Basket Case, the first in Frank Henenlotter’s trilogy of (conjoined) brotherly love and violent revenge, was something of an anomaly when it was unleashed in 1982: it’s a horror film that owes as much to MAD magazine as it does to any slasher film, and unlike your garden-variety “so bad it’s good” fare, Henenlotter’s juxtaposition of the scary and the goofy was definitely a feature, not a bug. The film’s graphic violence is routinely undercut by over-the-top mugging and hammy freakouts; the practical effects for Belial, the separated, basket-bound mutant brother of protagonist Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck), look alternately like a melted, stretched-out Telly Savalas mask and something from Ray Harryhausen’s reject pile. It’s both a creep show and a laugh riot. As an added bonus, the film captures 1980s New York City in all its scummy glory, in a fashion not far removed from that of more overtly artful contemporaries like Jim Jarmusch and Abel Ferrara. Certainly, it’s not for nothing that the film was preserved and restored by MoMA in 2017.
Content warning for gore images and sexual violence