Frank Henenlotter’s debut. In New York City, Duane carries his mutant conjoined twin Belial around in a wicker basket as the pair hunt down the doctors who separated them.
An exploitation film in the Herschell Gordon Lewis vain, Basket Case proffers copious amounts of blood and gore, heightened performances, and dark comedy. I wanted to like it more.
I loved the New York City locations. Duane walks along 42nd Street, past the Grindhouse theaters playing Kung Fu and porn flicks to settle in a flophouse hotel that feels so seedy you can almost smell the urine. When possible, Henenlotter stages interior shots to feature a window showcasing the cityscape.
And I appreciated the “throw it against the wall and see what sticks” attitude Henenlotter employs. If a scene isn’t scary enough, add comedy. If it isn’t funny enough, add gore. And if all else fails, add sleaze.
But you sense Henenlotter making it up as he goes. The aforementioned attitude results in a tonal see-saw and while his ingenuity and commitment to exploitation shine with bits like Belial’s stop motion animation and the gory murders, it can’t paper over the shortcomings in plot and pace.
For example, the revenge story never engages on a visceral or emotional level because we don’t learn the motive until the quest nears completion. And the transition from close-knit camaraderie to murderous conflict between the brothers also lacks resonance because of its abrupt pacing.
Thus, Basket Case underwhelms. Henenlotter knows what audiences want and delivers memorable scenes with immersive atmosphere. But he’s still finding his voice and learning how to craft a well-paced narrative.