Movie News & Reviews

Big Awful Friday: 'Basket Case' bloody, creepy yet moving

I spent much of my teens and early 20s combing video stores, which I hear still exist, for the weirdest little horror movies I could hunt down.

I think the idea was to find movies as strange as I felt. And to find out what would happen if a pro wrestler confronted mutant frogs for control of Earth's women.

And boy was that easy! It turns out that the world is filled with odd ducks and outcasts, many of whom have access to cameras, actors and fools with too much money. That's the only possible explanation for work like 1982's Basket Case.

Kevin Van Hentenryck comes to New York City carrying a basket, a monster and a serious grudge. Years ago, he and the creature were hurt by a team of doctors -- and now they're here to hunt them down.

So Basket Case. is kind of awful. The acting could be sold in bulk to Louisville Slugger. The monster is sometimes a rubber puppet and sometimes stop-motion, and it kills its victims by jiggling rapidly in their faces, suggesting its former career involved a lot of one-dollar bills and breakfasts at Denny's. The editing is slack and the budget is so small it could navigate your bloodstream while educating children about anatomy.

Yet writer/director/editor Frank Henenlotter's feature debut is also highly watchable. A large part of this is due to its structure, which expertly holds back on the plot's details until the movie is fully halfway over. Henenlotter is a natural storyteller. It's no wonder he went on to direct popular, venerated classics like Basket Case 2 , Basket Case 3 and Frankenhooker.

Just as important, Basket Case. owns a warped but warm little heart. The creature may look like a squashed octopus, and Van Hentenryck's hair appears to have been robbed from the corpse of Louis XIV, but if you can get past the exploity, dingy feel of the film, they provoke surprising sympathy. Well, maybe not that surprising, considering the creature's own father has wanted to kill it since birth. Then again, it is a horrible abomination that deserves to be sliced up and served on small rolls of rice for its shocking crimes.

At the same time, it's clear these two characters have only ever had each other -- one a pathetic miscreant, the other doomed to a life in its service. Anyone who has ever felt alone will be moved by that. Still, what kind of sicky makes movies like Basket Case. ? Heck if I know. I'm just glad they do.

* Contact Ed Robertson at edwrobertson@gmail.com.

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