Basket Case 3: The Progeny (1991) [Blu-ray review]

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2016-08-06 06:38

Basket Case 3: The Progeny (1991)
Studio: Synapse Films
Release date: August 9th, 2016

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)

The movie:

If Basket Case 2 didn’t make it clear enough that Frank Henenlotter had little interest in simply rehashing his debut film, then the second sequel most definitely confirmed it. Not only is Basket Case 3 wholly unlike the original Basket Case—it’s pretty much completely removed from the movie that preceded it. That it was shot back-to-back with the second film makes this even more impressive; I enjoy it when filmmakers aren’t content to stick to a formula but rather find ways to poke, prod, and upend it—and to pull that off twice in the span of a year shows some guts.

In this case, Henenlotter practically blows the formula wide fucking open. Set a few months after the events of the previous film, The Progeny reveals that Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck) has once again become unseparated from his brother Belial after his crude attempt to rejoin him. In the meantime, he’s been institutionalized by Granny Ruth (Annie Ross), who eventually frees him and brings word that Belial’s mate Eve is very much pregnant. Since Granny doesn’t trust any local doctors to deliver freakish, mutant babies (and who among us would, really?), she packs the entire family of freaks and outcasts into an old school bus and heads towards Georgia. There, her ex-husband (Dan Biggers) will oversee the birth of this strange brood in the privacy of his own home—well, at least until some local cops come snooping around hoping to collect the bounty on the Bradleys’ heads.

Once again, you can sort of tell that Henenlotter’s heart is really with documenting the latest turn of events in Duane and Belial’s lives. The two are at odds with each other for much of the film, and understandably so since Duane quite forcefully and gruesomely tried to sew Belial back to his side. Embedded in all the madness engulfing Basket Case 3 is their eventual reunion of sorts, which climaxes with a grisly revenge spree that subtly echoes the original, at least in theory. While Henenlotter bridges his multiple subplots more gracefully here than in part two, it still feels like the cops’ presence is a concession that, yes, this is supposed to be an outrageous splatter movie. It has the effect of almost drowning out the brothers’ tense relationship because they’re practically pressed into duty to account for a gore quotient.

Admittedly, this might sound an awful lot like Basket Case 2, with that film’s reporter’s switched out for this one’s bunch of bumbling cops; however, it feels nothing like what came before in this franchise. Obviously, a latent silliness inherently rumbles beneath the premise of Basket Case, a series in which a man carries around his detached tumor of a Siamese twin in a basket. Here, though, it’s not latent at all, as Henenlotter pushes it to the forefront, effectively turning this third entry into a total farce.

Don’t mistake that for self-parody, however: where plenty of franchise eventually (and unwittingly) lapse into such a state, Basket Case 3 is a knowingly silly gag, one that feels purposefully far removed from its origins. Gone are the grimy, grungy, filth-ridden New York City streets, here replaced with old rustic farmhouses and quaint police stations in fictional Peachtree County. With the change in locals comes a cartoon flavoring—sure, Basket Case has always felt a bit removed from reality, but it all comes unhinged here. Abandoning any sense of realism, Henenlotter indulges in the over-the-top madness that naturally arises from plunging headlong into a world overrun by latex creatures, lunatics, and buffoons. It’s not so much that the inmates are running the asylum as much as they’ve broken out of the asylum and spread their madness.

Every corner of the film is touched by it: the previous film’s already garish creature designs are joined by even more wonderfully grotesque creations, including Granny’s own son (Jim O’Doherty), who almost looks like a live-action version of the X-Men universe’s Mojo. On their way down to Georgia, Granny Ruth and the bunch break into an impromptu song-and-dance number. More wackiness abounds when they actually reach this hole-in-the-wall town, where all the citizens know each other, right down to the sheriff’s sweet daughter (Tina Louise Hilbert, sadly in her only screen credit). It turns out that she’s actually a nymphomaniac and an S&M fiend to boot. Hentenryck plays an outrageous, brain-damaged version of Duane, almost to the point where he’s unrecognizable as the same character; meanwhile, Ross’s performance as Granny Ross doubles as a lawnmower for all the scenery.

In arguably the movie’s greatest display of excess, Eve doesn’t give birth to just one mutant kid—nor twins, nor triplets. Instead, no less than twelve kids pop out, with O’Doherty’s outrageous commentary proving to be more ridiculous (and grating) as it wears on). As they’re the (sub)title characters, you’d expect Belial’s bunch to figure into the proceedings more, but they’re mostly plot devices, existing only to be nabbed by the police who eventually find themselves in the Bradleys’ crosshairs. It’s somewhat indicative of the film’s slapdash style—it always seems to be constantly fidgeting and pushing towards whatever outrageous thing that comes next.

It is, however, thoroughly the product of Henenlotter’s wild imagination, which proves to be quite a sandbox for his effects artists. The climax especially is too much of a hoot to dismiss: just when it looks like Belial going Terminator on a police station will be the craziest (and oddly meanest) thing imaginable, Henenlotter and crew dream up a gonzo sequence where the aggrieved mutant—who has seen both his mate and one of his children reduced to a puddle of goo—mans a makeshift exoskeleton that’ll conjure up memories of Ripley’s power loader or Krang, depending on where your mind goes.

By this point (and this is not to mention a goofy little coda), it’s obvious that Henenlotter has wrung total chaos from this premise and is looking to send it out on the most delirious note imaginable. He mostly succeeds—Basket Case 3 is a bit of a mess, but it is a pretty indelible. Eventually, its madness becomes almost hypnotic: try as you might to look away, The Progeny is compelling in that very specific “what in the hell is this and how did anyone sign off on it?” sort of way.

The disc:

Basket Case 3 is a fine illustration of the random, somewhat chaotic nature of home video. Just a few short years ago, its substandard, out-of-print full-frame DVD was nonetheless highly coveted since it represented the film’s only release—I myself can attest to going into panic mode upon realizing this. Then, however, Synapse Films came to the rescue with a newly restored, widescreen DVD release, which is now being upgraded to Blu-ray. If nothing else, the past few years have proven that patience is a virtue—it feels like everything will eventually come back into print in some form or another.

At any rate, this upgrade is fine, if not a bit sparse since the original theatrical trailer serves as the lone supplement (unless one also counts the reversible cover art). The presentation acts as more of a headliner here because I can’t imagine Basket Case 3 has ever looked or sounded any better than it does here. And again, just a few years ago, this movie was difficult as hell to even see, so to see it in high-definition is worthwhile in and of itself.
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