A Very Brief History and a Celebratory Review of Basket Case (1982) for it’s 40th Birthday [This review may contain spoilers]

Julia Alvarado

On April 7, 1982, a 91 minute film with a budget of $35,000 was released into the world from the mind of writer and director Frank Henenlotter, a self described “exploitation” filmmaker from New York. Guided by Henenlotter’s careful eye, the film “Basket Case” paints an unsettling but incredibly accurate depiction of Manhattan in the 1980s—gritty, dangerous, drugs flooding the streets, the AIDS epidemic spreading like wildfire, homelessness skyrocketing. 1980s New York rode on a constant undercurrent of fear, and Henenlotter never once shies away from that. “Basket Case” is a classic case of a movie—so bad, it’s good. But unlike a lot of movies aiming for that description, “Basket Case” obtains it with exceptional earnestness.

Shot scene by scene over the course of a year, Henenlotter himself says the movie was really never meant to be seen by anybody—thank goodness it was, though. In all its shabby glory, “Basket Case” has become a beloved cult classic, even being restored in a well-done 4k scan by the Museum of Modern Art.

With a shoestring budget and an amateur cast and crew, this movie tells a wonderfully ridiculous horror comedy story. It chronicles the story of Duane Bradley and his formerly conjoined twin brother, Belial, who was forcibly removed from Duane’s side when the two were children. As adults, Duane and Belial head to the big city to seek revenge on the doctors who separated them.

The movie is a delightful mess of bright red blood, mediocre acting, ramshackle sets, and some truly…creative line delivery. By all accounts, it’s a bad movie. What gives it its charm is not its objective goodness, but rather its collection of goofy characters, hilarious acting choices, and of course, the deformed, basket dwelling Belial.

It’s an exceptional movie made by a tight knit little group for the sheer sake of making a movie, and all the love behind it really shows. It’s hard to properly articulate just how absurdly special the film is to those who haven’t had the pleasure of seeing it. It’s a bold movie, Frank Henelotter says, “Exploitation films have an attitude more than anything—an attitude that you don’t find with mainstream Hollywood productions. They’re a little ruder, a little raunchier, they deal with material people don’t usually touch on…”

 Exploitation films exist to provide an unfiltered look into a niche topic, do something beautifully authentic and unpolished and not shy away from anything—and that is the exact charm of “Basket Case.” It’s a superb little cult classic that packs a boat load—or rather, a basket load of charm. It’s a solid ⅘ paws.