Basket Case

cast: Kevin Van Hentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, and Beverly Bonner

director: Frank Henenlotter

90 minutes (18) 1982
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Tartan Grindhouse DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart

Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck) is a quiet country boy who has come to the big city armed only with some money and a wicker basket he carries with him everywhere. Softly spoken and polite, he’s the last person you’d expect to be a murderer. But Duane has a secret, a secret that follows him everywhere, a secret that’s trapped in the wicker basket…

A legendary piece of 1980s’ horror, Basket Case spawned two sequels and a cult following. Now re-released on DVD it’s interesting to see, not only why, but also how, the film has stood up to the test of time. The cult appeal is easy to spot. There’s a cheerful lack of subtlety to the whole thing and the performances range from dreadful to surprisingly passable with Van Hentenryck’s oddly tragic Duane the real standout. His backstory and the reason for the film is Grand Guignol of the highest order but by and large Van Hentenryck does a great job of finding both the humanity and the horror in the character. Of the other cast members, only Beverly Bonner as Casey, one of Duane’s neighbours stands out. She’s a pragmatic, compassionate, smart woman who finds herself in the middle of a horrific situation and Bonner’s honesty and wry charm raises every scene she’s in.

Of course, there’s a strong case for saying that a movie like Basket Case doesn’t need decent acting, or subtlety, or decent effects for that matter. And to some extent that’s true. However, there are moments that drag desperately here, moments where characters that should drip with menace and power simply fall flat and the film never quite recovers from them.

That being said, gore-hounds will find a lot to enjoy here. The various murders are inventive and cheerfully over the top (the murder of Duane’s father would make Road Runner proud, for example) and the revelation of what’s in the basket is both nicely done and shows that you really can do a lot with a little. There’s real inventiveness here and it helps the film immensely. Oddly, the effects, whilst clunky, are not what have dated the film (after all, they’re within sight of the stop-motion robot at the end of The Terminator and that still works even now). Instead it’s the style, the mannered acting and the locked off cameras that mark this out as very much a child of the 1980s.

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In the end though, Basket Case hasn’t aged well. What 25 years ago was subversive and energetic now seems staid and forced. The central idea is still a great piece of pulp horror (and I’m frankly amazed that the remake leviathan hasn’t seized on the Basket Case movies yet) but the film itself can no longer deliver the punch it once had. There’s still fun to be had here but the real bite of the movie is gone.