Friday, February 26, 2016

#226: Basket Case 2 (Frank Henenlotter, 1990)

Ignoring the real-world eight-year gap between the first Basket Case and its sequel, B-movie legend Frank Henenlotter begins this second installment moments after the first film ended. Fans of Basket Case (that's all of us, right?) who have never explored the sequels may be thinking to themselves, "Didn't our main characters plummet to their deaths at the end?" We all thought so until 1990, but Henenlotter informs us here that they merely plummeted to their extreme inconvenience. Belial is bruised and cut, and Duane (a returning Kevin Van Hentenryck) has head and leg injuries, but our telepathic murderers-with-hearts-of-gold formerly conjoined twin heroes, one of whom is a tiny, misshapen mutant who lives in a wicker basket, are still alive, which is great for almost everyone.
Despite being alive, things are otherwise not looking so great for Duane and Belial. They're slowly recovering from their injuries in a Manhattan hospital, unaware they've become media sensations in the entire state of New York and are wanted for five murders. Meanwhile, in Staten Island, a woman and her granddaughter see a news report about Duane and Belial and quickly drive their van to the hospital in the dead of night to snatch them away. The women, Granny Ruth (jazz singer Annie Ross of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross and Altman's Short Cuts fame) and Susan (Heather Rattray), operate a covert safe space for severely mutated "freaks" in suburban Staten Island, and they provide shelter and a home for Duane and Belial. Granny Ruth is a retired psychologist who was given the pejorative (and lazy) nickname "Dr. Freak" for her tireless championing of this segment of society.
The movie then jumps ahead four years. Duane and Belial are still in hiding in Staten Island and still wanted by the law. Belial is thriving at Granny Ruth's place and even has a girlfriend, but Duane longs for a normal, independent life and plans on moving out, with hopes of taking Susan with him. His plans are thwarted when tabloid reporter Marcie's (Kathryn Meisle) editor at Judge and Jury ("America's bravest newspaper") assigns her a four-part where-are-they-now anniversary piece about Duane and Belial, and she stumbles across their Staten Island hiding place. Granny Ruth won't let this stand, and mayhem ensues. And keeps ensuing.
Writer/director Henenlotter, the lovably creative loon behind such gems as Brain Damage, Frankenhooker, and, duh, Basket Case, creates an unconventional, goofball sequel that wanders off in its own weird direction instead of tiredly rehashing its predecessor. The satisfyingly scuzzy early-'80s 42nd St. grindhouse atmosphere of the first film is sadly replaced by the generically scrubbed anemia of the suburbs, but there is more than enough here to make up for it. Ross has a fantastic time chewing the scenery, the freaks are a comically strange group of endearingly human types with pushed-to-the-limit prosthetic special effect exteriors, Henenlotter's screenplay is his typically odd mix of naive sincerity, cynicism, and freak-out absurdity ("I understand your pain, but ripping the faces off of people may not be in your best interest"), and his direction is full of cute little nods to Freaks, The Maltese Falcon, Blood Simple, and his earlier films. You also get one of the most distinctively hilarious sex scenes in cinema history. Finally, I'd like to toast the actor playing the elderly proprietor of a carnival sideshow for the following line reading upon being offered one hundred dollars: "One hundred smackeroos? One hundred smackeroos! Whooooooooo! One hundred smackereenies!"
Henenlotter concluded the trilogy the following year with Basket Case 3: The Progeny, which I remember enjoying, just not as much as the first two. Maybe a revisit is in order. Slowing down a bit since his '80s and early '90s heyday, Henenlotter's recent films have included Bad Biology, the story of a woman with seven clitorises falling in love with a man whose mutated penis has a mind of its own, Chasing Banksy, a comedy about the New York art world, and two documentaries, That's Sexploitation and Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore. I have not seen these films. Anybody have any opinions on them?
I do have opinions on all the other Henenlotter films, and those opinions can be summed up in this single opinion: These movies are awesome. Please see them.

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