First published by EyeforFilm
Literature and cinema have long been filled with double-acts representing a personality’s repressed ego and monstrous id – think Jekyll and Hyde, Norman and Mrs Bates, Bruce Banner and the Hulk, ‘Jack’ and Tyler Durden, Mr Brooks and Marshall, Juzo Murasaki and No.13, to name but a few. Such odd couples, however, do not come odder than Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck), an outwardly normal-seeming if big-haired naïf, and Belial, the grotesquely misshapen twin brother that Duane occasionally lets out of the closet/basket to commit acts of murderous vengeance.
This pair’s – and writer/director Frank Henenlotter’s – feature debut Basket Case (1982) was an amiably batty slice (and dice) of genre madness destined to be worshipped at the psychotronic altar. No concidence, then, that the brothers’ unhinged vendetta unfolds in the same vibrantly sleazy inner-city New York – long since gentrified – where grindhouse and midnight movies once flourished. Half the joke of the film is that, for all their freakishness, Duane and Belial fit right in with all the metropolitan craziness around them.
Henenlotter revisited this duo nearly a decade later, moving them from urban demi-monde to suburban conformity in Basket Case 2 (1990), and then to the deep South in Basket Case 3: The Progeny (1992). These new milieux – in a rather different period – served only to emphasise the characters’ outsider status, and Henenlotter added many more deformed freaks to his menagerie in a subversive parody of conventional post-Reagan family values. With these changes came a decided shift from early-Eighties sleaze to early-Nineties cheese, so that Second Sight’s new Basket Case The Trilogy Boxset, available in triple Blu-ray or DVD editions, is a twin-era time capsule, offering a smorgasbord of freaky flavours to suit any palate accustomed to blithely bad taste.
Most importantly of all, the digital transfer respectfully renders visible what ageing theatrical prints of the first film (shot on 16mm and then cheaply blown up to 35mm) had for years obscured in murk. Strange to think that a film made 30 years ago has never looked so good.
© Anton Bitel