Sunday, 13 March 2016

basket case

basket case tells the story of duane bradley, a nice young man who takes up residence in a seedy new york hotel with a large basket as his only possession. in the basket he keeps his brother, belial. we later learn that the two of them were siamese twins, separated when duane was a child. belial survived the operation and now the two of them are seeking revenge against the doctors who forced their separation.

the first striking thing about basket case is that everything looks and feels kind of filthy. there's a realism to the hotel setting and the people who live there that has a visceral, grimy quality that you can almost smell. henenlotter's cast look like real people and his locations look like real locations. it's a similar quality to that of tobe hooper's texas chainsaw massacre except rather than the wilderness of the deep south, here we're exploring the seedy underbelly of new york city.

despite the small-scale feel of the film, most of which takes place in hotel rooms and offices, there is a sense of a larger world outside that duane is only afforded access to when he is separated from his brother. similarly, basket case explores some pretty epic themes for a film that is essentially focused on two characters. this is a film about the conflict between conformity and individuality. duane and belial were content existing as one, but because their father feared society would reject them they are forced to separate. it's the same idea as people having plastic surgery to conform to how society wants them to appear, except duane and belial aren't given a choice. this theme is enhanced by the setting and the cast of characters who all seem like broken people in some way or another, hiding out in the shadows where normal members of society fear to tread.

what's interesting about this theme is that it's hard to know who to sympathise with. on one hand, duane clearly wants to live his own life and his attempts at having a normal relationship reflect that. at the same time, belial is a tragic monster figure, more quasimodo than dracula, who embarks on this quest for revenge because of a genuine injustice that has ruined his life, and we want him to succeed.

there's also an interesting sex subplot, because belial repeatedly stands in the way of duane having sex and yet clearly has sexual desires himself. there is a reading of the film in which belial represents duane's sexual desire, which suggests the story could be a comment on sexual violence making duane even more of a tragic character, if one who is harder to sympathise with. there is also no doubt a reading of the film in which belial is literally duane's dick; a part of him he tries to keep locked away because when it comes out bad things happen. in that sense it's more a story of sexual repression rather than aggression. this is why the film is interesting, because there are big ideas and themes here and there are different ways to interpret them.

there is also a lot to enjoy here, particularly the low-fi effects work which includes some awesome stop-motion animation sequences. belial is an incredible creation and there is something about his dead eyes and gutteral scream that is both harrowing and life-like, despite the fact that his puppet-form looks dated by today's standards. there are also a few impressive murder scenes and henenlotter likes to hold on the gorier shots until they go from disturbing to hilarious then back to disturbing again.

basket case really represents everything there is to love about low-budget horror filmmaking. there's incredible creativity and talent onscreen that shines through the limitations, and it also has the capacity to explore some big and occasionally uncomfortable themes. the blu-ray is packed full of extras including some great interviews with henenlotter who seems rather perplexed by the continued success of this weird little film he made. i can clear that up for him. this is a film for anyone who feels like a freak or feels like they're on the outside of society looking in. this is a film about outcasts for outcasts, and i think it's great.

second sight will be releasing the basket case trilogy on blu-ray on 14 march 2016

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