Mike’s Review: Basket Case (1982)

★★★ out of ★★★★★
Directed by Frank Henelotter.

Everybody had to start somewhere. Alien ripped off The Green Slime. Child’s Play ripped off Magic. Piranha ripped off Jaws. And everyone ripped off Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this year’s weirdo “it” film Malignant is a ripoff, but we’re here to tell you it is. 

Who’d have thought that the utterly vile and downright repugnant Belial could be ripped off but he has been. While James Wan’s liberal use of the Basket Case story is up for debate, the greatness of this 1980s pile of sleaze certainly ain’t. 

If you’ve never seen Basket Case, or your VHS copy has been lost to the sticky sands of time, it’s high time you check out this wild and weird brotherly symbiosis. Shot almost entirely in what looks to be one of the more derelict buildings in NYC at the height of the grindhouse era, Basket Case follows the well meaning Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck, Basket Case II and Basket Case III) and his telekinetically connected brother Belial. 

ATMOSfx! Woo!
I think Belial needs another burger.

Problem is Belial, who resembles the modern day poop emoji with arms, is relegated to a wicker basket. Duane loves, cares, and feeds his brother, but their already complicated relationship takes a turn for the turbulent as they set out to find the crooked MDs that physically separated their grotesque union. 

Unlike 2021’s Malignant, who my podcasting partner described as “…the sloppy drunk Auntie of horror movies. It meanders along confusingly for the first two thirds of the movie, and then goes preposterously entertaining for a brief spell, and then closes with a logic defying conclusion.” Basket Case is your super drunk Uncle, who shows up drunk, doesn’t leave, and is just as crazy when he arrives as when he leaves. There’s no on-ramp to Basket Case. It decidedly drops you in the fast lane with no exit available. 

Duane frantically works to keep the peace with Belial. Feeding him hundreds of hamburgers and assuring him that they will be able exact revenge on the questionable doctors and nurses that failed them. They do succeed with bloody excess, but their successes come at a cost to Duane’s already fragile psyche. 

Duane, and to a certain extent Belial, fall magically in love with young-ish ladies, but their psychic connection creates tensions in their connected reality. When Duane lays one on his betrothed it’s Belial that goes wild by sending screeching and caterwauling noises across Duane’s brainwaves. 

What Basket Case touches on is the difficulty brought to all relationships. The push and the pull, the conflicts, and the desires. When this balancing act is forced to collectively grapple with revenge-filled aspirations you see the simultaneous failings and glories of a committed relationship. 

While not a spoiler alert per se, there is a Basket Case II and III. Belial will not be tucked away in a crappy wicker basket. He’s slithery, slimy, and relentless. Weirdly, he’s also kind of cute — or at the very least sympathetic. Much like Belial contending with the mighty Blob in our recent live performance of the Monster Movie Bracket Fight, things don’t end well for him, but at the end of the day you should never count him out. 

If you’ve been hankering to catch a glimpse of the seedier side of NYC in the early 1980s, or the seedier side of grindhouse-era horror film making, then Basket Case is for you. It might not satisfy any intellectual curiosities, but it’ll be a hell of a fun time. 

Basket Case is Rated R and available everywhere for streaming.

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