Basket Case 2
Review Date: October 21, 2009
Released by: Synapse Films
Release date: 10/30/2007
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes
is exactly the type of movie that I loved discovering when I was in eighth and ninth grade. All through my youth I loved going into the video rental store and looking at the covers, just as I know many of you reading this also did. Of course, unlike most of you that was all that I could do because my parents didn’t want me watching most horror films made after 1975 because they were too violent and grotesque. It wasn’t until I was fourteen years old that chinks in their armor started to come off and they let me rent Dawn of the Dead
. From there I managed a respectable number of modern horror rentals until my parents became convinced that these were behind my increasingly rebellious teenage behavior and pulled the plug for another year or so.
I managed to get in Return of the Living Dead
, Day of the Dead
, Prom Night
and a handful of others before that happened. Ironically, in spite of what I wrote above, and in spite of the fact that I remember seeing both Basket Case
and Basket Case 2
on the video store shelves, it would be many years and well into the advent of the DVD age before I caught up with either. The original film is a grindhouse classic with a well-established reputation, but how does its sequel stack up coming some eight years afterwards? Keep reading and find out.
We pick up not long after the events of the original Basket Case
, as Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck
) and his deformed brother Belial are rushed to a hospital after falling out of their third floor hotel room window. The media are having a field day with the story and the police are only just starting to unravel the events that took place in the first film. At the hospital the Bradleys are kept sedated under police guard, and Belial is chained up. But when the deformed little creature suddenly comes to he breaks free of his chains and uses his telepathic abilities to summon Duane out of his unconsciousness. They kill the police guard and sneak out of the hospital, where a blue van drives up to them. A kindly looking old woman named Granny Ruth (Annie Ross
) and her pretty granddaughter Susan (Heather Rattray
) call them by name and convince the two to join them, and they drive off into the night.
Ruth is a psychiatrist who used to run a commune out west for deformed human beings like Duane and Belial, a place where freaks were afforded a place where they could live their lives in dignity away from the gawking of the outside world. Now officially retired from such work, Ruth maintains a house on Long Island where she and Susan still care for a number of freaks in secret. Duane and Belial’s deceased aunt had often consulted Ruth for help caring for the two, and when she and Susan saw the reports on television they decided to go to the hospital and try to rescue them.
A year passes, and although Duane and Belial’s physical injuries have mostly healed their emotional scars still persist. Belial seems fairly happy in the house and even seems to have made one of the other freaks into his girlfriend, but Duane is feeling lonely and isolated in the home. He isn’t enough of a freak to feel kinship with the other residents and with Belial no longer dependent upon him he yearns to leave. He is also in love with Susan and wants her to leave with him, but she refuses. But Duane’s plans are disrupted when a tabloid news reporter (Kathryn Meisle
) learns that he and his brother are in the house. With their way of life threatened, the entire household has a choice to make – do they run from the world again...or do they fight back?
The difference between Basket Case
and Basket Case 2
can be summed up quite simply: the first film works much better as a midnight movie than as a horror film, and the second movie works much better as a horror film than as a midnight movie. This is not a trivial difference, because, despite all its blood and gore and despite all of the surprising qualities that Frank Henenlotter imbued it with, the original film really didn’t work very well when viewed purely as a horror movie. The Belial puppet rarely worked well enough to be truly menacing, the gore and make-up effects were not convincing, and the amateurish acting and technical problems constantly pulled us out of the story and reminded us that we were watching a very low budget film. But put Basket Case
in front of a late night theatrical audience and Henenlotter’s uniquely warped vision really starts to shine and find an appreciation. It is for these audiences that its flaws as a horror film stop becoming liabilities and become part of the experience.
But with Basket Case 2
, Henenlotter had to tread a different path than he did with the original film. The original was made on a (mostly self-financed) budget of $30,000 with a very small crew. Although it initially went into theaters in a cut form that removed most of the gore, poor returns at the box office eventually persuaded the distributor to release it uncut where it began to rake in money. By financing it the way he did and lucking out with the distributors that he did, Henenlotter was able to get away with truly grotesque and unbelievable things.
Unfortunately filmmaking is as much a business as an art, and in order to move up with Basket Case 2
compromises were clearly necessary. The fact that Henenlotter had a much, much bigger budget here (some $2.5 million if one believes the IMDb) is obvious from the first few minutes of the film, when footage from the end of the original is shown before transitioning into the main story. Henenlotter’s grainy 16mm photography transforms into the beautiful, polished look that only 35mm could achieve at the time. The Belial puppet is much improved, and in fact, all the make-up and creature effects are much better than anything Henenlotter could have managed in the first film. The only thing that’s missing is the outrageousness of the original. In this DVD’s making-of featurette executive producer Jim Glickenhaus talks about taking this film and Frankenhooker
(they were shot back to back) to the MPAA, and from his comments I think it’s safe to assume that Henenlotter was contractually obligated to deliver both films with an ‘R’ rating.
Basket Case 2
is legitimately successful in building an atmosphere of dread and suspense, and pulls off several truly unsettling horror set pieces, perhaps the most effective of which is late in the film when Duane confronts a private detective (a friend of the tabloid reporter, sent by her to investigate the death of her cameraman, who met his end in another very effective and frightening scene) in a run-down little bar late at night. As Duane and the detective talk we see other patrons walking by their booth or shuffling about in the background, seemingly normal barflies for a dumpy watering hole. Only when Henenlotter cuts to an angle where we see the somewhat misshapen head of a person sitting in the booth behind Duane do we start to realize what is going on. The real bartender and his patrons are dead, and the bar is filled with nothing but Granny Ruth’s freaks. Needless to say, the gumshoe doesn’t live long.
In many ways the film feels reminiscent of Tod Browning’s Freaks
, a classic film showcasing the physically odd and deformed. Like that movie, Basket Case 2
goes out of its way to make the point that freaks are people with real human needs and emotions – and then turns them into bloodthirsty monsters. Browning’s film has received a lot of flack over the years for taking its freakish characters and, after establishing their very real humanity, using them as villains in the end when they take revenge. Some have felt that such an ending contradicted the earlier part of the film, and in any case, in today’s politically correct world using a person with a physical deformity they can’t control as a beast just won’t do. In my mind though there’s never been a contradiction. The fact that the deformed characters of Freaks
and Basket Case 2
are both feeling creatures and bloodthirsty killers makes them more
human, not less. There is no inherent nobility that comes from having a physical deformity. If there is nobility there it comes from the character and heart of the person affected. The politically correct minds want us to know that freaks are just like the rest of us inside, with all the same emotions. But if they have the same emotions as us then they are just as susceptible to rage, to jealousy, to violence as the rest of us, and just as capable of succumbing to a mob mentality. The films do not put freaks on a pedestal. If they are just like us on the inside, then that means they are no better than us.
It is because of this that Basket Case 2
succeeds in the same way that the original succeeded, by exploring deeper issues and letting us empathize with the characters and their plights. This sequel is not quite as successful in that respect as the original, but it is still a worthy successor to Henenlotter’s original vision and, like that original, comes highly recommended.
The film is presented letterboxed at 1.78:1 and is enhanced for 16x9 displays. This new progressive transfer makes the film literally shine, with bold colors and a crisp, sharp image. Blacks are deep and true, with reasonable shadow detail. Grain is fairly noticeable in many dark scenes, but there is only a small amount of speckling, scratching and dirtiness on display here. As good as the original Basket Case
may have looked when Something Weird released it on DVD, Synapse has here upped the ante with a transfer that brings out every startling detail of the sequel’s more elaborate and more expensive special effects.
If the Dolby 2.0 Stereo track here is not as much of a revelation as the video restoration is, then the worst that can be said about it is that it doesn’t hold the presentation back. Music, dialogue and sound effects are expertly reproduced with no audible distortion or background noise getting in the way.
Although not as packed as some Synapse discs, we do get two featurettes included here that give a reasonable overview of the making of the film. The first featurette is called Beyond the Wicker
and was directed and edited by Gabe Bartalos, who did the special effects make-up for both this film and for Frankenhooker
. Bartalos seems to have shot this piece on his own volition and it lacks the slick polish of many “making-of” pieces, but at least he gives it an earnest attempt, pulling together many behind the scenes photographs and old video footage from the set of both films. He also interviews Henenlotter and executive producer Jim Glickenhaus, who tells an amusing story of how he beat Jack Valenti and the MPAA when they tried to give Frankenhooker
an ‘X’ rating.
The second featurette is called The Man in the Moon Mask
. Running just over six minutes, it gives us an interview with actor David Emge (Dawn of the Dead
), who plays a freak in the film who has a grotesque moon shaped head. Emge talks about the experience of wearing a mask that made his features unrecognizable and working with the make-up and effects people, how he got involved in the project and about working with Frank Henelotter. He doesn’t have a whole lot to say about the movie since he was only involved with a small part of it, but he is certainly interesting to listen to.
Basket Case 2
is a worthy successor to Henenlotter’s original film, and this DVD from Synapse is a worthy addition to the DVD library of anyone who enjoys horror from the late 80’s and early 90’s. While there may be a lack of significant special features on this release, the excellent video and audio presentation still makes it an essential buy for modern horror fans.
Movie – B+
Image Quality – A-
Sound – B+
Supplements – B-
- Running Time – 1 hour 30 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- Dolby 2.0 Stereo
- Beyond the Wicker featurette
- The Man in the Moon Mask featurette