When we last saw Belial and Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck), they had fallen to their presumed deaths, but as Basket Case 2 opens, we learn that they survived their fall and are now semi-famous as the “Times Square Killer Twins.” After a brief interlude at the hospital to which the two were taken, they are collected by the kindly Granny Ruth (Annie Ross) and her lovely granddaughter Susan (Heather Rattray), who whisk the two back to Ruth’s home, a Staten Island mansion that the older woman has set up as a home for “unique individuals” like Belial, where they can live out their lives in peace, away from the prying eyes of society. These include such various freaks as Platehead, Half Moon (who looks a bit like Mac Tonight), Huge Arthur, and Frog Boy (played by none other than Tom Franco–yes, of those Francos). Belial takes to this new situation pretty quickly, even meeting a lady Belial named Eve (yes, they eventually hook up, and yes, we get to see every excruciatingly gross and hilarious moment of it), while Duane immediately falls for Susan, seeing in her the chance for a normal life that he could have now that he and Belial have finished exacting vengeance upon the doctors who originally separated them. It seems like the Bradley Brothers may have finally found peace… except that Marcie (Kathryn Meisle), a sleazy reporter for the tabloid Judge & Jury, is hot on their trail, with the backing of her editor Lou (Jason Evers) and the help of private gumshoe Phil (Ted Sorel). Before the boys can get their happily ever after, they have to make sure there are no more breadcrumbs that could lead the outside world to their new home.
Basket Case 2 is a very different animal from Basket Case, and not just because of the influx of funding, making for a movie that looks better, although its generally more balanced lighting and wider color palette also means that some of what made Basket Case the cult classic it is has been lost. There are still some pretty atmospheric moments, most notably in the bar where Phil meets Duane in an attempt to tempt him to turn in Belial or at the “freak show” where Granny Ruth lets Belial loose on a con artist, but this second film features a lot more daytime shooting than you would expect after the seemingly endless night in which the first movie seemed to take place. In general, the tone is more whimsical; Frank Henenlotter has said that he doesn’t think of himself as a horror filmmaker but as an exploitation director, and in this feature even more than Brain Damage that ethos comes through. The freaks are often horrible (although none of them reach the nauseating, pulsating grotesqueness of Belial), but they’re also pretty non-threatening, especially when they spend much of the film’s runtime comically skittering about in a state of nervous anxiety. They’re simply not scary, which is fine, actually, as it allows for Belial to continue to be a monster and gives Duane the opportunity to explore his dark side. His previous reluctant involvement in Belial’s revenge scheme evaporates, as he finds there’s a deep well of darkness within that he can tap to take action against all those who would seek to do harm to his new family. For all of its cheap thrills and corny gore, Basket Case could never be accused of having a character arc, which Basket Case 2 actually does. The extent to which Belial could be developed is pretty limited, but Duane moves from being merely Belial’s enabler/assistant to committing his own crimes and even self-identifying as a freak despite being the most normal (looking) person in the house other than Ruth and her granddaughter. This comes to a head, however, when he realizes that Susan is hiding her own freakishness and reacts… poorly, he attempts to correct his error by going way overboard, but I’ll leave the details of his overcorrection for you to discover on your own, dear viewer.
Of the Basket Case trilogy, BC2 is my favorite. Despite the eight year production gap, Van Hentenryck slides back into the role of Duane pretty easily (even if it’s impossible to ignore that he went from a young-looking 28/29 during the production of the first film to a youthful-but-obviously-older 37 by the time of BC2, despite the second film picking up moments after the end of the first), and Belial is still Belial. Duane gets some great stuff to do here, even if he’ll be completely supplanted as the star by Ross’s Granny in the final Basket Case (for better and for worse). You can see why Henenlotter chose to take that direction in this film, where Duane’s restrained madness is great, but not nearly as delightful as Ross’s utter commitment to the role, as perhaps best evinced in the scene where she counsels Belial, which contains the immortal line “I understand your pain, Belial, but ripping the faces off people may not be in your best interest.” There’s a great expansion of new freaks that also puts BC2 at the top, and it’s more restrained than BC3 will be; that film will add even more “unique individuals” but lose some of the best ones from here (alas, Frog Boy, I wish we could have known you better). Ultimately, this film also has the best individual sequence in the whole trilogy in the scene in which Marcie finds herself cornered in her own home, only to realize that there might be something unexpected in one of her own baskets . . . .
I’m proud to say it’s one of the best looking films in my VHS collection (I’m guessing it wasn’t a very popular rental, given that it plays like it’s the first time every time), but for those of you without this kind of access, Basket Case 2 is available for rent for the low, low price of $1.99 on YouTube.