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June 17, 2005

Filed under: movies»reviews»horror

Movie Review: Basket Case

Horror movies and I go back a long ways. One of my first cinematic memories is Night of the Living Dead, gleefully rented by my father. He also introduced me to The Fly in its original recipe, instead of the far inferior extra crispy Cronenberg variety. As I got older, I watched a lot of newer and older monster/slasher flicks, until now I find myself drawing closer to a critical mass and a Unified Field Theory of Horror. It leaves me with a lot of fairly bizarre references and Netflix recommendations for Manos: The Hands of Fate.

I don't remember, exactly, when or where I saw Basket Case for the first time. I just know that it stuck in my head ever since. It's the charming story of a young man and his deformed, formerly-conjoined twin (who rides around in a basket, hence the title) on a quest for revenge on the doctors who cut them apart. I know! That premise is movie gold! And if you're like me (i.e. you love watching terrible horror movies) the rest of the film will deliver.

I like to think I was a pretty bright little kid, but obviously there are some problems with the film that I missed the first time around. For one thing, the scream shots are way, way too long. Sometimes the movie spends several minutes watching a victim thrash around, covered in fake blood and wrestling with a lumpy rubber mutant. During that time, the victim shrieks over and over again, joined in a hideous chorus by the voice of the creature, who hoots like a mentally-handicapped baboon. It's like Children of a Lesser God meets Children of the Corn.

Another fun item to watch for is the special effects of the deformed twin. Although it's typically played by a giant rubber puppet, the filmmakers also used a set of rubber gloves for POV shots and stop-motion for some especially comical cutaway scenes. Each of these presentations looks slightly different from the rest, creating maximum cognitive stress when their scenes are placed side by side. The filmmakers are clearly quite proud of their creation, and they give him far too much screentime, breaking the cardinal rule of monster flicks ("The monster should remain hidden until the climactic confrontation, either through artful editing or clumsy staging.").

In fact, the best part of the movie may come halfway through when the de-freakified main character begins seeing an obnoxious receptionist. A fit of jealousy sends the sideshow twin into a stop-motion tantrum, and when the former attempts to reassure the latter of his loyalty we are treated to a lavish flashback of their mutual childhood. We see their father rail against his misformed spawn, the funeral for the mother who died in childbirth, and the operation that split the twins in twain. It is here that we finally get a name for the boy with the rubber face, Belial. The non-deformed brother's name?

Duane.

Now Belial, that's a good name for a movie monster. It refers, if I'm not mistaken, to a demon of the pit. I approve of that kind of Judeo-Christian baggage. Other good monster names with fine heritage are Lilith and Moloch. Duane? That's the mechanic that charges you $24 for a windshield wiper, when you came in to get your brakes fixed. What kind of parent names their kids (even the deformed and conjoined ones) Belial and Duane?

But maybe that's the intention, because the flashback clearly intends to paint Belial as a tragic anti-hero for the rest of the film. We see him take his revenge on his father and hatch a plan to find the doctors that tossed him out with the post-surgery trash. He's even shown as a young freak-to-be, cuddled up listening to bedtime stories by the fire (oh, would that I were exaggerating). The point is somewhat undermined when, flashback over, Belial cops a lengthy feel off Duane's sleeping girlfriend. In one of the few sympathetic emotional moments of Basket Case, Duane reacts by attempting to throw Belial out the window but ends up plummeting with his twin to the pavement below. Cue the credits and take it away, maestro!

All of this together would make a great B-movie experience, but if you find Basket Case on DVD now, you'll probably be able to watch a short documentary by the original filmmakers on the film's set locations. They're unbelievably stereotypical New York City sleazebags who are immeasurably proud of this film and its sequels, wandering around the landmarks they had filmed so long ago. Despite their credentials, they're even barred entry from the hotel where most of the action takes place, resorting to shouted obscenities through the building intercom and then offering half-hearted excuses.

It made me proud to be an American.

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