Frank Henenlotter is a filmmaker and film lover who holds a very special place in my heart. His tireless dedication to the preservation of sleaze and exploitation history is nearly unparalleled, as a filmmaker, his work is instantly recognizable for its gleeful rejection of good taste and its take no prisoners attitude. Like the iconoclastic John Waters, Henenlotter's career has been a series of ups and downs, not necessarily in terms of quality, but certainly in terms of the problems that have plagued both auteurs in finding funding for their work. Thankfully, both men have careers that don't necessarily depend on that kind of income, but it makes me sad that they have such a hard time getting money to get projects off the ground. However, before there was that problem there was Basket Case, Frank Henenlotter's sarcastic poke in the eye to the 42nd Street exploitation scene. Basket Case is the story of Duane Bradley, a young man with issues. Duane was born with a parasitic twin attached to his abdomen, he was a freak of nature, and as a result, his father insisted that his twin be removed by any means necessary. After enticing a pair of shady surgeons to perform this clandestine and dangerous surgery, Duane was never the same, nor was his brother Belial...
The film picks up with young adult Duane checking into the Broslin Hotel in New York with little more than the clothes on his back and an unusually heavy wicker basket. It turns out that Duane and his brother had plans for the doctors who had so cruelly ripped them apart, and they involved a very unique kind of revenge. Little by little, Duane and Belial tear through the big apple, all the while drawing closer and closer to their quarry, however, Duane isn't fully aware of Belial's lack of self control, and things get a bit messy.
New York in the late '70s and early '80s was a special place that was a favorite of exploitation filmmakers around the world. That era of filmmaking was an amazing time in which films like Basket Case, The Exterminator, Street Trash, Maniac, Ms. 45 and more painted a particularly gruesome picture of the city that never sleeps. Unfortunately, that New York is gone, and you'll find many of those same filmmakers lamenting the loss of that beauty of the down and dirty city they called their own. Basket Case fits right in with those classics, even predating most of them, and has never quite gotten the recognition it deserves, until now. Basket Case 2 & 3 are serviceable continuations of the story of Duane & Belial, but in spite of their wonderfully perverse atmosphere, they fall just short of the sleazy mark. However, that doesn't mean that they are bad films by any means, quite the opposite, in fact. Basket Case 2 is a top notch sequel that brings the level of goofball violence and black humor to new heights. This time around, Duane and Belial find themselves sheltered from an inquisitive tabloid media machine by the kindly old Granny Ruth (played with outsized glee by Annie Ross), who runs a home where other freaks of nature, like Belial, are the norm, rather than the outcast. In this home, Duane begins to feel that he is the one who doesn't belong, and his alienation from his brother brings on strange feelings of guilt that eventually lead to some fantastically gory scenes of self-surgery. However, none of this happens without a wonderful romp through the twisted mind of Frank Henenlotter and his effects specialist, Gabe Bartolos (who also worked on Henenlotter's Frankenhooker). Oh, and the less said about Basket Case 3: The Progeny, the better. It's a fun film, but it pales in comparison to the original pair.
Frank Henenlotter is a unique voice in cinema, and one who hasn't made nearly enough films, if you ask me. I'm sure he has other things to do, and I know he founded and works with Something Weird Video, who are THE source for obscure trash films worldwide, but I love the thought of a new Henenlotter film, almost as much as I love watching the ones he's already made. He just seems like the kind of guy I'd want to hang out with, and while that many not sell movie tickets, he's certainly sold me on Frank.
Not too long ago Something Weird Video and Image Entertainment teamed up to release Basket Case on Blu-ray in the US. That edition is really great, and pretty darned cheap, but the UK's Second Sight Films have released an amazing product here that is definitely worth your money. In addition to a nearly identical HD presentation of the first film, they also pack in the two sequels, each on their own disc, and both in HD as well, and they look surprisingly good! I didn't have high hopes for Basket Case 2 & 3 on Blu, but I've been proven wrong, these discs are spectacular, and only on Blu in the UK. Synapse Films in the US recently released part 3 on DVD, but this new Blu-ray set is definitely the way to go. All three discs are region free and look great (don't let the openings with recycled footage for parts 2 & 3 scare you off, after the first 5 minutes, it looks awesome), there's no reason for fans worldwide to hem and haw over this package. The audio is also very good, though none of the three are going to test your home theater. Overall a very impressive release.
When I first read the contents of the disc, I thought it would roughly match the Something Weird special edition in its contents, boy was I wrong. Those features include an archival commentary with Henelotter, a video introduction (below) explaining the new aspect ratio and transfer for Blu-ray, as well as lots of outtakes, deleted scenes, and advertisements. Yes, all of the bonus material from SWV's Blu is here, but there are two outstanding extra features that are exclusive to this release, and I can't recommend them enough.
The first is "What's In the Basket", a feature-length (78 mins) documentary on the history and making of the entire trilogy put together by the gurus at Severin Films, who've been busy during their hiatus. I often have to fight the urge to skip through these behind the scenes features, but this one was fascinating and extremely well done and well worth the investment of time. They interview Frank, who is a fantastic subject, as well as stars Kevin Vna Hentenryck, Beverly Bonner, and Annie Ross, and FX guru Gabe Bartolos, who is happy to gush about the project. Really superb stuff.
The other exclusive is a short interview with legendary poster artist, Graham Humphreys. You may not know him by name, but if you're a British horror fan, you know his work, and even today he continues to create some of the most grisly pieces of trash art on the scene. This interview covers his early days in illustration, beginning with his iconic work on The Evil Dead's UK quad, all the way through today as he talks about his work recreating and tweaking his original art for Basket Case's Palace Horror VHS case to fit this new trilogy steelbook. He's a living legend and it nice to see his name pop back up in this new renaissance of poster artwork as one of the icons of the style.
Following their brilliant and world beating presentation of The Return of the Living Dead on Blu-ray, Second Sight Films have solidified their place among the kings of cult home video with Basket Case: The Trilogy. This set is the only way to go, don't waste your time or money on anything else. Also, with their upcoming releases of Southern Comfort, the Scanners Trilogy, The Brood, From Beyond, and the newly announced Blu-ray release of Andrzej Zulawski's Possession, they've got a lot of fans still to make. My highest recommendation.