NOVEMBER 13 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : THE DEVILS GIFT (1984)
The Devil's Gift is a 1984 horror film directed by Kenneth J. Berton. The film's plot is similar to that of the Stephen King short story "The Monkey", leading many to believe that the filmmakers plagiarized the story. In 1996, the film was re-edited as the second story of Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders, a horror/fantasy film.
In the opening scene, an elderly woman, Elmira Johnson, uses a Ouija board to communicate with a dead spirit. When a spirit becomes angry, it manifests itself into a cymbal-banging monkey toy. The monkey's eyes glow red and uses its cymbals to cause lightning to strike the old woman's house, presumably killing her.
Some time later, David Andrews, a suburban single father, celebrates their young son Michael's ninth birthday. The child receives the monkey from David's girlfriend Susan, who purchased it at an antiques store. The monkey strikes its cymbals on its own accord. Soon after the party, David awakens screaming from a nightmare in which he found Michael dead in the bathtub. After the household plants die, and the family's dog is mysteriously burned to death in their garage, David suspects the monkey of being behind the events. He notices that it strikes its cymbals together just moments before bad things happen.
David hires Adrienne, a fortune teller, to perform an exorcism on his home, but does not inform her about the monkey. Adrienne asks him if he has any statues or idols, explaining that demons often possess objects that are seemingly harmless, but use them as an outlet for their satanic activity. David realizes that that the monkey is such an item, and is certain that a demon is in their home. He wants Adrienne to come and do an exorcism immediately. She tells him that she would need to find out more about his situation before she can intervene. She tells him that if it is a demon, she may not be able to help.
David goes to the antiqes store and talks to the clerk, who tells him an odd man brought it to the store the previous week after finding it in the ruins of the old woman's house; the monkey showed no signs of fire damage, causing the clerk to disbelieve the story. Despite this, the clerk tells David about Elmira Johnson's recent death by fire. David doesn't think anything of this. When he arrives home, he finds that Susan has become possessed by the monkey and is trying to drown Michael in the bathtub. He grabs Susan and throws her out of his home, which causes her to sustain a head injury. A neighbor witnesses the incident and calls an ambulance.
David decides to tell Adrienne about the monkey. She tells him she may be able to help. However, she tells him that when a demon is in contact with one who can see into the future and talk to ghosts, it goes crazy, and that "all hell would break loose" if she stepped foot in his home. She gives him a special necklace that will protect him from the demon as long as he keeps it in on him at all times. She tells him that he must get rid of the monkey immediately. The boy's father throws the monkey away, but his son rescues it from the garbage and brings it back inside the house. The young boy is then almost hit by a car. The boy's father then takes the monkey and attempts to bury it but it finds its way into the boy's house again. The monkey then winds up causing the violent deaths of the boy and his family.
NOVEMBER 13 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : BASKET CASE (1982)
Made on a shoestring budget by a previously unknown filmmaker and starring an unknown cast, Basket Case is a classic of the horror genre. While I'd prefer to stick with a more vague description of the plot since the film is even more effective if one is completely in the dark from the beginning, the premise is no secret (including the text on the back of the video box), so I'll give a brief recap.
The story centers on Duane Bradley and his Siamese twin, Belial, a misshapen mutant attached to Duane's side. Belial is little more than a head, two mammoth arms and hands, and a scrunched-up, partial spine. The film opens in the present, with Duane carrying the detached, telepathic and super-strong Belial around in a basket. About halfway through, an excellent, lengthy backstory is presented detailing Duane and Belial's situation from birth through shortly after their separation. The backstory gives a deep, symbolic motivation for their present revenge spree.
Most of Basket Case is filmed in the super-seedy 1970s New York City of films like Taxi Driver and Hardcore -and Taxi Driver is the only film that comes close to Basket Case's ability to capitalize on this seediness. The cast plays their parts with both creepy realism and understated camp at the same time, and there are plenty of uncomfortably scary moments. There is also plenty of gore for those of us who prefer our horror films to possess it. But the gore is not so overdone that it seems to be the only reason for the movie or that it seems out of context, and it shouldn't be offensive to anyone with the slightest taste for the genre.
The creature effects, while appearing a bit dated by now, are none the worse for it. They are a combination of claymation, simple puppetry and acting with dead props, but the direction, editing and acting are so superb that you never wish that you had computer graphics or million dollar models instead and you always suspend your disbelief. In fact, the seediness of the film is heightened by the nature of the special effects-hi tech bells and whistles would not do the trick here.
Basket Case is poignant, atmospheric, superbly executed and a textbook example of the advantages of working outside of the Hollywood system (it also has a refreshing non-Hollywood ending) on a tight budget with a dedicated, creative group of artists. There are some film fans with a complete lack of appetite for horror who might find it too disturbing. For everyone else, this is a must see.
The production was allowed to use a run-down hotel as a location, on the condition that the establishment's name not be revealed for fear of the Health Inspector.
NOVEMBER 13 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : BASKET CASE (1982)
In the strange parallel universe of B-movies, one needn’t necessarily be a prolific director to be an important one. Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi, for example, only have a handful of films to their credit, and yet both are big names for that stratum of fandom that considers any movie with the words “zombie,” “cannibal,” or “massacre” in the title a must-see. Frank Hennenlotter is another filmmaker whose significance is all out of proportion to the volume of his output. In fact, when Re-Search tapped him for the opening interview in their Incredibly Strange Films, Hennenlotter had made but a single movie that had seen actual release. That Basket Case alone was enough to elevate its creator to minor stardom should tell you something about the magnitude of the talent at work here.
What Frank Hennenlotter accomplished with Basket Case is that rarest of feats— and one which seems to become rarer with each passing year— the creation of a horror movie that is unlike anything the audience has seen before. Twenty years and two essentially pointless sequels later, it’s easy to lose track of this, but in 1982, Basket Case was little short of revolutionary. That its seamless melding of slasher, vendetta, monster-rampage, and Cronenbergian medical horror elements had never been attempted before (that I know of, at any rate) is impressive enough. That the passage of time has also proven it nearly impossible to emulate is outright shocking. Walk into the horror section of any video store in the country, and you’ll be hard pressed to turn around without bumping into half a dozen clones of Halloween, Psycho, Night of the Living Dead, Jaws, or Alien, but when have you ever encountered a quickie Basket Case knock-off? Yeah. That’s about what I thought.
The movie begins with the murder of a surgeon named Dr. Lipplander by a brutal, unseen assailant. Someone has staked out the doctor’s house, and is lying in wait when he returns from somewhere or other late at night. The killer makes a few stealthy noises to clue the victim in to his presence, cuts the phone lines, and then sneaks up on Lipplander while he futilely tries to dial 911. The doctor hasn’t got much left in the way of a face by the time the killer is through with him.
Elsewhere, in the grimy, sleazy, degenerate Times Square of the early 80’s (and has any filmmaker ever conveyed this particular subspecies of urban squalor as convincingly as Hennenlotter does here?), a young man named Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck) checks into a room in an especially grubby hotel. Duane’s only luggage consists of a backpack and a large wicker basket, so he makes an unusual enough impression on the hotel manager (Robert Vogel) even before he pays for the room by peeling a couple of twenties off of a startlingly fat wad of cash. Imagine what the manager and his circle of regular customers would think if they could see Duane up in his room, talking to whatever is in his basket, and feeding it prodigious quantities of hamburgers from the greasy spoon across the street!
The next day, Duane takes his basket to the office of Dr. Harold Needleman (Lloyd Pace). He doesn’t have an appointment, but Needleman’s receptionist, Sharon (Terri Susan Smith), is perfectly willing to accommodate him, on the grounds that it’s a slow afternoon, and there are scarcely any patients scheduled to come in. Duane ominously signs in under an assumed name, offering the excuse that Needleman is an old friend of the family, and Duane doesn’t want to spoil the surprise of his visit by tipping the doctor off on the sign-in sheet. Needleman doesn’t seem to know who Duane is at first, but when the boy takes off his shirt and reveals the ghastly scar that covers the entirety of his right flank, a flash of troubled recognition steals across the doctor’s face. On his way out of the office, Duane makes a date with Sharon for the following afternoon, so that she can show him around New York.
That evening finds Duane eating dinner with another doctor, a certain Judith Kutter (Diane Brown— oh, and by the way... Dr. Kutter? Dr. Needleman?). The meal is interrupted by a telephone call from Needleman, who apparently knows Dr. Kutter from some nasty business involving Duane many years ago. So nasty, in fact, that Kutter hangs up on Dr. Needleman, telling him that neither one of them ever knew a Duane Bradley, or each other either, for that matter. She then returns to the dining room and her guest, whom she now remembers having met before.
Those viewers with sharp eyes will have noticed that Duane’s basket is not in evidence over at Kutter’s place. That’s because it’s at Needleman’s office instead, as the unfortunate doctor is about to discover. Needleman finds it while he is closing up for the night, and when he opens it up, its occupant, a misshapen lump of a creature about as big as the top half of a man’s torso, with a pair of stumpy, heavily muscled arms, but no legs at all, reaches out and grabs him. The hideous thing lays into the doctor with tooth and nail, and leaves him in about the same condition as Dr. Lipplander.
Hints at the connection between Duane and the thing in the basket begin to emerge the next day, when Duane is out seeing Sharon. There appears to be some kind of telepathic link between the boy and the monster, and when the latter senses that its companion is making time with a girl, it flies off the handle and starts noisily wrecking the hotel room. The commotion brings nearly every one of the other residents running, but when the manager uses his key to open up the room, there is no sign of who or what caused all of the ruckus, and Duane’s basket is empty. One of the hotel’s regulars follows the manager into the room, though, and this sharp-eyed old weasel notices Duane’s money lying unguarded on top of the dresser. He arranges to be the last person to leave Duane’s room, and when he does so, it is with the cash in his pocket. But the thief won’t have long to enjoy his ill-gotten gains, because when he stops at the bathroom on the way back to his room, the basket monster is waiting for him. It carves him up just like the doctors, and relieves him of the stolen funds.
But murders cannot long go unnoticed, even in a flea-pit hotel in one of New York’s sleaziest neighborhoods, and when Duane returns from his date, he finds a police detective poking around in his room, on the plausible theory that whoever trashed it probably cut up the old man, too. The basket monster is a sneaky little bastard, though, and has done a marvelous job of covering its tracks. The cop is forced to go back to the station empty-handed.
By this time, you’re probably really starting to wonder just what the hell is going on here, and Hennenlotter apparently agrees that the time has come to lay all the cards out on the table. The night after the thief’s murder, Duane heads out to a bar to get really, seriously shitfaced for the first time in his life. At the bar, he runs into another resident of his hotel, a stylish black woman who isn’t quite attractive enough to justify her unfortunate habit of dressing like a girl fifteen years her junior, by the name of Casey (Beverly Bonner, whom Hennenlotter liked enough to use again in both Brain Damage and Frankenhooker). With more alcohol than he has ever seen before in his system, Duane gets talkative, and spills the whole story to Casey. The thing in the basket is named Belial, and it is— are you ready for this?— Duane’s twin brother! Indeed, Duane and Belial were Siamese twins, the huge scar on the normal brother’s side marking the place where his deformed twin was originally attached. Their mother died giving birth to them, and their father never forgave Belial for “killing” her. When the twins were perhaps twelve years old, their father hired a team of surgeons— Lipplander, Needleman, and Kutter— to separate them. This had to be done at home, and strictly under the table, because Mr. Bradley’s intentions were to leave Belial to die after the operation was completed. The mutant boy proved tougher than anyone expected, however, and after being rescued from the dumpster by Duane, survived to avenge himself on his filicidal father. The murder, in which Duane acted as Belial’s accomplice, was engineered so that it could just barely be passed off as an accident with the unnecessarily large circular saw Bradley kept in the basement, and the boys’ aunt (who knew full well what her brother-in-law was up to) raised them from then on. And as you’ve probably figured out by now (though Duane wisely leaves this part out of his confession to Casey), Duane and Belial have spent the years since their aunt’s death on the trail of the doctors who separated them, with the aim of completing the revenge that began with the murder of their father.
But now Duane has a problem. He told Casey the story of his childhood within earshot of the basket, and while he may have been drunk, Belial was not, and the mutant has his head screwed tightly enough onto what passes for his shoulders to recognize the hassles that Duane’s little gab-fest could cause them. They still have one more doctor to kill, after all, and it just wouldn’t do for Casey to jeopardize the mission in a moment of indiscretion. Not only that, Belial has grown very jealous of Duane’s budding relationship with Sharon. If you’re beginning to get the feeling that a conventionally happy ending just isn’t in the cards here, you’re probably right.
It pains me to say it, but I really don’t think very many horror fans under the age of 25 are going to have much patience with Basket Case today. The years since its initial release have seen a precipitous drop in the cost of the Tom Savini-Stan Winston school of special effects, and even the cheapest direct-to-video trash usually boasts more convincing gore and monster effects than this movie. The tiny budget with which Hennenlotter was saddled ($50,000 before the expense of blowing the negative up to 35mm from 16 ballooned the total cost up to $160,000— of which only $7000 were actually on hand when shooting began!) is immediately evident, and forced distasteful compromises on the director at every stage of production. Beyond the obvious technical difficulties (often unconvincing makeup and effects, poor picture and sound quality, etc.), the stiff financial limitations frequently forced Hennenlotter to accept imperfect takes of scenes he would surely have re-shot if he had been able to afford the film on which to do it, and to rely on a cast with literally zero acting experience. Unavoidable though they were, these things mean that the viewer has to cut Basket Case a great deal of slack before he or she can fully appreciate Hennenlotter’s surprisingly self-assured direction and brilliantly demented script. There are two important ways in which the movie’s limitations work in its favor, though. First, the almost total lack of technical gloss helps to bring home the filth and grime of the film’s setting; no Hollywood movie could ever match the authentic slum ambience of Basket Case. And second, Kevin Van Hentenryck’s stilted performance as Duane is exactly what the role calls for. It would take an actor of considerable talent to simulate the stiffness and discomfort that Duane exhibits in all of his social interactions as convincingly as Van Hentenryck’s very real stiffness and discomfort in front of the camera does. Basket Case is unquestionably a flawed gem, but it is a gem nevertheless.
NOVEMBER 13 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : BASKET CASE (1982)
You may have had a rough time growing up with your brothers and sisters, but it could have been worse. They could have been horribly deformed and conjoined to your stomach, which would have made your 4th grade sleepovers awkward to say the least.
Basket Case is a great low budget horror flick from the 80′s with all of the usual elements: Blood, Gore, Violence, Sex, and Creatures. Originally released in an edited form by it’s distributor it became popular once released in it’s “Full Uncut Version.” Like many of the interesting horror films from it’s era Basket Case gained it’s cult following from the emerging VHS rental market, and is now available on a 20th Anniversary DVD as well as instant streaming on Netflix.
NOVEMBER 13 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : BASKET CASE (1982)
PLOT: Duane checks into a derelict Times Square hotel carrying a wicker basket under his arm; inside is something about 1/4 the size of a person, that eats about 4 times the hamburgers a person would.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Most people will go through their entire lives and never see anything as weird as the micro-budgeted cult shocker Basket Case. A fine little offbeat exploitation shocker, the flick makes a late-in-the-game play for true weirdness with a strange dream sequence that sees Duane running naked through the streets of New York as a prelude to the film’s most shocking development. To us, however, Basket Case shakes out as nothing more (or less) than a fine example of a unique, campy monster flick with only marginally weird elements. That’s just how selective we are with our weirdness.
COMMENTS: One of the secrets to Basket Case‘s success is that it positively oozes indecency and vice, but isn’t mean-spirited or sadistic. Director Frank Henenlotter nails the aesthetic of sleaze, and for the most part keeps on the right side of the fine line between trash and crass, only crossing over briefly once or twice so that we know where the border is. You emerge from a screening titillated and pleasantly shocked, but not feeling like you have to take a bath or go to confession. The setting—the 42nd street red light district as it existed in Times Square in the early 1980s—creates an immediate atmosphere of moral and social decay. Since renovated and Disneyfied, back then the neon-lit 42nd street was an avenue where you could walk past peep shows and marquees advertising “3 Kung Fu hits!” while being propositioned for weed, heroin and/or whores by strangers. The scenes Henenlotter shot in the vanished district rank as documentary footage today. With his mysterious, omnipresent wicker basket tucked under his arm, fresh-faced Duane checks into the Hotel Broslin, a fictional but believably decrepit pay-by-the-night hotel inhabited by a collection of oily-looking alcoholics and hookers. (It’s particularly refreshing and effective that Basket Case‘s prostitutes look unglamorous, like women forced to sell their bodies because they have no other alternative, not like fashion models dolled up as eye candy for horny male viewers). Despite his poodle-perm, Van Hentenryck’s Duane is the Broslin’s most attractive resident, if only because he’s the only one who looks like he’s had a shower in the last week. The script plays heavily on the irony of the hostel’s most normal and least streetwise resident actually being the most twisted and dangerous in the menagerie of wretches. Acting is generally poor all around, even from the leads, but it hardly matters, and even adds to the movie’s downbeat charm. Violence is plentiful and ridiculously satisfying enough for gorehounds, but the displays of spurting blood only accentuate the story, rather than representing it’s sole reason for existence. There is black humor, and some unintentional laughs develop thanks to the poor performances and the absurd, tongue-in-cheek premise, but this is no comedy; it’s a solid shocker that draws you in and sells its horrific scenario, rather than begging you to laugh at its campiness. The monster, Belial, is a fantastic and original conception, both in his origins and motives and in his general design. Looking eerily half-human but with deformed hands, razor-sharp teeth and highly questionable physiology, he evokes both disgust and pity. Normally, Belial appears as a puppet, but there are times when he creeps across the floor courtesy of laughably bad stop-motion animation, a sight that only adds to the mild weirdness of the film. Besides the memorable setting, the other secret to Basket Case‘s success is that Henenlotter instinctively understands that monsters work best when they are sympathetic outcasts, a la Frankenstein or King Kong. We understand why they must be destroyed, but we find a part of ourselves rooting for them to stick it to a society that has rejected them; that tension keeps the viewer emotionally involved in how things turn out. Within it’s seedy subgenre, Basket Case is a bloody classic.
The distribution history of Basket Case is curious. Henenlotter explicitly intended the shocker to play 42nd street fleapit theaters, where he was sure the flick would earn back its meager $35,000 budget and even make a small profit. The film never ended up in grindhouses; instead, it made its way to Cannes where a distributor purchased it, intending to market it as a midnight movie. The distributor cut out the gore scenes and marketed the film as a comedy, to lukewarm reception. Drive-in film critic Joe Bob Briggs championed the film and wrote columns protesting the hack job and insisting that the film not play Dallas unless it was the uncut version. The distributor eventually saw the wisdom of this move and re-released the film in the “full, uncut version!,” including gimmick surgical masks given away to ticket purchasers. The film became an underground hit. Later, when Basket Case was released on VHS, Henenlotter insisted it be sold for a price that the average collector could afford, which went against the prevailing wisdom at that time that new releases should be priced as high as possible and aimed at rental outlets rather than collectors. Of course, the cheap Basket Case release outsold and ended up being far more profitable than all the horror offerings available at that time, and Hennenlotter’s strategy helped to change the pricing model in the home video industry for good.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…this creature ‘like a squashed octopus’ with an alarmingly human face is one of horror’s more memorably bizarre monsters… like David Lynch’s 1977 oddball classic Eraserhead (a clear influence) updated for the slasher generation, Basket Case is a deranged psychodrama, full of gleefully gory set-pieces, quirky humour, and some impossibly moving pathos.”–Anton Bitel, Eye for Film (DVD)
NOVEMBER 13 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : BASKET CASE (1982)
This is a film that I was told I absolutely had to see when it came out. It was right up my alley and while it's not as essential now, it's still a hamper full of gory fun. Duane Bradley carries his hideously deformed, psychotic brother around in a wicker basket, on a mission to track down and avenge the surgical team who separated them as Siamese twins…
Set in Manhattan's Times Square when it was more red light district than tourist trap, this low budget horror looks definitively grindhouse. At the time, it became a huge success on video, even though most of the gore had been censored out. Basket Case looked as grainy and low-budget as The Evil Dead, but was more like Evil Dead II with it’s mix of blood-letting and black humour. Basket Case continues in the vein of sexual comedy horror that peaked in the 1970s with Andy Warhol’s Blood For Dracula and Flesh For Frankenstein (1973), and predates Stuart Gordon’s slicker Re-animator (1985). The extreme blood-letting was tempered by the over-the-top tongue-in-cheek approach, yet adult enough to include sexuality and nudity, which many American horrors shied away from. The film features a wide mixture of good and bad acting talent, though Kevin Van Hentenryck as the amiable Duane holds the whole film together. The special effects are hit and miss, but take on a surreal charm - the evil twin Belial certainly has character and, for a lump of rubber, even delivers pathos. The wealth of ideas and humour in the script make it very watchable today. As do the women's bizarrely thick hairstyles, though they're no match for the sheer size of Duane's naturally curly perm. Basket Case aimed to out-gore anything else around at the time. The murders are sometimes cheated off camera, but are amusingly inventive and usually ludicrous. Belial's revenge involved separating his victims, when though they're not Siamese twins...
The scalpels in the face scene is my favourite for delirious horror movie acting - revelling in excess, echoing the screaming women of old movie posters, rather than anything distressingly realistic. Gore can be fun! Diana Browne, as Dr Kutter, would have got my vote for ‘best performance in a death scene’ that year, if there was such a thing. As Belial gets jealous of his relatively normal brother having a relationship, sex rears its ugly head. But Henenlotter keeps the sexual interests of his audiences fairly well balanced, featuring male and female nudity, and even male full frontal shots, rare in any film. For a perilously low budget, Henenlotter wrote and directed a great film, making the most of the atmosphere of the down-at-heel locations. He became an essential director for a few years, keeping fans happy with two Basket Case sequels, Frankenhooker, and the marvellous Brain Damage (a title easily confused with Peter Jackson’s Brain Dead and Bad Taste). It’s a shame he couldn’t keep it up – there’s a huge gap in his directorial career between Basket Case 3 and the recent Bad Biology, which I’ve yet to see, but it's out on DVD in February. Welcome back, Frank!
I watched this again on the Something Weird DVD which is presented 4:3 full-frame, hinting that it was framed as much for home video as cinemas. The extras include a commentary track, some great out-takes and a lively tour round the filming locations with the director. The picture looks far less grainy than I remembered it and the dialogue is clearly audible - it wasn't always easy to hear in cinemas and on VHS. Go on, have a peek inside...
NOVEMBER 13 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : FILM LOCATIONS FOR BASKET CASE (1982)
Basket Case location: Franklin Street, Tribeca, New York
Enjoyably grungy horror comedy with Duane (Kevin van Hentenryck) and his evolutionarily challenged ex-conjoined twin Belial, out for revenge on the doctors who separated them.
Filmed in countless locations around New York city, on the kind of budget that barely runs to shoestrings, studio work was out of the question. The movie was filmed in friends' houses at Glens Falls, on the Hudson River north of Albany, I-87; as well as various New York lofts, offices and private apartments.
Duane and his trusty basket wander the old 42nd Street of porno theatres before the city’s big clean-up. Don’t believe the end credits, which seem to have been designed to fool location hounds. There was no ‘Hotel Broslin’.
The exterior of the seedy ‘hotel’ was an office building at 80 Franklin Street, Tribeca, where the service elevator was temporarily converted into a hotel reception desk.
The neon ‘Broslin’ sign, from which Duane dangles, was attached to a fire escape on Hubert Street at Hudson Street, a few blocks to the east.
The bar is an amalgam of two Greenwich Village bars, both seen in the controversial 1980 Cruising: they are Badlands, 388 West Street at Christopher Street; and what was, for a while, the notorious S&M Hellfire Club. It’s now classy Italian restaurant Vento, 14th Street at Ninth Avenue in the Red Triangle Building, West Village, which became Ed Harris’s apartment block in The Hours.