When considering horror franchises, plenty of other usual, more notorious suspects will roll off the tongue more quickly than Frank Henenlotter’s bizarre, under-the-radar Basket Case trilogy. Indeed, it’s arguably among the most impossible franchises ever made: it’s a wonder Henenlotter was able to squeeze one movie out of a premise that involves a man carrying around his separated Siamese twin/sentient tumor in a basket, much less three. Even more impressive, this is a rare horror franchise overseen by the same creative force for its entire duration. It’s also one that never stands pat, as each entry is markedly different from the other, a feat that’s especially appreciated when watching them as part of a marathon. Transforming from grimy, exploitation sleaze to over-the-top farce during the course of three films, the Basket Case trio could only have hailed from Henenlotter, one of the genre’s most distinct, indispensable, and unsung voices.
3. Basket Case 2 (1990)
Henelotter’s first sequel suffers a bit from middle child syndrome. Not as immediately iconic or the original or as downright deranged as its successor, Basket Case 2 is fine if not a bit nondescript by comparison. And please note the “by comparison” qualifier because in just about any other conversation, it would most certainly stand out thanks to a bevy of remarkable creature designs and its askew attempt to recall a gothic, almost pastoral sensibility directly opposed to the original’s grime and grit. It’s Freaks reimagined with Henelotter’s distinct off-kilter brand of macabre humor—not to mention an imagination that unleashes one of the genre’s greatest latex displays. The only reason Basket Case 2 could be considered the “worst” here is simply because something has to come in third—even a film with a climax that features bonkers mutant sex and one of the more fucked-up reveals you’ll ever see in an otherwise kind of sweet movie.
Shot back-to-back with Basket Case 2, it almost feels like this is the movie Henenlotter really wanted to get to since the first sequel more or less maneuvers itself into position for The Progeny to take the reins. Apparently Henenlotter himself is disappointed with how it turned out, but you can hardly deny that he doesn’t just fucking go for it here. Now completely transplanted from New York to rural Georgia, the franchise opts for pure farce, as a local police force finally tries to bring the Bradley clan to justice; however, little do they know that the family has just expanded by a dozen thanks to the birth of Belial’s critters. While you wish the titular progeny actually got a bit more involved in the proceedings, Basket Case 3 is an unhinged romp nonetheless, as an S&M-clad sheriff’s daughter, bumbling cops, an assortment of freaks, and a mechanized Belial collide for the most riotous entry in this franchise.
You can practically feel the grime and sleaze caked onto every frame of Frank Henenlotter’s kooky debut feature. One of the great scummy, early-80s New York City movies, Basket Case is soaked in that distinct, disreputable 42nd Street vibe. Sure, the latter entries in this franchise might be a bit more polished, but do you really want polish for a movie revolving around a man and his now-detached Siamese twin brother’s quest for revenge? Where later films found the obvious humor in this situation and brought it to the forefront, the original film plays it relatively straight (if not understandably just a little off-kilter). Basket Case is the most genuinely disturbing of the bunch, if only for the prolonged flashback sequence that captures the brothers’ painful, gruesome separation. Unlike the other two films, the original is a truly fucked up display of gore and sleaze. As unshakeable and gross as a piece of gum stuck to the bottom of your shoe, Basket Case is a pure grindhouse experience: shaggy, low-rent, violent, quirky, but totally indelible.
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