Basket Case 2 (1990) [Blu-ray review]

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2016-08-06 06:32

Basket Case 2 (1990)
Studio: Synapse Films
Release date: August 9th, 2016

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)

The movie:

It’s hard to accuse Frank Henenlotter of simply dipping back into the well for Basket Case 2. Not only did the sequel arrive a whole eight years after the original, but it also refuses to simply retrace that film’s steps. As a sequel, it diverts pretty wildly from its predecessor in nearly every way imaginable, save for its investment in the bizarre relationship between its twin brother protagonists. And yet, it’s a completely worthy and interesting follow-up, almost certainly more so than any half-hearted standard attempt would have been. In most cases, it’s much more rewarding to see a filmmaker to follow their instincts, no matter how bizarre they might seem.

In this case, Henenlotter’s instincts are downright weird. Picking up exactly where the original left off, it opens with Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck) and his brother Belial being scraped off the New York City pavement after their wicked fall from a seventh-story hotel room. Even though it looked like a definitively fatal plunge in the first movie, this one reveals that both brothers miraculously survived. What’s more, after a short stint in the hospital, they’re perfectly capable of sneaking away and falling off the radar, much to the bewilderment of both local authorities and the press. Unbeknownst to them, Duane and Belial receive unexpected help in the form of Granny Ruth (Annie Ross) and her granddaughter Susan (Heather Rattray), who operate a haven for other freaks and outcasts.

After lying low for several years, Duane and Belial become infamous, particularly in the realm of tabloid newspapers who refuse to keep them out of the headlines. When an obsessed reporter Marcie Elliot (Kathryn Meisle) begins to poke around, it spells trouble for the brothers, whose relatively peaceful existence is threatened by outsiders.

Obviously, the dynamic is a bit different this time around since the trouble comes to Duane and Belial rather than the other way around. From a narrative perspective, Basket Case 2 is a bit looser than its predecessor, which was fairly well focused on revealing the mysterious nature of the brothers’ relationship as it intertwined with their revenge plot. Here, the two are pretty well settled, save for Duane’s desire to leave the freak sanctuary with Susan and start a normal life without his brother. Her hesitance to leave causes the tension for a subplot that recalls Tod Browning’s Freaks.

In many ways, this aspect of the film feels more like a dark fantasy film more than straight-up horror. Henenlotter’s sympathy for this bunch of latex freaks is obvious, and hanging out with them simply to observe the marvelous effects work is a delight. If nothing else, Basket Case 2 is catnip for those enthralled by creature designs and make-up effects—each and every monster carries a lived-in quality that makes you wonder about their lives beyond this particular movie. You can imagine any number of cool monster movies starring these creatures—it’s sort of like Nightbreed, albeit without the cool, unifying mythology to tie them all together.

However, you can sense that Henenlotter knows he can’t stretch an entire movie out of simply echoing Freaks, so he has the tabloid reporter’s investigation eventually intersect in order to introduce the more overt horror elements. Nearly the film’s entire body count piles up from this, and, in true sequel fashion, Belial claims even more victims this time around as Marcie enlists a chatty photographer and a local sheriff to help. Despite this, Basket Case 2 doesn’t feel more outrageously violent than the original film—there’s a hint of restraint here, almost as if Henenlotter is working up to the most explicit stuff during the climax (compare this to the original Basket Case, where the blood sprays early and often).

The tempered violence is reflective of the sequel as a whole: where Basket Case is an all-time great scummy, grimy New York City movie, the sequel moves out to the city’s more pastoral outskirts. With the move comes a more polished final product; obviously, Basket Case 2 is still operating on a low budget, but its seams are much less noticeable than the original’s. In particular, the camera movement and editing feel a little less ragged and jagged, and the lighting—which often creates an otherworldly atmosphere—is in stark contrast to the first film’s more natural look.

If I’m being honest, though, I prefer that layer of grime and sleaze that’s been scrubbed away for this sequel, even if I do acknowledge and commend the ambition to strive for something different. It just so happens that the “something different” is just a slight step down from its predecessor despite a colorful cast of characters that even extends to the humans (Annie Ross is a hoot as Granny Ruth, though she’s truly unleashed in the next sequel). Plus, its last ten minutes are undeniably unhinged collection of gnarly gore, twisted revelations, and screwy mutant-tumor fornication that sets up the gonzo sequel.

The disc:

Nearly a decade after bringing Basket Case 2 to DVD, Synapse Films also does the honors for the film’s Blu-ray upgrade. Sourced from the film’s original 35mm negative, the high-definition transfer is excellent: colors are vivid, detail is solid, and a slight, detectable layer of grain is pleasing to any eyes wary of digital scrubbing. Likewise, the 2.0 DTS-MA track is a fine representation of the film’s busy soundscape, which is often rich with various screams, grunts, and squeals.

For supplements, Synapse has ported over the material from their DVD release. First up is a 6-minute chat with David Emge, who is virtually unrecognizable in the film as the Half-Moon monster. His brief interview discusses his time on the set, particularly his experience of being buried under a mound of make-up. The other supplement is a bit more robust, as effects artist Gabe Bartalos recounts his work on the film via anecdotes and vintage behind-the-scenes material. Both Henenlotter and producer James Glickenhaus (!) also appear to share their experiences with both this film and other productions. All told, it’s a worthwhile upgrade for devout fans and a more than worthwhile excuse for newcomers to take the plunge.
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