Like a horror version of Midnight Cowboy, wide-eyed Duane Bradley arrives in the Big Apple with a wicker basket which is curiously padlocked. He checks into the first hotel he sees, the kind of place populated by degenerates and whores, and when he's told his room will be twenty dollars he reaches into his pocket, produces a giant roll of cash, and thumbs through it for a moment before finally finding such a small denomination. The resident drunk perks up at the sight of this naive display, dollar signs gleaming in his eyes.
Later, Duane gets hammered at a bar and opens up to a hooker with a heart of gold: when he was a child, his hideously deformed Siamese twin, Belial, was separated from his body against his will. (When questioned about the ethics of such an operation, one of the surgeons said, "I'm not even sure that thing is human.") Following the surgery, Belial was placed into a garbage bag and tossed out with the trash. After Duane rescued his brother, they murdered their father for separating them.
At this point I'm wondering who names their children Duane and Belial.
Basket Case is right up there with the small handful of movies which made me a thrill-popping horror fiend in the first place. If my movie collection had any organization to it at all, it'd be on the same shelf as Evil Dead and Re-Animator. It's some seriously fucked up and funny stuff.
So director Frank Henenlotter picks up exactly where he dropped off: Duane and Belial have taken a nasty tumble from the fire escape of their New York City apartment, which apparently left them dead. (Didn't that guy at the end of the first movie check Duane's pulse and shake his head with finality?) News crews show up to the scene, exposing the Bradley Brothers' murderous secrets for the entire world to see.
Meanwhile, Granny Ruth (Annie Ross) and her granddaughter Susan are watching the media fiasco on their living room TV. For reasons we'll discover later, they decide to pack into their conspicuous van and make their way to the hospital where the boys are being kept under police surveillance. There's also a snotty news reporter scheming to get inside the hospital for an exclusive interview, even going so far as bribing the cops. Unfortunately for her, Belial just woke up on the wrong side of his hospital bed and he's killing everyone who gets in the way of his escape. He even takes possession of his brother to assist himself, despite the pair being on the outs.
When they make it to the parking lot, Granny Ruth and Susan swoop in and usher them into their van. It turns out Ruth owns a house which harbors many more freaks just like the Bradleys. Once there, Ruth separates the brothers, to minimize their fighting, and introduces Belial to a very special lady she keeps in the attic... special in almost the same way Belial is. Ain't it cute?
One thing I loved about the original Basket Case—because Jaws theory isn't always right—is we get a glimpse of the monster relatively early on. This time we see him a little too soon, a little too often and, worst of all, a little too closely. Belial's creature effects are technically better than they were the first time around (because sometimes there's an actual human beneath that tumorous mass of latex), but the first film's charm has begun to wear. My favorite thing about Belial in the first movie was his crazed scream. This time it's just not the same scream and it would have been great to hear it when Belial makes love to his woman.
Warning: Whatever you do, do not watch the spoiler-filled trailer for this one until you've seen the movie in its entirety!
You've typically gone well past the point of diminishing returns by the time you hit the third film in a franchise. Nowhere else is this truer than in the world of horror. Bu unlike most directors, who typically abandon the franchises which made them famous, Henenlotter sticks it out until the bitter end. (He's talked about making a Basket Case 4. The chances of that happening are probably somewhere in between Bubba Nosferatu and House of Re-Animator.) Right out of the gate, Basket Case 3 is much better than 2, even if it does start with an extended flashback sequence of the previous film's ending. I think by including the best part of Basket Case 2, Henenlotter set the bar high so he had no choice but to push himself harder.
The good news is he's up to the challenge.
Granny Ruth has been keeping Duane in a padded cell ever since we last saw the fucked up family. It turns out Belial and his love interest, Eve, are expecting. In response to this glorious news, Granny Ruth giddily decides to pack her merry little band of freaks into an old school bus and make the trek to her ex-husband's house, a doctor who will deliver Belial's baby. Since she can't very well leave Duane in custody, Ruth begrudgingly drags him along for the ride, but bitterly refuses to remove his straight jacket.
Duane insists he's no longer crazy, but we all know better, don't we? Either way, Belial refuses to so much as acknowledge him. He's a family man now. Can't have his crazy brother dragging him down anymore.
I'm going stop talking about the plot details here so I don't ruin the surprises, which only get more outrageous as the film goes on. I don't know why Henenlotter shifted focus from Duane to Belial and then Granny Ruth over the course of the three films, but Annie Ross's character is an endearingly irreverent hero who gets a little more fleshed out with the reveal of the life she once had long before she started harboring freaks. I don't know, it all kind of makes sense now.