Basket Case 3: The Progeny first published by EyeforFilm
From the instant that Frank Henenlotter’s feature debut Basket Case (1982) had become a Midnight Movie hit there was considerable pressure on the writer-director to come up with a sequel. But Henenlotter resisted for eight years, until he was finally persuaded by a two-for-one production deal that would also secure him financing for Frankenhooker (1990). Yet, if this is even longer than the six-year gestation of monstrous baby Bernard in Basket Case 2 (1990), then the second sequel was much faster in coming – a quickie turned over just two years later, and following from its predecessor as surely as unprotected sex between freakish prodigies leads to a strange brood.
Basket Case 3: The Progeny opens, hilariously, with a recap of the previous film’s final five minutes – which is to say that the very first thing we see in this trilogy closer is the graphic spectacle of fellow mutants Belial and Eve rutting away in a sexual position that would, well, just not be possible for ‘normal’ humans to accomplish. It’s so wrong that it’s right, setting the sick tone for a franchise entry that, though Henenlotter’s least favourite, is by a long way the craziest of the three.
Indeed, besides fraternity, paternity and family, craziness forms a major theme here. “Hello, I’m ok now,” declares a chirpy Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck) in the film’s first new scene, “I’m back in control, I’m a-ok, no problems” – yet the padded cell in which he sits suggests otherwise, as does the straitjacket that he will not stop wearing for the next 30 minutes of the film. After manically stitching himself back to his evil twin at the end of Basket Case 2, Duane has once again been separated from Belial, not just because the strings that briefly attached them have been removed, but also because an indignant Belial has shut him out entirely.
In any case, with Eve heavily pregnant, Belial has other things on his mind – to wit, bizarre sexual fantasies involving twin strippers who recite Shakespearean sonnets, Euclidean geometry and Internal Revenue subclauses! So Granny Ruth (Annie Ross), benefactress to misunderstood monsters (and herself of questionable sanity), decides to take her extended family on a bus down South to Uncle Hal (Dan Biggers), the only doctor she can trust with overseeing Eve’s delivery. In movies, however, the South has never taken particularly kindly to ordinary New Yorkers, let alone to grotesquely aberrant, outsize ones – and so, as the local police react disproportionately to the newcomers in their midst, Belial and Duane will come together again in acts of outlandish brotherly vengeance. Meanwhile, reunited with Little Hal (Jim O’Doherty) – the ‘special’ son she had once rejected – Ruth will discover a new militancy, and let the monsters out of the closet.
On the bus trip to Uncle Hal’s, Ruth stops at a drugstore to buy items for her ensemble: toys, medication, dog chews and prophylactics (“do any of these come in extra large?”). These purchases encapsulate the hybrid nature of her wards, falling somewhere between children, invalids and animals – with decidedly active sex lives, and babies aplenty on the way. Yet for all this menagerie’s strangeness, the normal-seeming Duane is in fact the odd(est) one out, while even the smalltown sheriff’s daughter (Tina Louise Hilbert) turns out, for all the prim conservativeness of her appearance, to be a tattooed, whip-wielding bondage queen. Here, normality is relative, while batshit comes on tap – whether it is Ruth & co. breaking into a song-and-dance version of Price Logan’s Personality, or a near-dozen baby Belials wreaking infant havoc, or an injured Belial duelling the local sheriff (Gil Roper) in a lo-fi mecha. No matter that the humour is uneven when there is so much jaw-dropping insanity to spare.
Now, some two decades later again, Henenlotter claims to be ready for Basket Case 4. After the original’s sleaze and the two sequels’ cheese, perhaps it is high time for Duane and Belial to bring the 21st century some more wicked wicker.
© Anton Bitel
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