Basket Case~ 1982, Frank Henenlotter
Basket Case is the debut full length motion picture from Frank Henenlotter. It’s gritty, trashy, bloody, it’s a real classic. There’s also more going on under the hood in Basket Case than you might find in some of it’s 80’s grindhouse contemporaries, and it deserves reverence and praise all day and all night. I love this movie, and it’s nice when there’s something to talk about in these reviews.
THE PLOT: Basket Base follows Duane, a lanky geek with giant hair and a flannel shirt, as he saunters awkwardly around the Big Apple carrying a large wicker basket. As you can imagine, the first pretty girl he meets wants to get herself a piece of that.
There he is! Nothing weird going on there!
Duane predictably puts the attractive Susan on lock-down for future wrong-side-business. Little does Susan know, however, the contents of Duane’s giant nerd basket, or his mission in New York City… Duane was actually born with a conjoined twin, a monstrously deformed one, named Belial… Their parents made it very clear that they would love all their children equally when they chose to give the ugly one a Hebrew name meaning “worthless,” known to be the name of a particularly loathsome demon in the Catholic faith… Well, if the lopsided affections they had for their offspring wasn’t apparent from day one, things probably came into focus a little more for little Belial and Duane when mom and dad hired a team of doctors to come out to the house, separate the two, presumably killing Belial (but who cares), and then tossed Belial’s corpse into the trash. Secretly, he survives, though, and now he and Duane are grown up and in New York on a quest to track down each of the doctors responsible for their separation, so that Belial can maneuver his surprisingly mobile abomination of a body over and kill the shit out of them with his lumpy, deformed claws. So yeah, that giant, weirdo basket? That’s how Duane carries Belial around.
That’s him. He’s a total dick.
So, that’s pretty much the the movie. Other stuff happens, but that’s the set up.
So, here’s what’s special, beyond all the grue and the grit; what Henelotter has done here is to tell a story by bisecting the the human ego. In effect, Duane and Belial are the same character, with Duane making up the uncorrupted inner child, and Belial representing the parts of us that carry the burden of anger, fear, resentment, hate, and grudge. Belial is everything ugly inside of us all, smooshed into one angry little wad. He’s everything we need to learn to let go of in order to live a happy, healthy lives. At the beginning of the film, Duane’s commitment to Belial is absolute, but as he comes to see what his life could be without all the baggage, and as he starts to form new relationships, his dedication wanes, and he’s nearly able to let go of all these toxic emotions that have taken him down his destructive path… Only, by then, it’s too late.
In the end, the movie is about letting go of your Darth Vader and finding a way to hold onto your Anakin, because hate is destructive for all parties involved. What a positive message for a movie with full frontal (male) nudity and heaps of monster on human violence. Show this to your children.
This interesting dynamic of separating the human ego and exploring the resulting relationship is something Henenlotter would also play with in Brain Damage and Bad Biology, as well as in the two Basket Case sequels, albeit to a lesser extent… The sequels are not great, but this one sure is.