Four years after their release of Frank Henenlotter's BASKET CASE sequels on DVD only, Synapse gives the two underappreciated sequels an HD overhaul with individual Blu-ray editions.
Shot back-to-back with FRANKENHOOKER in a deal with producer James Glickenhaus (MCBAIN), BASKET CASE 2 takes off where the first film left off with Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck, BRAIN DAMAGE) and his deformed Siamese twin Belial both surviving the fall from an apartment building fire escape and escaping the hospital into the care of Granny Ruth (singer Annie Ross, SUPERMAN III) and her granddaughter Susan (Heather Rattray, MOUNTAIN FAMILY ROBINSON). Ruth, who gave birth to a stillborn baby with eleven arms, became a champion for "freaks' rights" and ran a commune on the West Coast until harassment from tabloids sent her into seclusion caring for a smaller group of "unique individuals" in a remote Staten Island mansion. While Duane recovers from his injuries, Ruth provides therapy for Belial whose anger stems from his forced separation from Duane ("ripping off people's faces just isn't in your best interest") and becomes acquainted with the other freaks, including withdrawn Eve who seems most physically compatible with Belial. Although Duane is grateful for what Ruth has done for him and Belial, he feels like the freak in her home and tries to convince Susan to run away with him. With the anniversary of Belial's Times Square massacre coming around, tabloid Judge & Jury's editor (Jason Evers, THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN'T DIE) decides to offer a fake one million dollar reward and run a four-part front page story to drum up new interest in the crime, sending ambitious reporter Marcie (Kathryn Meisle, THE SHAFT) in search of new leads. She tracks down Ruth and is stonewalled but realizes she is on the right track when Duane inadvertently reveals himself to her. Seeing fame beyond her tabloid for discovering the whereabouts of the Bradley twins, she sends photographer Artie (Matt Mitler, THE MUTILATOR) into the house to get a picture of Duane as leverage to get an exclusive with him. When Artie does not come out, Marcie and sleazy private detective Phil (Ted Sorel, FROM BEYOND) decide to lure Duane out by offering him a chance at normality.
Technically slicker and more considered in design than the first film, BASKET CASE II loses trades grindhouse aura for a more fanciful and blatantly comic take owing partially to the MPAA crackdown on horror in the late eighties and early nineties. Flatly-photographed and –lit environs like the hospital, the newspaper office, and Marcie's apartment are juxtaposed with the otherworldly feel of Ruth's sanctuary, Phil's office, and the bar where he arranges an ill-fated meeting with Duane (the latter two looking like something out of a color film noir). The gore is toned down from the original, with an emphasis on more fantastical prosthetic mutilations that might have gone over better with the MPAA than realizing Belial's threats of face-ripping. Ross, also tangled with the horror genre in Fabrizio Laurenti’s WITCHERY as well as the subtler Hammer thriller STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING, give a commanding performance, humorous and nurturing but also fanatical. Van Hentenryck had also improved since the first film but is a little awkward when proclaiming his devotion to Susan. Joe Renzetti (DEAD & BURIED) – who also scored Henenlotter’s FRANKENHOOKER and BASKET CASE 3 – provides a nice synth main theme but the rest of the score goes by almost unnoticed (the same can be said for the sequel's score). The effects of Gabe Bartalos – assisted by K.N.B.'s Gino Crognale (TEXAS CHAINAW MASSACRE 2) among others – are the film's highlight, and Belial is a definite improvement over the original film, looking more expressive and more like Duane.
After Duane’s mind snaps and he tries to reattach his formerly-conjoined deformed twin Belial (a prosthetic puppet voiced by Hentenryck) back onto his side at the end of BASKET CASE 2, he spends a few months strait-jacketed in a padded cell in the basement. Duane is let out by Granny Ruth in order to accompany her family of “unique individuals” on a road trip to visit Uncle Hal (Dan Biggers, PARIS TROUT) in Georgia since Belial’s girlfriend Eve is pregnant and “We’re not really sure what will come out of her.” Duane is desperate to see Belial but he has cut off psychic communication with him and Granny does not want anything to upset the expectant mother. While Uncle Hal and his multi-limbed inventor son Little Hal (sitcom writer Jim O'Doherty) oversee the birth or twelve mini-Belials, Duane escapes house and makes the mistake of confiding in the sheriff’s daughter Opal (Tina Louise Hilbert) about his need to get his brother back. While the sheriff (Gil Roper, BLOOD SALVAGE) is away, two of his deputies find out about the million dollar reward for the Bradley Twins after their New York massacre and head over to Uncle Hal’s hoping to capture Belial using his “puppies” as bait. When they kill Eve in the process of taking his babies, Belial comes out of his basket for another rampage.
The third film was rushed into production as the script seems half-formed (or perhaps scenes were dropped during shooting). The “unique individuals” are more decorative and make less impression as individuals than in part two, and the other actors are given thinly written roles (one would think at least Uncle Hal and the sheriff would have been a bit more dimensionally-sketched). Gore is kept to a minimum with the outrageous deaths of the already cartoonish human casualties comically exaggerated with prosthetics (just as well considering one severed head that shows up in the climax). The editing seems to cut away from some potentially gory moments while others seem to have been composed for humor rather than grue (unfortunately, this means we do not get to see a Geraldo-clone get the comeuppance we would like to see the real one receive). What’s left is an amusing but hardly memorable showcase for Bartalos (who also worked on Hennenlotter's BRAIN DAMAGE) and David Kindlon (who later worked with Bartalos on LEPRECHAUN). Ross once again steals the show with some nice comic timing and a boisterous rendition of Lloyd Prince’s “Personality” as a sing-along during the bus trip (the end titles reprise Ross’ “Personality” minus the contributions from the “unique” cast).
BASKET CASE 2 and 3 were released on VHS and Dolby Surround laserdisc stateside by MCA/Universal (who took over home entertainment distribution of Shapiro-Glickenhaus in 1991). Until Synapse's 2012 edition, BASKET CASE 2 was unavailable on DVD but BASKET CASE 3 had a 2004 Region 1 DVD from 20th Century Fox in an open-matte transfer with absolutely no extras. Synapse's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen Blu-rays are presumably sourced from the same HD masters as their earlier DVD editions. The 16-to-35mm blow-up flashback footage from the first film is grainier and softer while the bodies of the film are crisp and colorful with some nice moonlight blues, red gels, and rare splashes of blood that are a little darker than the title cards. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 renderings of the Dolby Stereo mixes are clean and give some breadth to the freaks' vocalizations, screams, and Renzetti's scores. Unlike other recent Synapse titles, there are no SDH subtitle options.
Extras are carried over from the DVD editions. On BASKET CASE 2, "The Man in the Moon Mask" (6:19) is an interview with actor David Emge (DAWN OF THE DEAD) who was working as a cameraman on a documentary and recommended for a role by that film's DP. He recalls the hours in the make-up chair, how he and the other freaks had no lines and could not make any sounds that approximated human speech per SAG guidelines for how they were hired, but is generally vague about the genial nature of the shoot. More substantive is "Beyond the Wicker" (22:34), a vintage behind the scenes featurette with Henenlotter, Glickenhaus, and Bartalos utilizing the latter's archival video. It depicts the construction of the various Belial puppets from hand to animatronic, some of the other creatures and gore effects, intercut with comments from Henenlotter and Glickenhaus on the production of the film, how it fared better with the MPAA after Jack Valenti's suggestion that FRANENHOOKER should be rated "S for shit" got the organization flack for revealing that indie films were indeed treated differently than studio fare. There is no trailer for part 2 but the Blu-ray of BASKET CASE 3 has a theatrical trailer (1:52) as the sole extra. Modest upgrades, for sure, but surely irresistible for fans of the series. (Eric Cotenas)
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