‘Basket Case’ – a Cain and Abel sideshow horror on Criterion Channel, Shudder, Arrow, and more

Frank Henenlotter shot Basket Case (1982), his gruesome little cult indie-horror drama of brotherly love, on location in New York to get just the right sleazy 42nd Street atmosphere.

Kevin VanHentenryck shuffles through the low budget exercise in grotesquery and gore with a guilty conscience as the “normal” brother sent by his deformed Siamese twin to take revenge on the doctors who separated the two and left the blobby brother to die. It’s a grindhouse “Cain and Abel” drama as a funhouse horror.

Henenlotter was reared on the cheap, lurid horror films of Herschell Gordon Lewis and other independent exploitation directors of the 1960s and 1970s, something he continued to champion as a curator and producer of DVD and Blu-ray releases. Basket Case is in many ways his tribute to the grindhouse horror films he loves, a low-budget monster movie with creative twists and DIY special effects created with a mix of puppets, models, and stop-motion animation.

Most of the effects are shrewdly just off screen, with spurts of blood and gnarly hand dragging the character out of view to feed our imaginations, and a few bloody corpses left in the aftermath (an exception is a pre-Freddy multiple impalement with scalpels). The effects may look naively amateur today but there’s a loving B-movie attitude and a genuine sense of character to the “monster,” the misshapen, fleshy, snaggle-toothed Belial, which helped make this independent picture into a cult classic.

Not rated, feature gruesome imagery.

Add to My List on Criterion Channel or to My List on Shudder or to My List on AMC+ or to My List on Arrow or on Fandor or stream free on Kanopy, which is available through most public and college library systems.

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Basket Case (Arrow) [Blu-ray]
Basket Cast (Something Weird) [Blu-ray]
Basket Case [DVD]

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The Arrow Blu-ray features a remastered edition of the film along with an new commentary track with director Henenlotter, cast and crew interviews, and new and archival featurettes among the supplements.


Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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