Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Basket Case 2 (1990)

... aka: Basket Case: El misterio de la canasta (Basket Case: The Mystery of the Basket)
... aka: Frère de sang 2 (Blood Brothers 2)
... aka: O Segredo do Cesto (The Secret of the Basket)

Directed by:
Frank Henenlotter

By the late 80s, the original BASKET CASE (1982) had built up a hefty cult reputation, first as a midnight movie favorite in theaters and then as a popular title on home video, so Shapiro-Glickenhaus snagged the director for a two picture deal that included both this sequel and the originally (and unfairly) X-rated Frankenhooker (1990), which ran into all kinds of censorship problems. Unlike the original gritty film, which was produced for a mere 35,000 dollars, the sequel had a healthy 2.5 million budget, which afforded it better actors, better production values, better special effects and better, well, pretty much everything; at least technically speaking. However, the super low budget and lack of polish of the original greatly enhanced it, giving it unique character, personality and seedy atmosphere that's almost entirely absent here. While this change may not have pleased some fans of the first, Part 2 ended up being financially successful in its own right; enough so to prompt SGE to give Henenlotter the green light on a third film: Basket Case 3: The Progeny (1991). Afterward, Henenlotter was unable to find backing for any other projects he had and took a hiatus from directing to work for Something Weird Video. He wouldn't return to the director's chair until Bad Biology (2008) nearly two decades later.

At the end of the original, it's assumed that troubled protagonist Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck) and his telepathic mutant twin brother Belial, a small mass of claws, teeth and twisted flesh, died after a fall from the Hotel Bronson neon sign. Not so. The two are merely rushed to a hospital afterward in critical condition. Belial exerts his telepathic control over his brother, kills a security guard and then the two are picked up in a van by Dr. Ruth Smoeller (Annie Ross), who prefers to be called "Granny Ruth," and her pretty granddaughter Susan (Heather Rattray); both "freak" sympathizers who've been following their story on the news.

Duane and Belial awaken in their new Staten Island mansion home and discover they're in good company: The home is filled with similarly deformed characters of twisted latex who are basically Joseph Merrick times ten. The make-up designs on these "freaks" are from Gabriel Bartalos and, while pretty ridiculous in most instances (one is basically just a giant smashed head that sings opera!), are quite surreal. Granny Ruth tries to break through to Belial in therapy sessions ("Ripping the faces off people may not be in your best interests") while Duane recovers from his injuries and desperately yearns for normalcy. He hopes to soon leave the "house of freaks"... and leave his controlling brother behind while he's at it. Interestingly, it's the normal-looking brother who feels alien and uncomfortable in his environment this time out. But there's always time for love, eh? Belial becomes smitten by a similarly deformed freak named Eve while Duane falls for Susan.

Meanwhile, at the sleazy  tabloid rag "Judge & Jury," editor Lou (Jason Evers, in his last film role) wants reporter Marcie Elliott (Kathryn Meisle) to work on a new front-page story about the "Times Square Freak Twins." Problem is she's been following the case for awhile, exhausted all of her leads and has hit a dead end. Lou encourages her to basically just make a bunch of stuff up. She's told to get in touch with private detective Phil (Ted Sorel), who had previous experience investigating a woman they called "Doctor Freak." That "doctor" also happens to be Granny Ruth, who they've already done exploitative stories about in the past. After losing her own deformed child (born with eleven arms), Ruth had made it her mission to provide deformed societal outcasts with shelter and a sense of community away from the cruel, judgmental world. While the reporter and detective know that much about her, they have no clue she's the one providing sanctuary for the Bradley brothers. And they also have no clue what lengths she'll go to to protect her "children."

After backwoods freak show operator Lyle (Jan Saint) runs a false ad claiming to have possession of the skeleton of Belial, Granny arranges for the man to meet the real Belial, which works out exactly as you'd expect. Marcie stumbles upon his corpse and realizes she has a much bigger story on her hands than she imagined. After she discovers that Duane is indeed hiding out at Granny Ruth's, she, her photographer colleague Arty (Matt Mitler) and the detective start snooping around and get more than they bargained for.

While much sillier than the original film, which was quirky and had elements of dark comedy and camp but was not downright cartoonish like this one often is (there's a huge difference), this is still worth a look as long as you don't mind something a little different. Ross does a standout job in her role (no real surprise then that she was asked back for Part 3) and the rest of the cast is generally pretty strong. The real star though is Bartalos and his make-up designs. The Belial design is better and more expressive than in the first film and there are a wide variety of eye-catching "freaks" on display and other bizarre touches like a living gargoyle statue, a "frog man" that croaks and a puppet monster that lives inside a belly. Also check out the walls of Evers' office for an amusing The Brain That Wouldn't Die joke. Original Basket Case co-star Beverly Bonner has a funny cameo on a TV set. Two of the "freaks" are played by David Emge (DAWN OF THE DEAD) and Ron Fazio (who played Toxie in the The Toxic Avenger sequels); both unrecognizable under the make-up.

After its brief theatrical run, BC2 debuted on home video in 1990 on the Shapiro-Glickenhaus Home Video label. It's been well-distributed globally since then. There have been numerous DVD and Blu-ray releases in the U.S. (on the Synapse label), Germany, Japan and elsewhere. In 2016, Second Sight offered up the 3 disc set "Basket Case: The Trilogy" on Blu-ray, which has all three films plus a boatload of extras.

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