Color, 1982, 91 mins. 14 secs.
Directed by Frank Henenlotter
Starring Kevin Van Hentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, Beverly Bonner, Robert Vogel, Diana Browne, Lloyd Pace
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Image Entertainment (Blu-ray and DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Second Sight (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Tartan (UK R0 PAL)

Basket Case

Basket CaseIn the seediest area of Times Square before its Disney clean-up, a young man named Duane (Van Hentenryck) arrives at the Hotel Broslin for an indefinite stay. With a mysterious wicker basket in tow, he checks in and goes to his room where he feeds something inside the basket a huge helping of hamburgers. However, there's something more sinister behind this scenario as it turns out Duane is actually hiding his separate Siamese twin, Belial, and the brothers have a gory vendetta in mind against the people responsible for separating them. Meanwhile, Duane pursues an awkward romance with a blonde receptionist (Smith) that may not sit well with his misshapen sibling.

Before he bred new generations of trash movie addicts at Something Weird Video and became the preeminent name in exploitation documentaries, New York City auteur Frank Henenlotter got his start back in the early '80s with Basket Case, which many critics pegged as the midnight movie alternative to its closest Hollywood contemporary, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Henenlotter immediately touted to the press his strong affinity to the films of goremeister Herschell Gordon Lewis, but the acting and photography are actually stronger than anything H.G. ever had at his disposal. Released unrated in theaters (though with fake R ratings affixed in certain territories), the film became a cult favorite among horror fans thanks to its inventive ad campaign, which included "free surgical keep the blood off your face." A strange, giddy, Basket Casehilarious, and sometimes gore-sprayed treat, it's the kind of film you can go back to over the years like an old friend, both for its seedy atmosphere and wonderfully sketched characters.

Basket CaseThe transfer for Image Entertainment's first DVD was taken from the same materials used for the laserdisc release, a huge improvement over the muddy-looking Media videotapes. The film underwent another face lift for a Something Weird 20th Anniversary special edition in 2001, with a more colorful transfer and a bounty of extras including a raucous commentary (with Henenlotter, producer Edgar Ievins, and actress Beverly Bonner with moderator Scooter McCrae), a retrospective "In Search of the Hotel Broslin" tour documentary with "R.A. the Rugged Man" that must be seen to be believed, a hilarious blooper reel, radio interviews with Terri Susan Smith (8m52s), and a sampler of Beverly Bonner’s public access TV work (7m21s). Also included are two juicy trailers and a TV spot.  The disc issued in the UK by Tartan is uncut but is missing much of this extra material.

In a nice surprise, Basket Case also marked the first jump to Blu-ray for Something Weird via Image (along with H.G. Lewis' Blood Trilogy), complete with a new HD transfer from the original 16mm negative. Henenlotter often refers to the film as visually ugly, but in fact, it looks shockingly good here; the film was always more atmospheric and skillfully shot than most people realized due to the shoddy theatrical prints, and it really shines here in its best presentation to date. Yes, it still has that grungy and grainy veneer, but the neon-soaked colors are often rich and appealing (especially the climax), and detail is much improved all around. The film also remains in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio in which it was filmed rather than clumsily matting it off to 1.85:1 as seen in theaters, though as Henenlotter points out in his amusing new video intro, that option was considered and then abandoned. The mono audio is what it is, of course. All of the extras apart from the Bonner Basket CaseTV snippets are retained along with the trailer for Basket Case 2.

The 2016 UK version from Second Sight (released first as a steelbook and then in standard casing) features the same transfer, albeit brightened a couple of notches perhaps too much for comfort, included as a boxed set of all three films in the series. Porting over the original Something Weird extras, that release also sports an interview with artist Graham Humpheys and a substantial David Basket CaseGregory documentary about the entire trilogy, "What's in the Basket?," featuring interviews with Henenlotter, Van Hentenryck, Bonner, Annie Ross, producers Edgar Ievans and James Glickenhaus, make-up effects artists John Caglione Jr, Kevin Haney, and Gabe Bartalos, and writer Uncle Bob Martin.

In 2018, Arrow Video brought the film back to American Blu-ray with massively expanded avalanche of extras and a fresh HD scan that opens with one of the greatest text cards in history for a horror title: "This film is from the collections of The Museum of Modern Art." That's right, MoMA restored and preserved the film for its artistic value in between Blu-ray releases, so here you get a nice 4K-sourced presentation from the original 16mm negative. Not surprisingly, this is the best the film has ever looked on home video with finer grain and heightened detail, with deeper blacks. The darker, grungier look is a significant departure from the smoother, more color boosted look of the past Blu-ray, so try comparing both for an interesting contrast. Most significantly, all of the past transfers featured a visible jump Basket Casewith every single cut, resulting in a frame or two visibly jerking and creating a subliminally bumpy viewing experience. Here those hundreds of rough edits have all been fixed, and it makes a major difference in sheer enjoyment of the film. As Henenlotter has pointed out in the past, he originally color timed the film to have a grayish blue look during the night scenes that was either minimized or removed in most release prints and some home video releases; here it's back in full force as with the first Blu-ray. (Frame grabs in the body of this review are from the Arrow, with comparison ones at the bottom.) The LPCM English mono audio is also in Basket Caseperfect shape and sounds great (especially when it comes to that fun Gus Russo score, recently given its first soundtrack release of any kind), with optional English SDH subtitles provided. The older commentary is ported over here, but you also get a new audio commentary with Henenlotter and Van Hentenryck that's well worth a listen as they go into detail about the scrappy production process, ideas that had to be thrown out due to funding and effects constraints, and the process of filming a naked night run in Tribeca. There's also a brief patch where the audio was apparently lost, so Henenlotter jumps in solo to fill the space.

The new video extras kick off with "Basket Case 3-1/2: An Interview with Duane Bradley" (8m30s), an amusing little new DV short with Henenlotter hauling out to upstate New York to catch up with Duane (Van Hentenryck), still in fine jittery form and working as a Woodstock shoe salesman. Belial, on the other hand, has been up to something more artistic... Van Hentenryck pops up again for the new "Me and the Bradley Boys" (16m24s) in which he goes into his own acting background, his approach to the psychology of Duane and Belial, and memories like Smith breaking her ankle. There's also a great photo-based demonstration of how they pulled off that climax, which was a lot more secure than it looks, and a priceless little send-off at the end. "A Brief Interview with Frank Henenlotter" Basket Case(3m50s) is... well, not exactly what it sounds like and very goofy, not to mention a hilariously NSFW Basket Caseending. "Seeing Double: The Basket Case Twins" (8m55s) features twin nurse actresses Florence and Maryellen Schultz, Henenlotter's cousins, extolling the joys of growing up with the director and picking up his perverted sense of humor, while "Blood Basket and Beyond" (6m4s) brings back Bonner for an updated look at her memories of the film including extensive screaming, a continuity problem involving a Band-Aid, and the "30 years later" comedy play she created about her character, Casey. The sepia-toned "The Latvian Connection" (27m33s) brings together new interviews with producer Edgar Ievins, casting person/actress Ilze Balodis, associate producer/effects artist Ugis Nigals and Belial performer Kika Nigals for a more traditional series of anecdotes about the film involving schoolmates, Belial puppetry, catering, and decades of enthusiastic fans. The one and only Joe Bob Briggs appears for "Belial Goes to the Drive-In" (6m55s) chatting about discovering the film at Cannes and bringing it to Texas for a premiere, with a little interjection from Ievans as well, while "Basket Case at MoMa" (37m12s) presents a 2017 Q&A panel from a screening with Henenlotter, Van Hentenryck, Bonner, the Shultzes, and Nigals swapping stories about fake blood, hamburgers, and shooting without permits. You'll also note some familiar names behind the scenes on the new extras, such as Scooter McCrea, Michael Gingold, and Bad Biology star Anthony Sneed. Also included are the full "What's in the Basket?" documentary (78m41s), "In Search of the Hotel Broslin" (16m8s), an outtake reel (6m13s), a new "The Frisson of Fission" visual essay (23m3s) by Travis Crawford covering the history of conjoined twins and the carny exploitation philosophy in cinema from Freaks through Sisters. Basket Case

Also included is a huge batch of separate galleries for promotional stills, behind the scenes shots, ephemera, advertisements, and home video releases, Basket Caseplus three theatrical trailers, a TV spot, and two amazing radio spots with that great surgical mask pitch. However, that's not at all! You also get the rare 1976 black-and-white Henenlotter short "The Slash of the Knife" (30m13s), which is referenced several times in the other extras and features much of the Basket Case cast including a barely glimpsed Van Hentenryck. The short also includes an optional commentary with Henenlotter and Mike Bencivenga, outtakes (5m30s), and an image gallery. A faux scare film about the plight of America's "forgotten uncircumcised," it's glorious and practically worth picking up the disc all by itself, functioning as a sort of dry run for Bad Biology complete with a "hot dog from hell" scarfing down booze and a bowl of oatmeal. Plus nobody can shoot a woman in lingerie scarfing down a wiener schnitzel covered in sauerkraut quite like Henenlotter. And then there's that ending... As our doctor narrator P. Smegma sums it up: "Disgusting. Shameful and disgusting." The trippy 2017 Robert Morgan animated short "Belial's Dream" (4m49s) is a squishy stop-motion depiction of a fever dream in the head of the title character, complete with a making-of featurette (2m6s) as well. The release comes with reversible sleeve options featuring new artwork by Sara Deck and, in the first pressing only, a liner notes booklet featuring an essay by Gingold.

Arrow Video (US Blu-ray)

Second Sight (UK Blu-ray)

Image Entertainment / Something Weird (US Blu-ray)

Image Entertainment / Something Weird (US DVD)

Updated review on March 11, 2018