Since I'm in the unusual position of judging Basket Case 2 without having seen the original, I'll begin with a quote. On 19th August 2002, the Gore-met wrote: "PLEASE be advised that the sequels are in no way indicative of the quality of the first film, which is an independent classic."
For my part, I thought Basket Case 2 was an uneven little potboiler with some parts that were pretty good and others that were dreadful. You might guess it's by the guy who did Frankenhooker (gleeful bad taste, a twist-filled script far above what I'd expect from this bargain-basement corner of the genre) but it feels like a very different film. It's less fun and the story doesn't have the same zip. It doesn't even have any nudity that you'd notice, though there's much more gore than Frankenhooker.
First of all, as a Basket Case virgin I was pleased not to be always playing catch-up. Basket Case 2 explains everything I need to know quickly and efficiently. I'm acquiring some serious respect for Frank Henenlotter as a scriptwriter. Basket Case 2 most definitely has three acts, all taking very different directions from each other but never feeling disjointed. Like Frankenhooker, it also has a killer ending. I could admire a lot of this, but I still wasn't gripped throughout.
The script's biggest problem is that these characters' obvious story was told in the first film. The Bradley brothers still have some relationship issues, but basically the Duane character has nowhere to go but to whine about how he's starting to feel about himself. It's like watching a Disney straight-to-video sequel (and trust me, you don't know true horror until you've seen Tarzan and Jane or The Hunchback of Notre Dame 2: The Secret of the Bell). In fact Henenlotter is going somewhere with this, but he's not helped by Kevin VanHentenryck's performance. Boy, isn't he.
You see, Kevin VanHentenryck is literally the worst actor I've ever seen in any movie. His speeches in the first half are worse than dreadful. Duane Bradley has no motivation and no inner life; instead one just sees a wooden non-actor bludgeoning his way through a script. Admittedly even a good actor would have struggled with these scenes, but VanHentenryck kills them stone dead.
Thank heavens, he improves a bit later. One realises that Duane is meant to be somewhere between "confused" and "retarded". Certainly his moral compass has gone adrift, and it's when Duane turns dangerous that I started to enjoy VanHentenryck's performance. The actor's clearly having a ball during the slasher scenes (it's Belial who does the killing, but Duane helps him along throughout) and now I come to think of it, so's Henenlotter. There's real directorial flair on display in those murders. Despite suffering somewhat during the dodgier bits of this film, I think I'm becoming a fan. Dammit, why didn't he make more movies? There's the original Basket Case in 1982, four more films in 1988-1992... then after that, nothing. This man has talent. Seriously.
Broadly speaking, this film has two kinds of scene. The first is anything involving the freaks... and they're great! Every freak is a person in his own right, with his own little quirk, and they're funny as hell. I could have watched them all day. Whether they're on their own or interacting with people, they're lots of fun. (And, an important point, they look so ridiculously over the top that it's impossible to take them seriously or compare them with real-life freaks. Had this been a film with the realism of Tod Browning's Freaks, 'twould have been no fun at all and pretty damn offensive. After all, Henenlotter undermines his own message by sending out the freaks to kill, no matter that they've been whipped up to it by Granny Ruth. But as it stands, it's a hoot. What with this and Frankenhooker, one could almost write a thesis on The Overlooked Advantages Of Bad Special Effects.)
But then come the human-only scenes, which are boring. Duane whines, Granny's daughter does sod all and the sleazeball reporters are insufficiently sleazy. I wanted more evil! Okay, the script eventually makes Duane interesting by giving him stuff to do, but the only normal person I actually wanted to watch was Granny Ruth (played by Annie Ross). She's a fascinating character, apparently a cuddly old grandmother but underneath a murderous monomaniac whose ruthlessness when it comes to disposing of enemies borders on sadism. But the thing is, she means well. She loves her adopted family and wants only the best for them. You couldn't call her evil, just motivated. (She also reminded me of Angela Lansbury.)
She also gets the movie's best line. "I understand your sadness; I understand your pain. But ripping off the faces off people may not be in your best interests."
Random observation regarding Belial Bradley... since the movie suggests that he's anatomically correct, how exactly does he stick to walls (as he does at the beginning in the hospital)? Anal suction from an exceptionally muscular sphincter, perhaps?
This is several movies in one. It's a slasher movie from the point of view of the monsters. It's a morality fable about the difference between freaks and the conventionally able-bodied. It's a psychological thriller. And most obviously, it's a cheapo cheese-fest with deliberately goofy effects and incredibly bad actors. There's good stuff in Basket Case 2, but you've got to sit through some dull bits to get there.
But I'm definitely going to buy Basket Case 3. Hell, I'm going to buy everything by Henenlotter that I can get my hands on. Shouldn't take long, more's the pity.