CELLULOID SCREAMS – Review: Basket Case I & II

The Basket Case films are outrageous cult classics that deserved the opportunity they got to be replayed in their natural cinematic environment.

Basket Case introduces us to protagonist Duane and his deformed Siamese twin brother Belial who is kept in a wicker basket at nearly all times. In the first movie the two are on a mission to seek revenge on the doctors who forcefully separated them as children and tossed away Belial in the garbage to die alone. Luckily Belial and Duane have a psychic connection and Duane is able to save Belial before the bin men come-a-knocking. They travel to New York after the death of their Aunt; the only family member who accepted and looked after them. One by one they track down the doctors, making friends and enemies along their grisly path. The film blows up in a fight between the two brothers and leaves their lives literally hanging in the balance.

Basket Case II picks up where the last left off, with a recap of the brothers’ fight and the realisation that neither twin is dead as one might have assumed from the first film. Their story has spread like wildfire through New York and they are now regarded as criminals, guarded in hospital by the NYPD.  Cut to Granny Ruth, or “The Freak Woman”, watching their story on TV in her secret mansion for the mutant rejects of their time. She decides to help Duane and Belial and they escape to her house, although Duane has his doubts and tries to get seemingly normal housemate Susan to elope with him. Meanwhile, Belial finds a girlfriend who looks pretty much exactly like him but with longer eyelashes. A journalist throws a spanner in the works, coming close to discovering the mansion’s secret and putting the lives and freedom of the mutants at risk. They therefore must fight or flee, and no prizes for guessing which one they plump for.

The films are low budget and proud, with the emphasis on over the top gore and cheap laughs. The morally dubious doctors have names like Dr Kutter and Dr Needleman so we know we’re not supposed to be taking any of it seriously. Writer and director Frank Henenlotter retold the story of the poorly made animation scene in Basket Case, deciding to use it only after realising that it was so bad it was funny after having left it in a corner out of anger for months. Basket Case II is slightly tidier and better written and has perhaps one of the funniest lines in horror film history from an earnest Granny Ruth: “I understand your pain, Belial, but ripping the faces off people may not be in your best interest”.

The films are self-confessed exploitation films; B-Movies; the “Cockneys vs. Zombies” of their day. They’re so ridiculous they’re funny, and this is how they’re meant to be understood. They didn’t set out to be ground breaking or neat; they were made in the name of fun and they certainly are still that.