80’s trash overlord Frank Henenlotter made his name in the realms of insanely low budget horror with the gloriously deranged Basket Case, the twisted tale of conjoined twins taking gory revenge on the two doctors (and one vet) who separated them as children. He managed to follow it up in 1988 with the hilariously nihilistic (two words you never usually see together) Brain Damage, a grim masterpiece about a boy and his drug peddling parasite, but in 1990 the director returned to the characters that started his career with Basket Case 2, a typically warped adventure that actually ranks among the film maker’s best efforts – this proves to be somewhat odd considering that the long overdue sequel started life as technically an afterthought…
Scoring a deal to get his undead, sex comedy, Frankenhooker, off the ground (stay with me, now), Henenlotter managed to secure funding on the provision that he also make a sequel to his debut movie despite the leads splattering on the New York streets by the movie’s end.
Well, whatever the circumstances, Basket Case 2 proves to be weirdly the sweetest entry of the filmography of a director who made his stock and trade in synapse melting cult movies loaded with brains and heart.
After their climactic plunge from the window of a sleazy New York hotel seemingly ended the string of revenge murders perpetrated by hideously deformed twin Belial Bradley, and his brother Dwayne, it would seem things in New York city are slowly getting back to it’s grimy, sleazy ways. However, despite being very banged up, it seems that reports of the Bradley’s demise was somewhat premature and Dwayne (the tormented human looking one) manages to escape the hospital buy stuffing his lumpy brother into a laundry cart and booking it to the nearest exit (hey, whatever works, right?). However, mid-escape they are intercepted by Granny Ruth, a passionate and outspoken supporter of freak’s rights, and her granddaughter Susan who offer the outlaw brothers a place to hide out and heal from their injuries in her home on Staten Island. Upon awakening in Granny Ruth’s sanctuary, Dwayne finds that his brother isn’t the only “special individual” that’s been taken in and hidden from the world as a whole gang of extremely misshapen lost souls have formed a small community in the attic. Belial, thanks to the calming presence of Granny Ruth and some much needed therapy sessions (Choice advice: “Ripping the faces off people may not be in your best interest.”) has managed to settle in nicely and is starting to build a relationship with Eve, a young female just as malformed as himself but Dwayne is restless and is anxious to leave and start his life anew without any basket dwelling freaks or revenge plots to draw him away from having a normal life. Unfortunately, things stubbornly refuse to go smoothly thanks to an unscrupulous tabloid reporter hungry for an outlandish scoop who starts bringing unwanted attention to Ruth’s commune of tragically lumpy people; and so battle lines are drawn and the freaks realise that to protect their way of life they are going to have to strike first. But whose side is Dwayne really on and how far is he willing to go for a happy ending?
I’ve always been a massive fan of Henenlotter’s works (yep, even Bad Biology) and despite it’s stutter inducing premise, Basket Case 2 proves to be one of the director’s more accessible works thanks to the treating of it’s novel concept with charm, wit and a cracking sense of gallows humour.
Taking the basic premise of Todd Browning’s seminal Freaks and turning it into a kind of perverted family sitcom, the movie niftily sidesteps the common sequel danger of rehashing the original by placing it’s… protagonists (I guess?) in a new situation and location while still keeping the basic flavour of the grungy original. A major part of this reinvigoration is character MVP Granny Ruth, gamely played by jazz singer Annie Ross (you may recognize her as the woman who induced traumatic panic attacks in children in the audience when she was turned into a robot in Superman III), whose whole philosophy fuels the plot – plus the gaggle of EXTREMELY deformed people populating her attic are cartoonish hilarious to behold An unfortunate soul who boasts at least two dozen noses on his puss (all of which are obviously running), a poor dude saddled with serving dish sized teeth and a giant opera singing head called Lorenzo are only three of the ludicrously outlandish designs of Ruth’s “children” who were designed (presumably with play-dough) by effects whizz kid Gabe Bartalos who also has given Belial a much needed makeover. Whereas before the monstrous little lump of flesh was noticeably low tech (with all the facial expressions of a botox junkie), now he blinks, snarls and has honest-to-god actual mobility and is a far more genuine presence than the toothy Boglin made for the original.
Ultimately where Basket Case 2 really showcases the plus points that make it shine is in it’s kill scenes, or should I say the events immediately leading up to them. Henenlotter obviously has no interest in gore for gore’s sake and stages imaginative and elaborate scenarios that eventually lead to the inevitable face ripping – a sleazy carny has an angry ethics debate with Ruth after excitedly showing her his cheap and tawdry exhibits, a cheap photographer who foolishly has broken into the freak’s refuge looks on in horror as his camera flash casts a strobe on the advancing mutants and, best of all, Dwayne and an interfering private investigator discuss the business of “fitting in” only for the P.I. to realise that he’s the only “normal” at the bar… These odd little sections all prove to be darkly funny, genuinely creepy and vastly interesting and shows of the writer/director’s skill with a script.
A worthy sequel to a trash classic, Basket Case 2 works hard to take deeply fucked up situations and make them perversely wholesome (take Belial’s show stopping and unforgettable love scene…. oh yeah, YOU read that right.) while simultaneously being utterly hilarious and strangely beguiling which produces a intensely weird little movie that proves to be small yet perfectly deformed…