“So. What’s in the basket?”
They say the bonds of siblings is one that runs deep. Twins even more so. Conjoined sisters Daisy and Violet Hilton spent their entire lives together building a career of entertainment despite physically abuse from their managers. Even in their decline, they had each other. But what if that bond was somehow broken? The 1982 film Basket Case explores that possibility in the sickest, most twisted, most hilarious way possible.
It can be difficult to imagine a New York that was dark and dirty – one not totally saturated with “fashion bloggers” and vegan restaurants. Henenlotter said he was inspired by the film by walking around the seedy Time Square. The New York that small-town Duane Bradley (Kevin van Hentenryck) arrives in is dingy and filled with people from the underbelly, including a rather friendly hooker (Beverly Bonner). He checks in at a hotel carrying only a large wicker basket.
In the mysterious basket is (SURPRISE) the other Bradley brother, Duane’s former Siamese twin brother who was severed from from him at an early age. Belial is deformed, looking rather like a tumor. He has long pointed teeth and what appears to be a hunchback (though there isn’t much of him as he is mostly built from the shoulders up). The puppet is absolutely grim to watch. The film’s small budget of $35,000 doesn’t promise high special effects and it certainly doesn’t deliver any.
While the brotherly love runs strong, it turns out that Belial is a killer and Duane is (usually) his accomplice. To be fair, anyone named Belial is doomed from birth whether they’re a misshapen blob of skin or not. The two have set out together to avenge… well, themselves (their separation has clearly left more than physically scars) against the doctors that separated them against their will years ago. Their plot for revenge is even made easier by their telepathic connection to one another.
Director Frank Henenlotter has been said that he would rather be considered an “exploitation” director instead of horror. Nothing about Basket Case would even suggest otherwise. The film is exploitative. There is one scene in particular that stands out – a scene where Belial attemps to rape a woman. The telepathic connection between the brothers leads to one mind-fuck of a scene.
Basket Case existed in a world newly embracing the VHS. A place where cult films really got going outside of the midnight showing. 1982 was snuggled between a successful string of 80s slasher films that were going to take over the cinemas for the remainder of the decade. The feel of this film is in some way similar as the deaths are bloody and over the top, but the death scenes are also very reminiscent of Italian horror (the colour of the blood is almost Argento in feeling).
In the end, Basket Case delivers what it promises on the packaging: it’s sick, full of nudity and excessive violence. At times it is a big difficult to swallow the jokes, but there really isn’t anything like it. Watch it, if you can stomach it.