Color, 1982, 91m.
Directed by Frank Henenlotter
Starring Kevin Van Hentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, Beverly Bonner, Robert Vogel, Diana Browne, Lloyd Pace
Image (Blu-Ray and DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Tartan (UK R0 PAL)

Velvet Vampire

In the seediest area of Times Square (before its Disney clean-up), a young man named Duane (Van Hentenryck) arrives at the Hotel Broslin for an indefinite stay. With a mysterious wicker basket in tow, he checks in and goes to his room where he feeds something inside the basket a huge helping of hamburgers. However, there's something more sinister behind this scenario as itVelvet Vampire turns out Duane is actually hiding his separate Siamese twin, Belial, and the brothers have a gory vendetta in mind against the people responsible for separating them. Meanwhile, Duane pursues an awkward romance with a blonde receptionist (Smith) that may not sit well with his misshapen sibling.

Before he bred new generations of trash movie addicts at Something Weird, New York auteur Frank Henenlotter got his start back in the early '80s with Basket Case, which many critics pegged as the midnight movie alternative to its closest Hollywood contemporary, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Henenlotter immediately touted to the press his strong affinity to the films of goremeister Herschell Gordon Lewis, but the acting and photography are actually stronger than anything H.G. ever had at his disposal. Released unrated in theaters (though with fake R ratings affixed in certain territories), the film became a cult favorite among horror fans thanks to its Velvet Vampireinventive ad campaign, which included "free surgical masks...to keep the blood off your face." (Too bad you don't hear stuff like that on the radio anymore.)

The transfer for Image's first DVD was taken from the same materials used for the laserdisc release, a huge improvement over those old, muddy-looking Media videotapes. The film underwent another facelift for a Something Weird special edition, with a more colorful transfer and a bounty of extras including commentary (with Henenlotter, producer Edgar Ievins, and actress Beverly Bonner), a Velvet Vampireretrospective tour documentary with "R.A. the Rugged Man" that must be seen to be believed, a hilarious blooper reel, and a sampler of Beverly Bonner’s public access TV work.
Also included are two juicy trailers and a TV spot.  The disc issued in the UK by Tartan is uncut but is missing much of this extra material.

In a real surprise, Basket Case also marked the first jump to Blu-Ray for Something Weird via Image (along with H.G. Lewis' Blood Trilogy), complete with a new HD transfer from the original 16mm negative. Henenlotter often refers to the film as visually ugly, but in fact, it looks shockingly good here; the film was always more atmospheric and skillfully shot than most people realized due to the shoddy theatrical prints, and it really shines here in its best presentation to date. Yes, it still has that grungy and grainy veneer, but the neon-soaked colors are often rich and appealing (especially the climax), and detail is much improved all around. The film also remains in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio in which it was filmed rather than clumsily matting it off to 1.85:1 as seen in theaters, though as Henenlotter points out in his amusing new video intro, that option was considered and then abandoned. The mono audio is what it is, of course. All of the extras apart from the Bonner TV snippets (not a huge loss) are ported over as well along with the trailer for Basket Case 2.

Reviewed on 10/1/11.