The many and varied grotesque gallery of characters that populate the horror exploitation genre is ever growing and anyone who’s anyone manages to wring multiple sequels out of their initial concept. Be it the big boys like your Freddy Krueger’s and Michael Myers, to the lesser known alumni such as the Maniac Cop and Victor Crowley from Hatchet fame, continuing misadventures are the norm in a franchise hungry business. However, I don’t think anyone would have put smart money on Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case to make it to a trilogy. A seriously weird tale involving a young man and his seriously deformed ex-conjoined twin as they are gobbled up by an excessively grimy 1980’s New York as they stalk and murder the doctors who separated them. Yet, in 1990 Helenlotter sequelized his debut with more overt humor and a far bigger canvas as the brother’s were given shelter by the kindly Granny Ruth, an outspoken advocate for the rights of unique individuals. However, with this third installment of the saga of the brothers Bradley, the humor and scale has been ratcheted up exponentially to ludicrous levels (even if the budget hasn’t) and the journey of the traumatic twins reaches it apparent conclusion. But does this harrowingly hilarious three-quel manage to match the bewildering heights of the previous exploitation classics, or is the making of the bestial Belial Bradley into a deformed daddy a step too far?
Beginning with a quick recap of where the last movie ended (Belial getting laid and Dwayne going crazy and deciding to stitch his brother back onto him) we catch back up with the Bradley twins many months later. Dwayne now is a gibberish wreck, wrapped up in a straight jacket and locked away in a rubber room in the basement of Granny Ruth’s sanctuary for freaks and is as far divorced from reality as a man can be. On the flip side, Belial’s life is on the up as his girlfriend (also a twisted ball of flesh – and they say OPPOSITES attract…) is heavily pregnant with…. well, something and Granny Ruth wants to take the whole commune on a road trip to the country to enlist aid for the difficult birth ahead. After reconnecting with old friend Uncle Hal and her estranged son Little Hal – a literal mountain of a man born with eleven arms – everyone settles down to take care of the task in hand; the birth of twelve squawling bouncy baby Belials all connected by a single umbilical cord like a string of anal beads (or so I’ve been told). However, tragedy for these brothers is like an unwanted triplet and is never that far away so when Dwayne accidently gets the local sheriff department involved (he is a wanted criminal after all), Belial’s brood are are kidnapped by corrupt law men looking for a reward. Can the two brothers reconcile their differences in order to save the dozen toothy infants and will Granny Ruth’s family of “unique individuals” take this latest indignity lying down?
Subtle isn’t exactly the first word that springs to mind when describing Frank Henenlotter’s cinematic output but when you get past the frenzied debauchery and bargain basement budgets, you start to realise that the filmmaker’s scripts are actually cerebral as hell. However, Basket Case 3, while certainly fun, goes full tilt boogie on the wackiness of the central concept meaning that a lot of the bizarre pathos present in the first two movies is largely absent and is swapped for broad slap-stick and surreal skits. This is exemplified by a full on musical number during the bus ride where Ruth and the freaks belt out a rendition of “Personality” by Lloyd Price giving Annie Ross – an actual jazz Singer – a chance to air out her pipes as the malformed audience accompany her on various brass instruments. Not weird enough? Okey dokey, how’s about during the birth sequence, when Eve is naturally spraying her waters around the place like a burst fire hydrant, we cut to Belial sitting in the next room fantasizing about having a threesome with two Shakespeare quoting buxom bimbos? Or the fact that when Belial assaults the police station, the usual face-ripping shenanigans are replaced by more surrealistic violence as a deputy has his neck twisted around like a garbage bag as his teeth and eyes bug out! While this is all hugely endearing stuff and a legitimate source of questionable belly laughs (if serious weird is your bag), the director’s somewhat nihilistic edge has now been utterly dulled in favour of everything feeling like a great big cartoon. Adding to this effect is the ever more plasticine looking creations of Gabe Bartalos which show an insane imagination but also look as convincing as a canine Elvis impersonator – but one suspects that that’s pretty much the point.
Neither Henenlotter’s best film (Brain Damage, thank you very much), his funniest comedy (that’ll be Frankenhooker, then) most shocking (I still haven’t recovered from the climax of Bad Biology) or even his best Basket Case movie (it’s an even coin toss between the first two), it ends up being by far the least of the exploitation author’s distinctive filmography and yet still manages to be utterly unique compared to anything else around.
A flawed but fun freak out…