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Don't Weave Me This Way: The Basket Case Trilogy Revisited
Andrew Stimpson , October 24th, 2012 05:28

Andrew Stimpson unravels Frank Henenlotter's low-budget Siamese twins saga, which is released as a triple-disc Blu-ray and DVD this week

In a nutshell, Basket Case is a story about separation anxiety. Duane Bradley (the gloriously curly-haired Kevin Van Hentenryck) keeps his terribly deformed Siamese twin Belial, separated from him by surgery when they were children, in a wicker basket. As they negotiate the New York landscape and its sleazy 42nd Street inhabitants in pursuit of their trauma-induced agenda, Belial occasionally escapes to wreak havoc, or is deliberately released to exact bloody revenge on the surgeons responsible for the separation.

Cue entertaining turns by a host of genuine New York characters played by actors and bit players drawn from the very streets where the shoot took place, and a riot of violence with innovative makeup and gore effects created on almost no budget by future Hollywood special effects artisan Kevin Haney.

Writer and director Frank Henenlotter has a glorious record for making original and humorous cult horror features that revolve around, and were filmed against, the backdrop of the colourful and frightening area of 42nd Street in the 1980s: home to grindhouse cinemas, fleapit flophouses, aggressive pimps and sordid sex shows.

As well as the Basket Case trilogy Henenlotter's achievements include the exploding prostitute romance Frankenhooker (1990) and the hilariously demented, penile alien brain slug/drugs metaphor rampage Brain Damage (9188), but it is his 1982 debut Basket Case that he remains best known for.

Although the first film in the trilogy was an obscure work it gained notoriety and a substantial cult following thanks to the burgeoning home video market. So great was the clamour for more from Henenlotter that, following the modest success of Brain Damage, producer Edgar Ievins stumped up a massive $2.5 million budget for a sequel.

1990's Basket Case 2, in which Duane and Belial find solace of sorts in a home for the deformed, lacks the grit and grain of the original but exceeds it in terms of sheer grotesquery and out-and-out comedy. Belial finds love in the arms of a fellow freak, but Duane struggles to cope with the loss of his brother's reliance. Much hilarity, gore and unseemly copulation ensue.

Basket Case 2 was a breakout hit, earning back its budget several times over and causing producer Ievins to green-light a third episode. In Basket Case 3: The Progeny, a roadtrip with the occupants of the home and Belial's new family turns bad when a local sheriff takes a dislike to the freakish community and places Belial's brood in jeopardy. Henenlotter freely admits that he was running short on ideas by this point, but he hit paydirt by slotting in a musical number and not holding back on the baby Belials.

Fresh off their success with the tremendous Return of the Living Dead Blu-ray, Second Sight have issued all three Basket Case movies in a fine collection. The only previous UK editions of the second and third instalments were shoddy, cropped releases. This has been remedied with a pair of sparklingly clean transfers accompanied by all new Frank Henenlotter interviews, in which he celebrates the success of the increasingly (if that's even possible) bizarre plot turns and bemoans the studio-inflicted toning down of the violence in Basket Case 3: The Progeny.

Two decades have now passed and Henenlotter has resisted numerous offers of funding for a fourth picture. However, he does hint in the bonus material that he has had an idea, so we may yet see Belial ride the basket again.

Basket Case - The Trilogy is out now on Blu-ray and DVD via Second Sight Films.