LAST CALL | Retro Review: Joe Bob takes on ‘Basket Case 2’

Does the follow up to 1982’s drive-in smash live up to the legacy of the original?

We’re throwin it back 30 years with some vintage JBB columns here on the blog as we work our way through the weeks to the new season of the Last Drive-In — the Shudder Twitter High Sheriffs did say ‘soon,’ right?

Please note: This column was originally syndicated on March 2, 1990. Some things have changed since then.

The drive-in eighties began with the classic “Basket Case,” the story of a horribly deformed, twisted, mutilated Siamese twin who lives in a picnic basket and is very angry about it. It summed up the Nixon years for me and many others like me.

And now we begin the nineties with “Basket Case 2.” Belial has matured. He’s learned to act out his aggression in safer ways. He identifies the people whose faces need to be eaten BEFORE he starts munching. And he’s falling in love. It’s a kinder, gentler horribly mutilated Siamese twin who lives in a picnic basket.

Why did the sequel take nine years to make?

Because it’s perfect.

America is a different place. Belial no longer lives in a loft overlooking Times Square. He lives in the attic of a mansion in Staten Island. And he has FRIENDS. Thanks to a fruitcake lady psychiatrist, he’s the head of the world’s most militant minority group. They all have heads like giant squashed garden vegetables, and they spend most of their spare time in Ugly Therapy with the lady doctor. But they have one thing in common: they hate “normal” people. And when a smart-mouth bimbo reporter for a sleazoid magazine shows up to write stories about the “freak house,” they all get together for a little motivational therapy, followed by some serious molar-sharpening.

The only thing that’s just a little bit shocking about Part Two is that the Vomit Meter rating is way way down–no closeup surgery, no slow-motion face-chomping, and a whole lot less blood. Reason: the Jack Valenti MPAA Censorship Board boys have been slashing the slime all year long, slapping “X” ratings on perfectly innocent gore movies, and so nobody’s taking any chances with those Nazis.

Even though it’s only been nine years, it seems like only yesterday that we had the world drive-in premiere of “Basket Case” at the Highway 183 Drive-In in Irving, Tex., at 2 in the morning. About 300 cars showed up for it, and the world was changed forever. “Basket Case” went on to sweep the Drive-In Academy Awards that year and to become the most famous cult movie of the decade. People still write to me from Austria, Sweden, Australia, and some countries where the movie has been banned, asking for information on “Basket Case.” The only cult movie more famous is “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” and that’s probly only because it’s been around longer.

And now they’ve made a better one.

It picks up exactly where the first one left off, with Duane splattered all over the pavement of Times Square. He’s a mess, but he’s NOT dead. Duane and his twin brother Belial, the twisted mass of grotesque muscle with an arm coming out of the side of his face, get side-by-side intensive-care beds, and all it takes is a couple security-guard meals and — whammo! — they’re out on the street, ready to be taken into the care of . . . Annie Ross! The jazz singer and classical actress! She’s working a horror film! And she’s great.

She takes the Freak Twins to live in her mansion on Staten Island and starts in on their psychotherapy. She takes Belial out of his basket, sets his slimy little intestine body on the couch, and says, “I think it’s time we really confronted your feelings about your SEPARATION from Duane.” Belial grunts and whimpers. “To you it was more than losing a brother. You also lost a piece of yourself.” And when they get to the crux of Belial’s problem, she says, “I understand your pain, Belial, but ripping the faces off people may not be in your best interests.”

Meanwhile, there’s a grotesquely deformed FEMALE Belial upstairs in Granny’s Freak Attic, and Belial is spending a lot of time parking his muscle mass in front of Lady Belial’s pet bed. Duane thinks that, if Belial actually FALLS IN LOVE with another mutant monster, then Duane will be free for the first time. And he has his eye on . . . Heather Rattray! The girl from “Mountain Family Robinson” and “Wilderness Family”! The most obnoxious simpering white-bread girl-next-door in America! He wants to do with her what no man has done before. Fat chance.

I don’t wanna say anything else, cause it’s one of those movies where anything can happen at any moment, and nothing happens where it’s supposed to. Another messterpiece.

Two breasts. Six dead bodies. Strangling. Face-eating. Monster sex. Closeup surgery. Closeup do-it-yourself surgery. Kung Fu. Baseball Bat Fu. Freak Show Fu. Drive-In Academy Award nominations for Jason Byers, as the editor of Judge And Jury, “America’s Gravest Newspaper,” the same actor who starred in the 1959 drive-in classic “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die”; Heather Rattray, as Susan, for saying “We’re all of the same flesh, Duane”; Kevin van Hentenryck, as Duane, for making the second movie even after he died in the first one, for having even a MORE disgusting scar on the side of his body where Belial was cut off, and for slowly going crazy as he says “I just wanted people to think I was NORMAL!”; Kathryn Meisle, as the tabloid reporter, for saying “This story is worth more than Lou could ever pay! We’re talking People Magazine!”; Annie Ross, as Granny Ruth, for gathering her freakish “children” around her and saying “The wolves are once again at our door! Our rights are being invaded by sideshow mentality!” and then leading them into battle; Ted Sorel, as Phil the detective, for saying “You’re wrapped in your brother’s shadow!” right before Belial eats his face off; and Frank Henenlotter, the director, for making the ultimate handicapped-rights film.

Four stars. The standard for the nineties.

Joe Bob says check it out.

Communist Alert! The Frontier Drive-In on Highway 199 just outside Cave Junction, Ore., has a big “For Sale” sign on it, and the wind is not only whipping through the pines around the screen — it’s whipping through the screen. David Arthur of Ashland discovered the sad sight and reminds us that, without eternal vigilance, it can happen here.

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