The 1982 low budget flick, Basket Case, is a cult classic—and deservedly so. It’s a bloody good time. We’re happy to report that we’ve got some previously unseen outtakes from the film to share with you, dear reader. But first, a little background.
Basket Case was written and directed by Frank Henenlotter, a young filmmaker, who, up until that point, had just a few short films to his credit. The movie follows formerly conjoined brothers, Duane and Belial, on the hunt for revenge after a forced surgery separated them. Belial is incredibly deformed, so Duane keeps him hidden from view, carting his sibling around in a basket. This leads to a frequently asked question; it’s also the picture’s catch phrase.
“What’s in the basket?”
Shot in New York City, the entire budget amounted to $35,000. Nearly all the expenses went towards buying and processing 16mm film, as well as generating oodles of fake blood. Henenlotter was greatly influenced by the “Godfather of Gore,” Herschell Gordon Lewis (Basket Case was dedicated to Lewis).
Last year, I spoke with Gus Russo, who not only composed the top-notch score for Basket Case, but pitched in in other ways, too. He told me some of the ingenious ways the production saved money, as there was so little of it to go around.
The lights were basically car headlights that he (the lighting guy) had screwed onto a two-by-four [laughs]. The walls in the hotel and in all of the hallways and rooms that you see, that’s just canvas hanging from the ceiling that we painted to look like walls. What we did was, Edgar (Ievins, the producer) and I, we would go out at night, scrounging the Upper East Side, in the alleyways—because those people would throw out furniture and pieces of lumber, pieces of canvas—and we’d drag it back down to his apartment, and that became the sets. Almost everything you see in that movie is garbage.
Belial was made of latex, and the stop-motion technique was used to animate the little guy. For scenes in which only Belial’s arm is seen, a crew member would don a latex glove.
The special effects makeup was done by Kevin Haney and John Caglione, Jr. Both were soon hired by Saturday Night Live, and later won Academy Awards for their work.
The picture premiered at the Waverly, a New York theater, in 1982. In a move inspired by the gimmicks devised by legendary producer William Castle, surgical masks were handed out to ticket holders “to keep the blood off your face.”
Prominent movie critic Rex Reed said that Basket Case was “the sickest movie I’ve ever seen.” Viewed as a badge of honor, the quote was incorporated into the advertising for the film. Reed’s critique wasn’t taken from a formal review, but was said to Henenlotter by Reed when the director spotted the critic leaving a theater after a screening and asked him what he thought. Reed didn’t realize he was talking to the director—HA!
Horror movie fans fell for the picture, which mixed strange characters and black humor with a shocking amount of blood. Basket Case would go on to became a midnight movie staple at the Waverly, as well as theaters across the country.
Basket Case came to be only after a first attempt at making a feature (which would’ve starred Divine) fizzled due to lack of funding. After that experience, the director was determined to make Basket Case, even if there wasn’t much in the way of cash. Ironically, his decision was shaped by a belief that the film wouldn’t find an audience.
“I thought, ‘Let’s make it just to make it!’” Henenlotter remembers. “‘If it stinks, no problem. We can undoubtedly sell it some rock-bottom distributor, get it show on 42nd Street for one week and it’ll disappear.’ And that kind of empowered me to make the film, because I was thinking, “Nobody’s ever going to see this!’”
In 2017, the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art added Basket Case to its permanent collection. A bewildered Henenlotter shared the news on Facebook: “I asked them if they actually watched the film and they assured me they did.” MOMA’s restored the picture using the original 16mm negative, which was provided by the director.
MOMA’s 4K restoration is about to be released on a limited edition Blu-ray by Arrow Video. Henenlotter’s above quote concerning his drive to make the picture is taken from the booklet’s text (written by Michael Gingold of Fangoria). The extras include an outtakes featurette, which contains footage of the cast and crew clowning around, as well as other glimpses behind the scenes, and segments shot for the movie that were left on the cutting room floor. Arrow has given us a two-minute edit of the featurette. Some of the footage hasn’t been seen before.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
The soundtrack to cult comedy horror classic ‘Basket Case’ is finally being released—a DM premiere
‘Brain Damage’: The greatest movie of the 1980s about a penis-shaped, drug-pushing brain-eater?