Welcome to the family!
To watch Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case trilogy is to watch a trajectory from the gross, grimy original film — the kind of cult movie that was perfectly at home in the glory days of New York’s grindhouse theaters on 42nd Street — to a sillier, more colorful and weirdly innocuous conclusion that tries so hard to be outrageous and goofy that it might as well be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, albeit one with occasional graphic gore. There is a scene in 1991’s Basket Case 3: The Progeny — the third and (for now) final film in the series, new out on Blu-ray from Synapse — in which singer/actress Annie Ross performs “Personality” amidst a sea of latex-laden creatures. At this point, the Basket Case series may as well be The Muppet Show.
Picking up during the craziest scene in Basket Case 2 and replaying the events of that movie to its end, The Progeny finds Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck) re-separated from Belial and institutionalized, while Granny Ruth (Ross) prepares for the birth of Belial and Eve’s baby with the help of Uncle Hal (Dan Biggers, Elizabethtown) and his mutant son Little Hal (Jim O’Doherty, Megaville). When the town sheriff discovers Duane’s true identity, he and his deputies decide to investigate the extended family. This has never worked out well for anyone.
If the previous installment found director Frank Henenlotter moving the Basket Case series towards comedy and camp, Basket Case 3 finds him embracing it fully. Belial is no longer a scary, dangerous creation; he’s now instead a puppet (case from the face of star Hentenryck) who rolls his eyes and mugs along with everyone else. Hentenryck himself, never the most polished actor, now pitches his performance to be completely comic. It’s not necessarily funny, but that’s not for his lack of trying. There are moments that are genuinely amusing, like an amazing “water breaking” gag or a series of funny improvisations when Jim O’Doherty is videotaping the birth of the titular progeny, but most of the gags exist just to let us know we shouldn’t be too horrified. It adds up to a movie that’s fun, but surprisingly toothless given where the series began.
Like with their release of Basket Case 2, Synapse has done tremendous work restoring The Progeny. The 1.78:1-framed image has been given a full 1080p restoration and really pops; colors are vivid, skin tones (those not made of latex and rubber) are natural and the film has been spiffed up to remove almost all traces of aging or debris. The lossless stereo audio track is surprisingly forceful; even with my volume turned down low, I was able to make out not just the dialogue, but also the music and surround effects throughout the feature. Unfortunately, only one supplement has been included: the original theatrical trailer. A commentary with the always-entertaining Henenlotter would have been a real treat, or even a retrospective featurette. Sadly, the release is almost completely bare bones.
I had a good enough time with Basket Case 3 because I have a high tolerance for these kinds of horror comedies and because I’m a fan of the series, but I’m glad that Henenlotter stopped here. He never pulls his punches when it comes to being outlandish, but it’s a different kind of outlandish than in his early days. I fear a fourth installment would be more like The Garbage Pail Kids Movie than it would Basket Case, and that’s a different kind of terror altogether.