films, episodes two and three tend to veer more towards full-blown adult comedy. Very little actual horror elements remain and although the blood and guts factor is turned up to 11 (especially during a very cool little homage to the 1932 film ‘Freaks’) Henenlotter does not seem to have come to terms with the fact that his story cannot stretch this far. The surprising poignancy of the brother’s relationship does keep things rather interesting but there isn’t much else to grab onto unless you have a penchant for purposefully grotesque and artificial monster make up, and the films end up being a full blown exercise of just how much Cronenberg-esque body horror an audience can stomach.
Ultimately though, this is a set for the die-hard fans of cult horror and Second Sight have done their best to cater for that crowd. Whether you want to check out one of the most famous underground horror hits of all time or jump right into the entire trilogy, Second Sight have definitely answered that lingering, horrifying question asked throughout the films…”What’s in the basket…?”
The Basket Case trilogy is out now on Blu-ray from Second Sight Films.