Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Basket Case (1982)

Directed by:
Frank Henenlotter

After critic Rex Reed attended a screening of Basket Case at the Cannes Film Festival and was on his way out the doors, someone stopped him and asked what he thought. Reed told the man it was "The sickest movie I've ever seen." Unbeknownst to Reed, the man who'd asked for his opinion was director Frank Henenlotter, who turned around and used Reed's reaction to spread the word that his film was indeed something special. Filmed for peanuts in and around New York City, this is a gritty, original, humorous, very bloody, highly imaginative and surprisingly intelligent little shocker that absolutely deserves its status as a cult classic. Naive Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck) shows up in New York City with a wad of cash in his pocket and a padlocked wicker basket in his hands. He rents a room at the seedy Hotel Broslin for an undetermined amount of time and casually starts to meet some of the other boarders, including the obnoxious owner (Robert Vogel), a crazy old lady, an Irish drunk who loiters around in the lobby (and hopes to get his hands on Duane's money) and a friendly prostitute named Casey (Beverly Bonner). So what's a nice boy like Duane doing in a scuzzy place like that? Well, it has something to do with whatever's lurking inside his basket, and it clearly isn't a load of laundry like Duane often claims. Whatever it is makes strange noises, can gobble down an entire bag full of hamburgers - foil wrapper and all - in just one sitting and has already killed a doctor. Might as well let the mutant out of the basket. It's Duane's twin brother, Belial!

Duane and Belial share a strange and unique fraternal bond, which involves Belial being able to communicate telepathically with his brother. The two were once Siamese twins. Duane was the normal half and Belial the disfigued, twisted and not quite fully formed - though stll living and feeling - half attached to Duane's side, somewhat aptly described as looking sort of like a "squashed octopus," except with sharp claws and fangs. The brothers' motive while in New York are vague at first, but we soon learn they're there so Belial can enact revenge on the doctors who separated them. Flashbacks reveal that Duane and Belial's mother died giving birth to them and that his father was so ashamed he kept his sons prisoner in his home, refusing to let them go to school or be seen in public. The father eventually enlisted the aid of three doctors - including a couple of veterinarians - to separate the two in the family's own living room. Immediately after performing the procedure, the doctors simply put Belial in a bag and set him on the curb with the trash. However, Belial managed to survive the operation and, needless to say, emerged with something of a grudge. With help from Duane, the two build a buzzsaw contraption that splits their father in two and then are raised to adulthood by their compassionate aunt.

With two doctors left to eliminate before Belial (who masterminded this whole revenge plot himself) is satisfied, the two get to work hunting them down. First up is Dr. Needleman (Lloyd Pace), who ends up getting ripped in two, and then Dr. Kutter (Diana Browne) , who has her face pushed into a drawer full of scalpels and scissors. Everything goes smoothly enough, but Duane is depressed and getting sick of his lonely existence, having to constantly cater to his brothers wants and desires and not being able to live his own life. He meets one of his slain doctor's receptionists - Sharon (Terri Susan Smith) - and goes on a date with her, but that only causes Belial to trash the hotel room and kill one of the tenants, which prompts a police investigation. Belial's not just a temperamental, cold-blooded killer, but also suffers from some serious sibling rivalry. Jealous that once their goal is accomplished Duane is going to desire a "normal" life and a "normal" relationship, Belial wants to ensure that if he's not going to have any then Duane isn't either.

Complaints about terrible acting are pretty much going to fall on my deaf ears. Sure, by conventional standards, some of the amateurs may be a bit over the top, but in this context it actually works in the same way it works brilliantly in the early films of John Waters or in Paul Bartel's PRIVATE PARTS (1972), which seems to have partially influenced both the aesthetic and the atmsophere of Basket Case. All of the actors fit their roles well and many of the "low life" characters in and around the hotel contribute heavily to the seedy 42nd Street atmosphere while also upping the eccentricity of the piece even further. The special effects - including crude stop-motion animation - and look of Belial are sometimes labeled hokey, but I thought they were effectively done and also utterly charming. And despite what many say, I didn't find the movie so-bad-its-good either. I found it genuinely good and it remains completely unique all these years later; managing to skillfully combine dark humor and gory horror, while simultaneously maintaining a certain camp factor and providing some genuinely heartfelt and thoughtful moments along the way.

Basket Case's reputation would spread slowly but surely thanks to a moderately successful theatrical run (the film became a popular midnight movie) and it becoming a cult hit in the early stages of home video. By the end of the decade, its growing fan base was enough to prompt a pair of follow-ups: BASKET CASE 2 (1990) and BASKET CASE 3: THE PROGENY (1991). Both were also made by Henenlotter and while neither is a match for the original, they're at least quirky and watchable.

It was dedicated to Herschell Gordon Lewis. 80s porno actor Jerry Butler can briefly be seen in a bar scene. The Something Weird deluxe DVD version is loaded with extras, including a good commentary track with Henenlotter, the producer and co-star Bonner.


Emanuelle e gli ultimi cannibali (1977)

... aka: Bloody Track
... aka: Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals
... aka: Emanuelle's Amazon Adventure
... aka: Trap Them and Kill Them

Directed by:
Joe D'Amato

Going undercover as a patient, New York Evening Post reporter Emanuelle (Laura Gemser) uses a camera hidden inside a doll to document proof of some unprofessional behavior going down in a mental asylum. One of the patients (Cindy Leadbetter), who was found crazed at the edge of a jungle, rips a nurse's breast off and eats it. As it turns out, the nurse is "well known for her homosexual inclinations" and has been sexually molesting patients. While going through pictures, Emanuelle notices a strange tattoo on the boob-eater's belly. The symbol is indicative of an ancient Amazonian cannibal tribe who were long thought to be extinct. Emanuelle's boss thinks this has the makings of a great story, so he sends Emanuelle to meet with famous anthropologist Mark Lester (Gabriele Tinti), who's now working as the curator of the American Natural History Museum. Mark invites Emanuelle out to lunch, then takes her back to his apartment to show her some black-and-white footage of African cannibals busy at work castrating, decapitating and consuming human flesh. Being the "free woman" she is, Emanuelle doesn't let visions of a native gnawing down on a penis deter her from immediately hopping into the sack with Mark.

Don't ask how (*wink*), but Emanuelle is able to quickly convince Mark to lead the expedition into the Amazonian jungle. The two fly down South, meet up with plantation owner Wilkes (Geoffrey Copleston) and then learn that Wilkes' blonde teenage daughter Isabelle (Mónica Zanchi) and her nun friend Sister Angela (Annamaria Clementi), will be headed into the jungle the following day to drop off supplies at a mission run by Father Morales. All four decide to go ahead and make the trip together. Along with guides Felipe and Manolo, the group load up their supplies, hop on a boat and travel down the river for a 5 to 6 day journey to the mission. On one stop, Emanuelle and Isabelle (who'd already spied on her guests having sex the night before) take their opportunity to scrub each other down in a lake while a chimpanzee goes through their things, smokes one of their cigarettes and tries on their sunglasses.

When evening starts to fall, they dock their boat and come ashore. Emanuelle is attacked by a boa constrictor and is saved by Donald McKenzie (Donald O'Brien), a big game hunter whose camp isn't far from there. He offers to let them stay at his camp but warns that the mission they were heading to has already been attacked by savages who killed everyone there. After meeting Donald's neglected wife Maggie ("Susan Scott" / Nieves Navarro), who's having an affair with their black guide Salvadore (Percy Hogan) because her husband is impotent, Mark decides it would be best if they head back. After all, he doesn't want to put Isabelle and Sister Angela in any danger. Before anyone can go anywhere, one of the Indians is found dead and gutted. Their boat also turns up missing, so there's no way back to civilization other than walking through the jungle, where they encounter snakes, leeches, quicksand and other dangers along the way.

Naturally, the cannibal tribe eventually catches up to them and even set up booby traps throughout the jungle. The other Indian guide is impaled by one. While wandering off into the brush, the nun is abducted. The cannibals strip her naked, cut off her nipple and eat it and then slice open her stomach and eat her guts. Because they're actually in the jungle trying to find a crashed airplane rumored to have been carrying diamonds, Donald and Maggie wander off from the group and end up running across the tribe, who spear him in the shoulder and drag her back to their village. The rest of the gang then must find the village and try to save Maggie before it's too late. They split up into two groups. The group of Donald, Isabelle and Salvadore doesn't do so hot as Salvadore is speared to death and the other two join Maggie at cannibal central. Donald gets pulled in two during a game of tug-o-war with a wire and his wife gets her organs passed around camp after getting slice from her vagina up to her torso. Probably because she's a blonde, Isabelle is drugged and gang raped by the entire tribe, who want to sacrifice her to their water goddess. In a last ditch effort to save her, Emanuelle strips nude, paints the water goddess symbol on her stomach and goes in the village to retrieve her "sacrifice."

Combining an Emanuelle soft-core flick with a jungle / cannibal horror-adventure was actually a great idea since these were both very popular in Europe at the time. This probably did pretty well in theaters, as it delivers precisely what one would expect of this particular combo. There's loads of nudity and sex (mostly confined to the first half) and plenty of bloody violence (mostly confined to the second half). The dubbing and dialogue are both terrible, mismatched stock footage is often used for the jungle and gators and there's an extremely annoying song ("Make Love on the Wing") that plays over and over again, but that's not gonna bother the target audience for this thing in the least.

It was originally released in the U.S. under the title Trap Them and Kill Them since the Emanuelle brand name wasn't much of a sell here in the States. It also used to play late night television as Emanuelle's Amazon Adventure. Both versions were missing some of the more graphic sex and violence. The Blue Underground DVD is uncut.

D'Amato, who also co-wrote and photographed, has a cameo as a psychiatrist in one of the first scenes. The end credits claim it was filmed in Brazil, but it was actually filmed entirely in New York City and Italy.

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