If you are new to my Rewind Reviews, they are just my responses to rewatching movies that I watched as a kid. Today I’m going to talk about a (writer/director) Frank Henenlotter classic, Basket Case. Henenlotter is also known for Brain Damage (1988) and Frankenhooker (1990). I’ve seen those as well. I saw Frankenhooker as a kid, and just saw Brain Damage a few months ago as an adult. But this review will focus solely on Basket Case.
When I first got into B-movies I was in middle school and watched the edited for TV versions of them on USA “Up All Night”. Luckily for me they left a surprising amount of gore in there for TV (well basic cable). I think this is a great way for pre-teens and early teens to be introduced to horror. I wasn’t introduced to it that way. I saw “Alien” (1979) at the drive-in in my footie pajamas and watched John Carpenter’s “The Thing”(1982) at the movies too when I was in 1st grade. When my uncle took us to see E.T. (1982), I spent half the movie watching thru my fingers waiting for E.T. to kill Elliot. My young mind had learned from “Alien” and “The Thing” that that’s what aliens do, right? But for kids who haven’t been practically birthed into horror this is a great introduction to it until they build a tolerance for the scarier fare.
Anyway, “Up All Night” was a great way for kids (with cable in your room) to stay up watching B-Horror movies that have been edited for TV. I actually liked it better than Elvira, and Commander USA’s Groovy Movies. It showed some pretty high concept films like “La Planét Sauvage” aka “Fantastic Planet” (1973). However it mostly showed things like “Sorority Babes at the Slimeball Bowl-a-rama” (1988), “Ghoulies”(1985), and “Killer Klowns from Outer Space”(1988). I call it the golden age of foam latex practical F/X.
“Basket Case” is basically the perfect movie for a 13 year-old to watch at 1AM in the morning by themselves. It makes you feel like a big kid because you can watch a horror movie in the dark by yourself, but this movie isn’t scary at all so you can fall asleep on it or just after it ends. The opposite of this safe horror would be a movie like David Cronenberg’s “The Fly” (1986), which freaked out this sixth grader for a couple a days.
Some movies you think were cool as a kid, and then you watch them as a an adult and you’re like, this sucks so bad (Superman, 1978 I’m looking at you). This is NOT one of those movies. In fact I think I like this movie even more as an adult, because now I can understand more of the subtext of the story. Yeah the F/X are a little dated, but still engaging to me. For example I like how, even though Belial is basically a foam latex puppet he makes you care about him to an extent.
I think this is a combination of great story telling and the way they filmed his eyes as well as little touches one may not notice on the first viewing. If you look closely Belial is breathing. No seriously, they probably inserted an air pump to make it appear this way, but you can see him inhaling and exhaling. That little, not so noticeable touch does have an effect on making the audience suspend their disbelieve and accept him as alive.
That Duane and Belial’s story is told effectively through a flashback also makes the audience care about the drive of both characters to get revenge on the doctors who separated them and tried to kill Belial in the process. The climax of the film has Duane dreaming, yet actually seeing through Belial’s eyes. In the dream Duane is seen running down the street nude. One may assume that this is just gratuitous male frontal nudity, but I don’t. The film sets the viewer up to note that Belial is jealous of Duane’s budding relationship with the receptionist (in a fascinating blond wig). At first we are led to believe that it’s because Belial is afraid of Duane leaving him.
I think that there is a subtext in the film that goes deeper than that. Showing Duane’s reproductive organs highlights the major difference between he and Belial. Earlier in the film Belial is shown sneaking into Casey (their neighbor’s room) and beginning to sexually assault her. Casey runs screaming from the room, but that scene is really illustrating that just as Duane has discovered his budding sexuality, so has Belial. However Belial is frustrated that he cannot truly become sexual due to his physical state.
Back to Duane’s dream/psychic astral projection. Duane sees the secretary’s nude body under the sheets and at first his hands touching her, then he sees Belial’s hands touching her. He awakes and rushes over to her place to find that Belial has strangled her and still in the process of raping her. (With what? This I do not know, but her lower abdomen and crotch are covered in blood, and Belial is rocking back and forth on top of her. The rape is implied. Yet when Duane grabs Belial off of her, there are no sexual organs on Belial.) Duane yells at Belial and takes him back to the hotel they have been staying at. The film ends with Belial grabbing Duane by the jewels and throwing Duane and himself out of the window. I think the choice to have Belial grab Duane by his package also speaks to Belial’s sexual frustration.
Needless to say, all of this went right over my head as a kid, of course like I said I saw this edited, so I don’t even remember Duane running down the street nude or Belial raping the secretary. Anyway this is a B-movie with heart, and that is why I still enjoy it to this day. I look forward to getting the Blu-ray release of this movie with the extras.