Duane Bradley arrives in New York with little more in his possession beyond a suspiciously large, wicker basket. Duane is clearly an awkward, naive soul. He smiles and engages with strangers, checks into the first motel he can find and, surrounded by seedy looking people, produces a huge wad of cash out of his pocket to pay for his room without a second thought. This is obviously someone who doesn’t belong in the big city.
But Duane’s seeming sweet naivete belies a sinister motive. Duane and his former siamese twin, Belial, aren’t in the city to sight-see. They are there to unleash horrific vengeance against the doctors that forcefully separated the two boys against the brothers will and then left deformed Belial to die. Their righteous cause gets a little complicated, however, when Duane’s budding romance with a local nurse drives a wedge between the two brothers.
Yeah, yeah, movie. It’s supposed to be horrific. But all I can think about here is that their shirt-alteration budget had to have been huge.
Basket Case has attained cult movie status over the years and is a classic example of what some call “guerilla filmmaking.” All the production staff had was a small wad of cash (apparently what Duane pulled out of his pocket) and a dream to make a movie….and absolutely no permits to shoot anything. So they literally ran around New York and rushed through all their scenes as quickly as possible before any authorities could be called or show up to question them.
This would explain the often sub-par quality of some of the outdoor shots when compared to the much better shot indoor scenes. Many of the outdoor scenes come off as poorly framed and a bit jerky at times. Which makes sense when you consider that everyone was probably literally looking over their shoulders checking for wandering policemen. I like to believe there was someone on hand at all times to yell “SKATTER” if anyone wearing blue happened to walk by. I don’t know about you, but these are clearly my kind of cheap-ass filmmakers.
Look on the bright side. You’re still seeing more of New York City than you do in Friday the 13th Part 8: Jason Takes A Long-Ass Boat Ride and Spends Two Minutes In Time Square.
They had more important things to spend their meager budget on, namely how to deal with the scenes involving their titualar star, Belial. For the most part, Belial is either some kind of a puppet (or in some instance a rubber glove worn by the director). But it’s the scenes where he needed to get around that are far more entertaining. You see, with such a small budget there was no way they could build elaborate sets to facilitate a puppet and puppeteer. And if they couldn’t even afford a permit to shoot at the Statue of Liberty, there was no way could they afford any kind of robotics. So, this being the dark days before the use of CGI, they went with the next best thing: stop-motion. These scenes are surprisingly fluid and well animated, which is impressive enough. But it’s made even more impressive when you take into consideration how time consuming such effects are to produce, especially when you’re on a budget with a strict timeline.
As for the human characters, their performances can vary. Some come off as too monotone, while others are a bit over-the-top. However, the ones who fall in the later category fit in better with the films campy tone. And despite some of the characters performances, and some stereotypical roles, just about everyone manages to be fairly memorable. Duane’s inexperience, skinny-kid naivite is charming. The girlfriend is expressive, if not a bit over eager to get to know this new guy in her life. The hotel manager is constantly pissed and complaining about the tenants, often forced to run up and down the stairs at a moments notice. There’s the nosey neighbor who’s willing to share every tidbit of info she knows as soon as she sees you and then promptly ditch you when she’s done. There’s another neighbor who’s constantly snooping and looking for a free ride. And finally, there’s Casey, the hooker with a heart of gold who seems to be the only one who gives a damn about Duane and genuinely wants to help the poor fish-out-of-water. Or at least, that’s how she feels right up until she meets his brother.
The other side-characters also fill their roles admirably, even the ones who have no lines. And here, while I’m thinking about it, I must give the movie credit for something else. Mainly for trying to show that New Yorkers aren’t all uninterested assholes. For primarily taking place in a cheap, $20-a-night, seedy motel filled with a bunch of oddballs, all of the tenants and staff seem remarkably willing to rush to help at the nearest sign of distress. I was actually a little surprised. In any other movie people would have just been peeking out their doors and looking down the hall. So, kudos, Basket Case, for not falling into that one stereotype.
But just the one. When it comes to the others you hit just about every pothole in the road.
Basket Case has a lot of distinctive grindhouse and exploitative influences and it shows. The film not only feels grungy and grainy, even when the picture itself is perfectly crisp, but it’s also drenched in copious amounts of blood. If Belial took up half the effects budget, than corn syrup took up the other half. People are torn in half, have their faces mauled to pulp, and are punctured with a surplus of scalpels. This is far from a clean set.
And as for the nudity….Well, to be perfectly honest, there was far less nudity here than I thought there was going to be considering the type of film this is. For a film with a character who’s a hooker, they manage to hold off on crossing that line until the last ten minutes or so. But don’t get too excited, though. Cause half of what they show you ends up coming from Duane running down the street naked, which, by that point in the film, is not what anyone was asking for. Ever.
Although, when one considers their ‘guerilla-style filmmaking’, this scene takes on an unintentionally hilarious angle.
So is Basket Case any good? Well, it’s shlockly fun, I’ll give you that. It does an excellent job showcasing the grundgy underbelly that infested Times Square before the mid-90s clean up. It also does a good job of making you feel for the characters, even the murderous, little Belial at times. The acting may not be the best and the technical limitations are more than obvious, but it’s got a lot of heart and still manages to be remarkably entertaining. If you like your horror films with a coat of grime then Basket Case may be right up your ally.
Basket Case is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.