"Basket Case 2" is the new Friday midnight show at the Nuart and there couldn't be a better mating of movie and venue. It has everything it needs to become the cult film that its 1982 predecessor has been: outrageous dark humor, bizarre horror, driving energy and genuine pathos. It also looks and sounds great, thanks to cinematographer Robert M. Baldwin and composer Joe Renzetti, both major contributors to the film's sinister atmosphere.
The new picture can stand on its own, which is more than can be said for its wistful hero Duane (Kevin van Hentenryck) who has been separated surgically from his hideously deformed and homicidal twin Belial, but from whom he still struggles to free himself emotionally. (Not helping matters for Duane is the fact that they continue to communicate telepathically.) Duane carries the diminutive but surprisingly strong and nimble Belial everywhere in a large basket.
After Duane and Belial survive a fall from the roof of a flophouse off Times Square--where they were locked in a bitter knock-down, drag-out fight--they are spirited away from the hospital by an elegant middle-aged woman who calls herself Granny Ruth (Annie Ross) and her granddaughter Susan (Heather Rattray). In the attic of one of Staten Island's stateliest Colonial Revival mansions Granny Ruth hides a group of deformed people she refers to kindly as unique individuals.
Ruth's heart is in the right place, but having given birth to a nine-armed child herself, her mind is crazed. Duane initially feels that he at last has found the perfect haven for Belial and will now be free, but he has not reckoned with the full measure of Ruth's dementia.
Writer-director Frank Henenlotter might not be able to get away with "Basket Case 2" were his freaks not so outrageously exaggerated. This means that his film is Grand Guignol fun rather than truly scary. Henenlotter knows how to build suspense and generate a sense of horror--only to send everything up with a hilarious line. For example, Duane to Belial: "Ripping the faces off people may not be in your best interests."
Even so, he gets everyone, which includes Kathryn Meisle as an amusingly tough reporter for a supermarket tabloid, Jason Evers as her ruthless editor and Ted Sorel as a canny private eye, to play perfectly straight.
Actually, Ross, a veteran jazz singer as well as skilled actress, and Van Hentenryck handle quite demanding and complex roles with aplomb. However, actors in horror films, even one as distinctive and effective as "Basket Case 2" (rated R) never get the credit they deserve. Just ask Vincent Price.
'BASKET CASE 2'
A Shapiro Glickenhaus Entertainment presentation. Executive producer James Glickenhaus. Producer Edgar Ievins. Writer-director Frank Henenlotter. Camera Robert M. Baldwin. Music Joe Renzetti. Special effects makeup Gabe Bartalo. Film editor Kevin Tent. With Kevin Van Hentenryck, Annie Ross, Kathryn Meisle, Heather Rattray, Ted Sorel, Jason Evers.
Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes.
MPAA-rated: R (under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian).