Say hello to my little friendOnce a byword for inventive cinematic sleaze, the name of Frank Henenlotter has been all but forgotten by modern horror enthusiasts. Basket Case was his early '80s calling card, the tale of a browbeaten, morally ambiguous twentysomething and his homicidal, basket-bound vestigial twin as they undertake a mission of vengeance against the doctors who separated them against their will. To modern audiences, this darkly comic tale of monstrous brotherly love is most fascinating as a depiction of New York in its hideous heyday, a shattered urban hellscape populated almost exclusively by hookers, thieves, junkies and murderers, lit by flickering neon and the flash of ambulance sirens.
"Politically incorrect" is the immediate phrase that springs to mind while watching this trashy drive-in action offering, another urban thriller about a bunch of mercenaries working above the law. However, this time out we have the dubious gag of our antiheroes -- a bunch of "white as ivory snow" Vietnam vets -- disguising themselves as black men when they pull of nocturnal heists against the local mob. That mainly entails slipping on unconvincing disguises under the direction of their lieutenant (stunt man Wilder), who spent 18 months in the hospital after a bloody land mine mishap and now has a scarred face and a monotone voice box to communicate.
Graced with the slightest wisp of a plot and a pretty great twist in the tale near the end, this is basically an excuse for a string of action scenes right from the opening moments. Gunshots, fist fights, and a memorable firearm-propelled back flip out a window into a swimming pool are just a few of the thrills on display here, with Lane and Slattery getting some fun tough guy dialogue as a couple of mobsters and Tarkington getting some juicy lines as dealing honcho Lovington. Former football pro Timmy Brown even turns up in a small role, too. Perhaps the most surprising name attached to this film is composer Charles Bernstein (using his occasional '70s pseudonym of "Charles Alden"), in between his work on White Lightning and Gator. Of course, he would later go on to horror immortality with A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Entity, Cujo, and April Fool's Day. His work is arguably the strongest thing about the film, a funktastic batch of crime cues that should be out as an official soundtrack.
A VHS regular from Media in the '80s and hard to see ever since (occasionally popping up on budget international DVDs under the title of its sequel!), this was the directorial debut for actor Joe Tornatore, who had graced such films as The Sting and went on to direct a sort of sequel/remake, Code Name: Zebra, in 1987. He's on hand here for an interesting 10-minute interview, talking about creating dark hair for the Italian mobsters with carbon paper, how the film was meant to alleviate some of the racist "crap" that was so prevalent at the time, and how the insane stunts were pulled off (with one sprained ankle purportedly being the only injury on any of his films). He also talks about going to India to scope out a sequel to Ben-Hur, believe it or not. Also on the disc are the original trailer (which features tons of gunfire and a handful of fun alternate takes), an abbreviated and nonsensical version of the film's ending from the first "test theatrical release," and bonus trailers for Equalizer 2000, Wheels of Fire, the '76 Maniac, Inn of the Damned, and of course, Family Honor. The transfer is a drastic improvement over the brutally pan-and-scanned '80s master we've had to suffer through for years, finally restoring the original scope dimensions and featuring a much brighter, cleaner appearance throughout. The gaudy color scheme also looks great with plenty of punchy colors and horrifying interior design. A must for '70s trash film action junkies.
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