Horror, especially 80s horror, is the one genre where kitsch can sometimes replace good filmmaking to deliver an entertaining film. Unfortunately sometimes filmmakers believe they can create a successful franchise with nothing but a kitschy idea. That’s why you get films about evil leprechauns and killer turkeys.
Figuring out what makes kitschy films great as opposed to unwatchable is hard to put a finger on. It’s lightning in a bottle. Cheesy acting can sometimes help, and sometimes hurt. Same with cheesy effects, cheesy dialogue, cheesy script. You get the idea. But guaranteed winning aspect is a scene you will never forget. Such is the situation with Basket Case.
The plot revolves around Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck) a young man born with a conjoined “twin” attached to his side. The twin, Belial, is nothing more than a lump on his side, an amorphous blob with a face and two tiny hands. Duane’s dad hires three surgeons to have the twin removed. The operation is successful, and Belial is disposed of. In the garbage.
Duane, however, rescues his twin from the rubbish and keeps him in a giant picnic basket. Eventually the two, who share a telepathic link, decide to seek revenge on the doctors who separated them.
There is a certain charm to this film. It’s hard to tell whether writer/director Frank Henenlotter meant this to be a straight horror, or a dark comedy. There are portions you will definitely find humorous, and the laughs could be unintentional, but it doesn’t really matter. As Duane, Kevin Van Hentenryck is a terrible actor. Every piece of dialogue out of his mouth sounds slow and stilted. But it somehow works to reflect a traumatized, sheltered youth.
Although Belial spends a good portion of the film peeking out of the basket, when he is finally revealed he is a glorious combination of puppetry and stop/start animation. Some might decry this as “cheesy” or “unrealistic.” I have always thought make-up and puppetry is an art form that lends more tangibility than today’s onslaught of CGI. How “realistic” does a fleshy blob with fangs really need to be?
Add a splash of gore, the surprise of seeing a pile of skin with razor-sharp teeth attack unsuspecting victims, and an extremely memorable final fifteen minutes of film, and you have a reason to stamp Basket Case as one of the top films in the Cult Classic genre.
Written by Ryan Venson