Basket Case Review: Butchery, Blood, and Brotherly Love
If you were to take two brothers and divide them into two, what do you end up with? Well, if you ask me, you get one damn great, low-budget slasher! Written and directed by Frank Henenlotter, a true master of horror comedy (or exploitation films if you ask him), Basket Case (1982) follows a pair of (formerly) conjoined twins as they seek out and kill the doctors who separated them.
Duane Bradly, played by Kevin Van Hentenryck in his first substantial role, is the more normal of the brothers, while Belial Bradly, played by a puppet in its only role, is a telepathic head with two arms and clawed hands. As they travel around New York, searching for doctors, Duane keeps Belial in a basket (or a case, if you will), to keep him concealed. Tensions between the Bradley brothers rise, however, when Duane yearns for a life on his own, making Belial jealous for something he knows he can never have.
I really want to commend this film for what it does with its astronomically small budget of 35,000 dollars, which is chump change when it comes to movies. In fact, the entire budget is shown on screen in a few scenes, being used as a wad of cash Duane keeps hidden in the hotel room he and his brother stay at. While the small budget really shows in some scenes, with hokey acting and special effects that were about 30 years out-of-date at the time, it is never really too distracting due to how interesting the story is, which is truly a testament to Henenlotter’s talent as a filmmaker. Even when line deliveries are a bit off and it sometimes feels like he is talking to a rubber puppet rather than his own flesh and blood, you still feel the connection between Duane and Belial for the most part, and the struggles they have as they both care for each other in a world that is structured against them. You especially can feel the internal struggle of Belial, a character who the audience never hears speaking even once, as he struggles with his brother’s newfound independence and worries that it means he will be left behind.
The other characters in this film are just as commendable. When Duane isn’t helping his brother get his revenge, we see him clumsily interact with other people in his day-to-day life, such as Sharon, the assistant to one of the doctors they go after. As Duane waits for an… ahem… “appointment” with the doctor (Belial in his hands), he meets Sharon at the front desk and they begin to date over the course of the movie. She not only acts as a love interest and method of showing Duane what he’s been missing by occupying himself with revenge, but she’s also the catalyst that leads to conflict between Duane and Belial. There’s also Casey, a sex worker who’s staying in the room across from them. She’s a good friend to Duane, with a fun scene where they drink at a bar together and Duane drunkenly spills the beans to her about Belial (who gives Casey a bit of a surprise visit not too long after this scene). These characters all make each scene exciting and unskippable, and they actually contribute to the characterization of the brothers. Their inclusion shows how Duane and Belial, being treated as freaks their entire lives, have never really gotten much of a chance to socialize, so this is completely new territory for them.
I’m not going to spoil the ending of the film here, because it’s an absolutely perfect ending that perfectly encapsulates the theme, so if you came to this review as some sort of replacement for watching the movie then
1) you are absolutely foolish
2) too bad, so sad, now you have to watch one of my favorite movies, I win!
In all seriousness, though, I highly encourage you to give this movie a chance if you ever see it on a store shelf, TV guide, streaming service, heck, I won’t tell anyone if you pirate it, just give it a shot. For such a low budget, Frank Henenlotter and his crew were able to make a great film that is an incredible example of the B horror genre. Sure, it has its flaws, such as limited effects and acting that really could be better, but that just adds to the charm that this genre is known for. With gore galore and a charming duo of best brother buddies, this reviewer gives Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case 8 pairs of conjoined twins out of 10.