Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Basket Case (1982)

I heart Belial

Oh man, I love this movie. On a meagre budget of $35,000, Frank Henenlotter managed to turn out a horror gem (however flawed) that delivers on the strength of it's ideas alone.

Dwayne Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck) arrives in New York City with a wad of cash, a mysterious wicker basket and a huge head of hair. He takes up residence in the Hotel Broslin, a seedy flophouse filled with drunks, hookers and washouts. Soon it becomes apparent that he is here on a mission, and it has something to do with whatever is in the basket. No, it's not full of hair-care products, but a mysterious creature with an insatiable appetite for hamburgers and hotdogs.

It turns out it's his brother, Belial, a deformed monstrosity who is basically a head with arms and a bad attitude. When Dwayne gets drunk with a hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold, he spills the story of their past. Belial was once Dwayne's siamese twin. Dwayne's mother died in childbirth and his father grew to hate them, especially Belial. Against Dwayne's will, a trio of doctors (well, two doctors and a vet) surgically removed Belial and tossed him in the trash. Belial survived the procedure and was retrieved by Dwayne, who raised him in secret. Now they're on a quest of revenge to murder the doctors who tried to separate them!

However, a monkey wrench has been thrown into their plans, in the form of Dr Needleman's receptionist, Sharon (Terri Susan Smith, and even in a huge wig she fails to match the fluffiness of Dwayne's 'do) who takes an immediate liking to Dwayne. Soon they're engaged in a stilted and poorly-acted love affair, sending Belial into a fit of jealousy. Will Belial turn against his brother and enact bloody revenge on Sharon for trying to take his brother away? Well, let's just say that Belial's fully equipped downstairs, and demonstrates as such in a sequence that caused most of Henenlotter's crew to walk off set. The film ends of a decidedly final note, but two redundant and inferior sequels followed anyway.

Henenlotter presents a suitably sleazy slice of early 80s New York City. Oh for the pre-Giuliani days, when New York was invariably depicted as a cesspool of crime and corruption! Dwayne gets accosted by drug dealers in Times Square and even takes in some Kung Fu films at a grindhouse cinema. It fits the nature of the film perfectly. Belial is a cheap-looking hunk of rubber that is animated via puppetry and occassionally some herky-jerky stop motion. The effects are crude and hilarious, but Belial has an undeniable creepiness about him, and even a measure of pathos. Truly, Belial is an amazing creation.

It ain't all roses, however. The dialogue is stilted and the acting... dear Lord, the acting. Van Hentenryck brings a kind of charming (if wooden) naivete, but the rest of cast runs the gamut from bad to unwatchable. The low budget seeps into every aspect of the production, and that alone will be enough to turn off most people. Look beneath it's shabby exterior, however, and you'll find a immensely fun and surprisingly engaging piece of entertainment. Basket Case is an twisted and outrageous horror film, a perfect blend of cheesy horror and comedy, and it totally deserves it's devoted cult following.

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