Basket Case (Frank Henenlotter / U.S., 1982):

The simple story of brothers "really doing New York in style"; Frank Henenlotter's genius lies in staging the thing in the Manhattan of The Driller Killer and Maniac, and spiking his Siamese-twin satire with a mash of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, It's Alive, and Yoda. (Or is it E.T. the Extraterrestrial?) One brother is a guileless juvenile (Kevin Van Hentenryck), the other a lumpy glob of latex, clawed and pissed-off -- their father orders their separation, the surgery is scored to pipe organ and what sounds like cracked celery. The youngster ventures into the big city with his deformed sibling in a wicker picnic basket, the "squashed octopus" lives on burgers until he's unleashed on the doctors responsible for the operation. A kooky receptionist (Terri Susan Smith) wins the hero's heart early on with an impression of a squeaky typewriter, but the brothers are telephatically sutured and, when the couple goes out on a date, the creature left behind shrieks and thrashes the hotel room. Henenlotter's transgressive verve belies an absurd budget: The father's death by buzzsaw (leaving a pair of disembodied legs, each toppling toward opposite sides of the frame) segues into the aunt's fond coddling, reading Caliban's soliloquy ("When I wak'd, I cried to dream again") by the fireplace. The putty monster hiding in the toilet is a thematic homage to Little Shop of Horrors, his lusty, red-eyed gaze out a window in search of the sleeping heroine is from Archie Mayo's Svengali. Her ravishment is kept mostly in the creature's vantage -- with a reverse-shot to evoke Invaders from Mars -- and is appropriately, uproariously disgusting; Henenlotter follows it with Van Hentenryck's comic rage ("The first girl I ever kissed!") and a stirring denouement that exacerbates the gore with fraternal sorrow. With Beverly Bonner, Robert Vogel, Diana Browne, and Lloyd Pace.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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