Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, September 9, 2016

Director Report Card: Frank Henenlotter (1991)

5. Basket Case 3: The Progeny

It took eight years to get a sequel to “Basket Case.” The wait for the third part of the story would not take so long. Just two years later, in 1992, “Basket Case 3: The Progeny” would be delivered to audiences. I have a personal memory connected to the film. As a kid, while pursuing through the VHS rack in a local dollar store, I’d see a mildly creepy box art featuring a baby carriage, with bizarre monster peeking out. I didn’t even realize what this movie was for years – for a while, I thought it might’ve been one of the “It’s Alive” sequels – and wouldn’t actually see it until recently. This is where the twisted saga of the Bradley brothers concludes.

After his grisly attempt to reunite himself with Belial, Aunt Ruth has kept Duane in solitary confinement for about a year. More pressing issues concern the family of freaks. Eve, Belial’s mate, is heavily pregnant. Concerned for her health, Ruth drops the entire family into a bus and goes on a road trip to Georgia. There, they meet Ruth’s brother Hal, who specializes in helping unique individuals. Eve births a dozen of freaky off-springs. In Peachtree County, the local police department is less then welcoming to Belial and his clan. Duane and his basket residing twin have to put aside their differences to save the youngest members of the family.

Over the previous two entries in this series, a theme of family has emerged. In the first, the baggage of their shared lives forced Belial and Duane apart. In the second, the two outsiders made a family of their own, among other outcasts. In the third, we welcome the next generation of Bradleys. The theme extends even further, as we discover why Aunt Ruth has such a soft spot for physically disadvantaged individuals. Her own son is grotesquely deformed, a massive human with a slug-like body and multiple arms. She abandoned her child and, perhaps out of residual guilt, has since adopted countless other outsiders.

The freaks are especially united this time. In “Basket Case 2,” Ruth’s family worked together to protect themselves from intruders. In “Basket Case 3,” they’re taking on the world. Henenlotter’s third take on the tale has his monsters going on the offensive. By traveling outside of the comfort of their own home, Ruth’s clan put themselves at risk. They fight against the normal world. In the final minutes, this theme is even more strongly established. Belial, Ruth, and the freaks take over a Geraldo style talk show. They declare to the world that they’re not hiding anymore. They’ll fight to protect what they have. Henenlotter pushes the monster love intrinsic to the series to its maximum point. The deformed, the freakish, are the heroes.

As part two did, “The Progeny” begins with the ending moments of the previous movie. Thanks to this story, the motives behind Duane’s action last time become more apparent. Duane has realized he’ll never be normal. Understanding that the real world is beyond his grasp, his goal is now re-establishing his bond with his twin. It’s a hard road, as the basket bound one is reluctant to forgive. (Considering Belial raped and murdered Duane’s girlfriend, and Duane got over that, you’d think Belial would be more wiling to move on.) By the end, all is resolved. Kevin Van Hentenryck’s third go-around as Duane Bradley has the actor comfortable with the character. He’s almost too casual, considering the stakes.

The special effects budget has clearly gotten bigger with each consecutive film. Belial’s appearance has changed in every movie. This time, he’s a little bumpier, with more visible veins and bones. His face is more expressive then ever, which counts for a lot. Eve has gained a sickly green skin tone, serrated teeth, and fleshier bits. The rest of the freaks are more detailed too, with craggier skin and more life-like features. The returning freaks all gain names too, like Elmo and Fredrick. While obviously still cartoonish, the effects are at their best this time.

There are some new additions to the family too. A new freak has a bizarre, gross black bony structure emerging from the top of his head, curling around. A new individual, introduced on the bus, constantly fondles a head of lettuce for some bizarre reason. Eve’s nurse is Simon, an apparently transgender character played by Pierre Perea. Aside from his prominent breasts, Simon also has a bizarre deformity across his face. Little Hal, played by Jim O’Doherty, is by-far the most grotesque of the new characters. His massive body is green and discolored. His multiple arms extend out, usually twitching. Henenlotter’s twisted imagination continues to come up with sickeningly strange new creatures.

And, of course, there’s the babies. The film plays up the already considerable grossness of birth to even higher, ridiculous levels. When Eve’s water breaks, it sprays across the room. A wave pours out of the bus. After much screaming and gnashing of teeth, Eve pushes out her first baby. Eleven more follows, bloody little creatures danging off a long umbilical cord. Once we get a good look at the offspring, they’re revealed as… Kind of cute? As cute as twisted little balls of flesh can be anyway. Looking similar to Madballs, the titular progeny have the same equally endearing and off-putting qualities of their father.

With the Bradleys being so totally established as the heroes of this story, Henenlotter has to cook up some truly nasty bad guys. By setting the story in the deep South, the writer/director gives himself a chance to exploit the redneck cop cliché. The Peachtree County Police Department is composed primarily of ignorant, fearful dumb-asses. They break into the family’s home, bungle through the darkness, and blast Eve with a shotgun. After murdering Eve in cold blood, they kidnap the babies. If this wasn’t enough, Henenlotter also makes the sheriff’s daughter, a Georgia peach named Opal, into a dominatrix. Gil Roper is amusingly villainous as Sheriff Griffin. The other cops each have names beginning with B: Bailey, Baxter, Brannon, Banner, Brennan, and Basil. Each one are magnificent bozos.

Reportedly, Henenlotter had to cut eleven pages of gore from the screenplay before the studio would approve the project. The final film is probably the least bloody of the “Basket Case” films. However, it makes up for a lot with a lengthy sequence midway through the film. Belial sneaks into the sheriff department inside his trademark basket. He leaps out and wrings a cop’s neck so hard, his eyes and teeth pop out. Another officer has his lip bitten off and stretch around. Belial twists Another policeman’s head around on his shoulder. In the scuffle, Opal gets blasted with a shotgun and a baby Belial gets squished. The first “Basket Case” had over-the-top but still reasonably grounded gore. The sequel play in much the same fashion. The third part heads off totally for ridiculous, cartoon carnage.

Whether Frank knew this was the last “Basket Case” movie or not, he certainly dreamed up an unforgettable image to take the franchise out on. For the climax, part three manages to top all the previous movies. The mad genius Little Hal builds Belial a steam-powered robotic exo-suit out of scrap minute. It has a giant steel door to protect Belial from shotgun blast. He’s armed with a giant pneumatic claw and a saw blade. It even includes fuzzy dice! Who can resist that? Naturally, the machinery gives the freakish hero the edge he needs to reek bloody revenge on the men who murder his mate and kidnapped his children.

It wouldn’t be a Frank Henenlotter movie without some moments of utterly inspired madness. “Basket Case 3: The Progeny” has that too. While traveling down south, Aunt Ruth leads the bus full of freaks in a musical number. The monsters pull out instruments and sing along. The rendition of “Personality” is so amusingly odd that it plays over the end credits too. Midway through the film, Belial has a dream about being waited on hand and foot but nude babes. If that wasn’t enough random T&A, there’s the hilarious decision to make the sheriff's otherwise wholesome appearing daughter into an S&M enthusiast. Who thinks of this stuff?

Even though “Basket Case 3” ends with Belial, Duane, Ruth and the rest inciting confrontation with the rest of the world, no part four would follow. After the third part of his most beloved story, Frank Henenlotter would take an extended sabbatical from filmmaking. Instead, he focused on his love of vintage sleaze and weirdo cinema, contributing to Something Weird Video. If still lacking the home made charm of the original, “The Progeny” is still more lovable, focused, and overall entertaining then part two. I’ll doubt we’ll ever hear from the Bradley siblings again and a note of defiance and victory is a good one to take the twisted brood out on. [Grade: B]

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