Fringe cinema weirdness!

Basket Case

What critic Rex Reed howled in revulsion, filmmaker Frank Henenlotter wore as a bloody badge of honor. Rex ravaged Basket Case (1981, 91 minutes) as “the SICKEST movie I’ve ever seen!” Henenlotter knew such righteous indignation was gold to the exploiteer as he’d been worshiping at the B-cinemas of New York City’s 42nd Street since he was old enough to cut school.

However, Frank was thwarted by his own distributors who neutered the flick’s blood and gore with initially disastrous box office results. It wasn’t until its meaty plot was restored that a cult following began to build around the picture, thanks in large part to a cunning manipulation of the home video boom. The goretur often points with nostalgic glee that the bank roll seen in the flick is a large portion of its total $35,000 budget.

The movie: A tale of two exceedingly unusual brothers that’s rich with vengeance, lust and inexplicable charm. Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck) is a tall, lanky kid who wanders into the seedy Hotel Broslin toting a large wicker basket. He pays for Room 7 from an enormous wad of cash, then lugs his heavy cargo upstairs, under the prying gaze of suspicious and perhaps devious onlookers. Not long afterward, Duane begins talking to something, rather, SOMEONE inside the basket who snarls and quakes while being fed a sack of hamburgers — wrappers and all. That someone, as any CineSchlocker already knows, is Duane’s very tiny and very ferocious bubba Belial. The two are in town to systematically chew — one of them quite literally — through a gaggle of quack physicians they were wronged by many years before. Their wrath is ravenous and even, well, creative. Like when Belial turns a broad into a human porcupine with his gnarled fist full of scalpels. In a Shakespearian twist, all this revelry is complicated when Duane falls for a bright-eyed receptionist (Terri Susan Smith) with a revolving door on her virtue and a dime-store wig. Belial is enraged by and jealous of his brother’s Romeo antics which, fueled by his own sexual frustration, spawns a murderous rift between them with obvious Biblical parallels.

Despite the flick’s grim finale, the first of two increasingly wacky sequels finds our pint-sized terror continuing his search for romantic fulfillment among his own ilk at a bizarro commune of sideshow oddities (think Clive Barker meets Sid & Marty Krofft). While Basket Case 3: The Progeny follows the fruit of Belial’s loins in an apparent ode to Larry Cohen‘s immortal It’s Alive franchise.

Notables: Two breasts. Eight corpses. Monster cam. Nekkid dream sequence with untethered wangdoodle. Eye gobbling. Lock picking. Toilet diving. Hypodermic closeups. Apartment trashing. Gratuitous visit to Statue of Liberty. Boozing.

Quotables: Tenant taunts the young stranger, “[You’re] all alone in this cold, CRUEL world.” Sharon can’t believe a strapping fella like Duane is single, “Don’t they have girls up state?!” Duane lovingly describes his brother, “He’s deformed! He’s a freak! He looks like a squashed octopus!” There’s just been too much excitement for the Broslin’s manager, “This isn’t a hotel! It’s a nut house!!!”

Time codes: First of five people to ask “What’s in the basket?” (5:34). Feeding time at the Hotel Broslin (9:20). Kung fu scene from The Bodyguard (22:10). First clear look at Belial (31:06). Stop-motion creature animation by Henenlotter (36:55). The shocking origin of these troubled brothers (49:00). Belial returns to his basket after a midnight panty raid (1:09:48). Frank’s dedication to gore legend Herschell Gordon Lewis (1:30:50).

Final thought: Rex was only half right. Basket Case is an undeniable, unavoidable and unforgettable clasSICK. An absolute must own for any self-respecting CineSchlocker.

Barbarian Queen

Barbarian QueenMost barbarian flicks are ONLY as good as their damsels in distress, or if you’re REAL lucky, their damsels who INFLICT distress.

This Argentina-lensed epic boasts BOTH and sets its tone right off when a blonde waif (Dawn Dunlap), absently picking flowers along a river, is attacked by a pair of, um, barbarians who howl something while dropping trou like, "Nothing like a VIRGIN to brighten a man’s morning!"

Clearly, it’s a family picture. While back at the village, the victim’s big sis Amethea (Lana Clarkson) is indulging in a ceremonial bath with her closest gal pals in honor of her wedding day. But this preening party ends when hordes of snarling troops overrun the village slashing at the throats and limbs of everyone in sight. Amethea narrowly survives and vows vengeance against this savagery and to reunite with her beefy beau’s loins (Frank Zagarino). A whole lot happens afterward, yet none is as memorable as when the can-tastic Ms. Clarkson is strapped topless on a rack in a damp dungeon where escape would surely be impossible if not for the raw might of her vice-grip — gulp! — VAGINA! Dr. Kegel would be proud.

CineSchlockers should note that both Lana and her rack returned for the non-sequel sequel Barbarian Queen II: The Empress Strikes Back.

31 breasts. 67 corpses. Nipple painting. Acid-washed horndog. Gratuitous blind fortune teller. Face biting. Amethea brazenly declares her quest, "I’ll be no man’s slave and no man’s whore! And if I can’t kill them all, by the gods, they’ll know I’ve tried!"

Baadasssss Cinema

Baadasssss CinemaDocumentarian Isaac Julien ponders the cultural causes and consequences of blaxploitation via interviews with Pam Grier, Fred Williamson and genre jabberjaw Quentin Tarantino among MANY others. There’s some terrific archival shots of Gordon Parks and Isaac Hayes working up the immortal Shaft theme. Genre father Melvin Van Peebles chomps on a cigar while holding forth on the cinematic importance of "poontang."

Oddly absent is Jack Hill who wrote and directed the breakthrough flicks that made Ms. Grier a superstar.

Exactly as seen on IFC, except for about 30 juicy minutes of extended footage. While it’s hard to agree, CineSchlockers will devour The Hammer’s grinning jabs at Quentin’s "poor replica" of blaxploitation — Jackie Brown.

Barbarian Queen II: The Empress Strikes Back

24: Season 1Lana Clarkson returns to once again pop her top and endure some light bondage on a rack in this non-sequel sequel. This time she’s Athelia — a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT revolutionary vixen — who falls on hard times when her father’s rule is hijacked by the evil King Ankaris (Alejandro Bracho) and his snotty bitch-in-training daughter (14-year-old Cecilia Tijerina).

After Athelia refuses to hand over her magical scepter of power, she’s imprisoned, but easily Houdinis it outta there. A routine she inevitably repeats throughout this tale. Athelia then manages to fit in among the peasants by impressing them with her topless mud rasslin’ skills, so much so, that she’s able to rally a babe militia to put the hurt on the hopelessly inept forces of Hofrax (Roger Cudney) who’s out to rain on her rebellion. His seething hatred of rebels is only matched by his disdain for women, which is infinitely amplified when Athelia has him stripped, bound and sent back to Ankaris in utter humiliation. But revenge is sweet when, after a botched rebel raid on the castle, he’s finally able to dangle HER delicates over a bed of rusty spikes in a half-hearted attempt to learn her scepter’s secret. Yet to Hofrax, and most CineSchlockers, the REAL fun is in watching Ms. Clarkson squirm.

Six breasts. 74 corpses. Catfighting. Creepy tarantulas. Gratuitous mute chick. Athelia is mighty certain of her bedroom prowess, "Everyone has something that can destroy them. One night with ME would be the end of you!"

Beast From Haunted Cave

Beast From Haunted CaveMovies that suddenly yank on the emergency break and go speeding off in a completely different direction are rarely unremarkable. Psycho was this seedy little take-the-money-and-run flick until Janet Lee decided to take a shower at the wrong motel. The Gecko brothers howled through Texas on a blood-soaked crime spree before fighting for their necks against Mexican vampires in From Dusk Til Dawn. And an odd little creature feature called Beast From Haunted Cave (1959, 72 minutes) plays the shell game with its plot in much the same way.

The movie: Four hoods mosey into a sleepy mountain village posing as vacationers looking to do a bit of cross-country skiing. In reality, they’ve concocted an elaborate scheme — perhaps too elaborate — to distract Johnny Law by blowing up an abandoned mine, while they simultaneously relieve a bank vault of several gold bars. The honcho’s gal Gypsy is there to make eyes at a skinny, pipe-smoking ski instructor who’ll unknowingly provide their hideout when he takes them out to his secluded cabin. But right in the middle of all this, one of the robbers is putting the moves on this frisky waitress in the aforementioned MINE, when they’re attacked by a big, fuzzy monster. Only nobody believes him. This blood-sucking, tentacled ball of cobwebs stalks Romeo and his pals all the way into the wilderness where it takes up residence in HAUNTED CAVE when its not skulking around their cabin. By then, the original crime story is fading fast into full-blown chicks-in-cocoons horror.

Notables: No breasts. Six corpses. Bubble-bath serenade. Gratuitous player piano footage. Bitch slapping. Cave wandering. Graham cracker dunking. Amateur photography. Flare-gun attack.

Quotables: Heavy offers to give our hero "a .38 caliber nose job." Gypsy sounds like a fun girl, "I like to do things with my hands." But her sugar daddy is a piece of work, "Someday I’m gonna shut that pretty little mouth of yours for good!" and "I picked the bones of a thousand boobs, and I’ll pick the bones of a thousand more, because they ARE boobs and they deserve exactly what they get!"

Time codes: Turned away at the motel, "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" retreat to their love nest — an abandoned mine (14:35). First attack of the, um, whatever it is (17:55). Fisticuffs break out (41:35). Clear look at the beast (1:05:40).

Final thought: Not a great crime picture and pretty weak as a creature feature. Best reserved for true devotees.

Behind Enemy Lines

Behind Enemy LinesOwen Wilson is the hometown boy who made good around these parts. Well, him along with brothers Luke and Andrew. They seem like good people. For sure they’re funny. Owen’s the writing partner of Wes Anderson and together they’ve crafted three of the finest comedies of recent memory. They made a splash with the indie sleeper Bottle Rocket that led Owen to Hollywood where he promptly said "YES!" to most any part he was offered. CineSchlocker fare such as Anaconda, The Haunting and now Behind Enemy Lines (2001, 105 minutes) where he attempts to make the unlikely leap from wiseacre sidekick to full-fledged action hero.

The movie: Remember that pilot who got blown out of the sky over Bosnia and had to fend for himself for six days before his rescue? Well, this is pretty much the same story but scripted by 10,000 monkeys with typewriters and filmed by a slew of spastic chipmunks. The camera slip slides and stutters with those super-cool Matrix whip-pans that could make a guy gnawing on a ham sandwich look "edgy." Forty million bucks worth of that stuff. Owen is Navy air navigator Burnett who find himself on the run, literally, when his government issue ride gets ventilated by decidedly unfriendly fire. And man is he ever hoofing it! Through the woods. Over hill, over dale. Occasionally stopping long enough to whine in code via walkie talky to Admiral Reigart (Gene Hackman) who can’t rush in and rescue him because the movie’d be over too soon. So there’s a mean-nasty sniper (Vladimir Mashkov) to give Burnett a reason to duck ‘n’ cover now and then. But in the end, it’s really all about Hackman getting to bark something like "LET’S GO GET OUR BOY!" and looking like a real badass when he does. Marvel during the finale as Owen successfully navigates walls of AK-47 and .50 caliber heavy machine gun fire not ONCE, but TWICE. Ah-nold would be proud.

Notables: No breasts. 165 corpses. Gratuitous John Denver joke. Slow mo stunt footage. Model airplane crash. Whizzing bullets. One execution. Sniper attack. Multiple explosions. Mass grave. Hip hop talk.

Quotables: Owen gets heavy, "I signed up to be a fighter pilot. I didn’t want to be a cop. And I certainly didn’t want to be a cop walking a beat in a neighborhood nobody cares about." But soon it’s back to Yuksville when his football falls overboard and he hollers "WILLLLL-SONNNNN!!!!!" ala Cast Away.

Time codes: Behold the king daddy of stupid pilot tricks (4:30). Baddies try to cram a surface to air missile up Owen’s afterburner (17:05). Gratuitous super-secret satellite recon footage (43:28). "Tiptooeeeee through the mine field with meeeee" (56:08). Gene does his heroic strut while the score soars (1:29:45). Music video-style finale (1:37:55).

Final thought: MTV goes to war! Unplug and enjoy.