Plot: Duane Bradley checks into a dingy NY flophouse with an interesting possession, a large basket. What’s in the basket? Something horrifying no doubt! It’s… a ball-shaped monster!
• It’s an indie monster film – low budget, low tech, physical effects from the 80s, editing’s a bit dodgy – certain scene changes have ‘jumps’, and the audio sounds pretty mono and done on set. It’s the whole vibe of the film, this guerilla filmmaking.
• The tenants of the hotel Duane stays at are all quite caricatures (hairy deadbeat manager, older more sexual lady, various ethnicities in wifebeaters etc) and are all very nosy – whenever there’s screaming/commotion, the entire lot try to get into the room and are always looking around, scoping out Duane and his belongings.
• A lady tells him the story of a previous tenant and abruptly stops and walks off. It’s hilariously jarring.
• The first act is Duane putting food in and talking to the basket, with someone rocking the basket to simulate movement. Ha!
• The plot is drip-fed throughout the film, eventually getting to see what’s in the box, the connection between Duane and the monster, and why they’re in NY.
• Duane comes off as a nice guy and looks like an 80s Pat the NES Punk. Some scenes where he goes crazy are very hammy and played that way, enjoyable. Even the way he kisses is over the top. He’s likeable so I didn’t mind the budding relationship with Sharon.
• The movement of Belial is either done via puppet (hiding the puppeteer) or showing just a hand, or -in an amazing 80s way- stop motion animation. It’s HILARIOUS when it cuts to some claymation doll tearing up the apartment in like 5 frames per second!
• Oddly it’s not until the final scenes until there’s breasts in the film. Belial wants to get in on Duane’s friend (Casey) and love interest (Sharon). I won’t spoil it but both pervy scenes are quite funny, to see a ball of humanoid monster try to quell his sexual needs! There’s also 2 shots of full bushy male nudity.
• There’s not much gore (as they can’t really afford gore) so there’s a bit of spraying around blood off-screen, more reactions to it.
• The surgical scene with Belial is ridiculous! Tiny scalpels and seemingly no anaesthetic!
• The film has a lot of screaming – unfortunately it’s quite piercing as there wasn’t any audio-levelling.
• “Siamese twins? You don’t look Oriental!”
This screening was introduced by director/writer Frank Henenlotter with a Q&A afterwards:
• He was very humble, shocked his film is still being seen after all these years, and repeatedly mentioned how sad he was that NYC is ‘Disney-fied’, now a family-friendly city for the rich, and German tourists. He loved the seedy 42nd street vibe. The Mayor (Koch or Dinkins I assume) used the aids hysteria to remove the sex clubs and topless bars. (Part of the film was shot in a sex club, where they shot around the ‘equipment’). While filming Duane walking down the street, with a nudie club in shot, the owner ran out and jumped in their van demanding to know if they’re the news, and was apologetic when he found out it was for a monster movie.
• The movie was completed with a budget of $33k, he knew it couldn’t be a serious film with the budget constraints, and so told his actors to ‘act big’ (i.e. ham it up).
• One of the actors (who tries to steal Duane’s money) actually owned a few sex clubs (in name, the real owner was in jail, and the actor ended up fleeing America for 20 years) and died recently after a hit & run.
• The film was saw was part re-discovered original negative (it was in a mis-labelled box in plain sight) and another version of the film. For it’s theatrical release it was cropped to 1.85:1 so this was the original 4:3 aspect ratio. You could tell in most of the shots you could’ve cropped out the top and bottom and it’d still look grand.
• The special effects guy had a lot of contempt for the project and broke the Belial puppet when handing it off, so Henenlotter fixed it and worked the puppet himself (he was either out of shot, or hiding in the chest of drawers underneath the basket).
• Someone asked what the subtext for the basket was, and Hellenlotter said there wasn’t any, he used it because it’s called Basket Case. (and got a huge round of cheers/applause!)
Overall: It’s a fun festival film and easy to see why it’s a cult classic. Enjoyable silly monster horror film. If this kind of thing interests you, go see it!