"The Tenant is Room 7 is very small, very twisted and very mad". Those were the words that adorned the front cover of the pre cert Palace video release of an absolute cult classic from the 1980’s. The movie, in case you are unaware, was called BASKET CASE (BC from here on in).

It’s not like the movie has been buried in any way since its naissance. Over the 30 years it has been in existence, its celluloid reels have been subject to marathon runs playing the Grindhouse cinema circuit; it has been run through VHS players all over the world; surfaced digitally on Laserdisc and DVD – and has now come full circle. The original movie was made back in 1982 and to mark its 30th anniversary, Second Sight has put together the definitive release with their BASKET CASE TRILOGY Blu Ray steelbox set.

The original story, for those of you who are unaware, revolves around the Bradley brothers. Well they are more than merely brothers – they are twins, Siamese twins and no, they are not.... ORIENTAL (insert belly laughs here)! Duane, the lanky and curly mopped able bodied half transports his somewhat lesser capable, wicker bound, sibling in the proverbial basket. With the gift of telepathic communication and a bundle of cash, the twins head to Downtown New York to... Well let’s just say they have some unfinished business to attend to. Their mission inevitably attracts some unwanted attention contrasted with some rather desirable interest.

In a tale of revenge, twisted sibling rivalry and explosive jealousy, with a few nasty killings thrown in for good measure, BC is an emotional rollercoaster as well as being a gore laden exploitation flick!

As a teen I ogled the visceral violence in BC through gore tinted glasses. But the older I got the more I appreciated some of the other elements. I was lucky enough to experience the Big Apple BEFORE Rudy’s zero tolerance clean up. "Smokes and Coke" openly offered from modified trench coats while horse mounted Police played ignorant; scantily clad prostitutes and their fur coated pimps; seedy strip clubs fronted by misanthropic cashiers all combined effortlessly to form 42nd Street. The Times Square footage in BC perfectly captures the sleazy atmosphere of vintage downtown NYC.

I have often heard BC being referred to as a Horror Comedy and feel this slightly neglects the true nature of the picture. I accept its sequels can be neatly categorized as comedic terror, but the original is far more complex than simply blood and giggles. OK given the director himself summarizes his brainchild as "a perverted piece of nonsense" but burrow through the gore and grime and you will find a heartfelt family tragedy.

Ironically it is probably THE standout alcohol induced amusing moment of the movie that sets us up for some sobering revelations. As Casey’s (Beverly Bonner) raucous laughter slows to horrified attentiveness, an elongated flashback sequence depicts the gut wrenching rejection Belial Bradley suffered at the hands of his father. Not only does it dare you not to be moved, it totally justifies the motivation for Belials killing spree.

As the "trilogy’ moniker of Seconds Sights current release suggests, the original movie spawned a couple of sequels. The first of which started as an off the cuff comment from its creator, Frank Henenlotter, to his producer Edgar Ievans as he pitched and idea which was destined to become FRANKENHOOKER in typical improvised fashion.

But with a retail price of around £40, (or more sensibly pre orderable for around £28), it can hardly be called a budget set. So what do you get for your hard earned buck?

An obvious place to start, you would think, is the inaugural movie itself. But may I suggest folk go straight to the BONUS section and scroll down to the INTRODUCTION chapter. Why this wasn’t simply included as an option along with the PLAY MOVIE screen a la Arrow Video releases I don’t know.

Watching the informative preamble by Henenlotter is highly recommended as the director provides some vital information regarding the HD print of primary movie. Sat with the original negatives reels by his side, the director pre warns viewers that although this is cutting edge high definition, the fact the movie was originally shot on 16mm means that no magic wand has suddenly transformed the look of the movie. It’s not ever going to be a demo disc to showcase the virtues of High Definition shall we say!

Then there is the 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The print utilized in this release has vertical black bars evident either side of the picture reflecting just how the movie was presented originally to distributors BEFORE the ‘blow up’ into 16x9. The director justifies this as he feels the movies colours lost a bit of bite when modified. The almost square picture does however retain just how the director shot the movie all those years ago.

The movie has never looked so crisp but Times Square still looks every bit as seedy as a mix of gaudy neon, squalid hotels and sleazy bars take centre stage.

Before we examine the plethora of BONUS MATERIAL on disc 1, may I suggest we consider the sequels first? Some of these EXTRAS span the entire trilogy so it is better to indulge in the movies if you haven’t already before delving into the additional features.

To give full synopsis’s here will only act as a spoiler to the original movie but the fact the third instalment is called ‘The Progeny’ with a large pram garnishing the front cover it gives you some idea what direction the series heads!

Parts two and three, although still starring Kevin VanHentenryck, are very different beasts to their predecessor. They boast a more a glossy look as oppose to the gritty Grindhouse nature of the original movie. Indeed, the movies are draped in warm pastel colours as it movie unfolds in a plush mansion rather than a seedy hotel.

Parts two (filmed back to back with FRANKENHOOKER) and three progressively lean more obviously toward all out comedy as we follow the brothers exploits along with an extensive new cast of prosthetic freaks. Both sequels also feature Jazz singer Annie Ross as Granny Ruth, who provides an outlet and hideaway for the bizarre range of outcasts.

Each sequel resides on its own disc, which in turn are each simply complimented with a "select chapter" and "play movie" option. Here the Blu ray really does impress with both movies looking full of life and razor sharp in their original aspect ratios of 1.85 : 1 sourced from the original 35mm negatives.

So with the movies digested its back to Disc 1. The first nugget of Bonus Material offered is a feature length commentary track with Frank Henenlotter, Beverly Bonner (who plays Casey, the movies happy hooker), and producer Edgar Ievans. It soon becomes patently obvious though that this is NOT a recently recorded commentary. I believe it was recorded around 2002 and was originally part of the Anniversary DVD release from that year. That said, Henenlotter’s 100mph chat is brimming with facts and background info as he enthusiastically wax’s lyrical about the movie. It’s a great listen especially as he conveys, unlike today’s zero budget shoots being completed in a few days, how BC took around year to complete due to shoots being arranged around weekends and when funds became available. A classic story about the 42nd Street cinema’s laundry woman and Frank’s secret recipe for realistic fake blood are just two examples of the hugely witty discourses diversion from the facts and recollections.

Also from the Anniversary DVD is a 15 minute segment called IN SEARCH OF HOTEL BROSLIN. Here Frank gives us a tour of the many shooting locations before ending up at the Hellfire club where the basement scenes were initially shot.

It is thankfully not all regurgitated material though and bonus feature specialists Severin Films have crafted a quite superb segment with the WHATS IN THE BASKET? segment. The 78 minute visual document, filmed exclusive for this release is a bang up to date retrospective of the movie when it converses with cast and crew in 2012. WITB extensively features Frank along with actresses Beverly Bonner and Annie Ross. Producers Edgar Ievans and James Glickenhaus offer some historical facts before some essential input from the special make-up effects artists John Caglione, Kevin Haney and Gabe Bartalos. The trio all divulge their individual contributions that helped mould the BC trilogy. The feature spans over all three movies (hence why it’s best to actually watch the movies in order before treating yourself to this ‘Extra’.) But best of all is when we visit main man Kevin VanHentenryck at his home. Not only does Kevin look back at the series with fondness, he also exhibits the rather impressive fruits of his labours in the self-taught art of sculpturing.

Graham Humpries’ cover art is being seen more and more these days and the talented artist features in his own 20 minute segment, GRISLY GRAHAM HUMPHRIES. It’s a cracking look at all of his work to date including the truth about the infamous missing Evil Dead artwork.

Completing the supplement material are two trailers, some outtakes and radio spots along with separate ‘Promotional’ and ‘Behind the Scenes’ photo galleries.

Bar a couple of omissions from the aforementioned Anniversary DVD (radio interviews and TV clips from Beverly Bonners Laugh Track) this is as a complete record of the Basket Case Franchise that you could possibly wish for. Does Second Sights package justify the rather hefty price tag? I can answer that in just a few words. PRE-ORDER THE RUNT WHILE YOU CAN!!!

But if Messrs Henenlotter and VanHentenryck have their wicked way, we may be looking at a quadrilogy set in a couple of years from now. Better start saving them pennies now then!

Review by Marc Lissenburg

Released by Second Sight Films
Region ALL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review