The producer Edgar Ivans and I decided ‘Oh, let’s try and make a commercial film.’ (laughs).
We were pretty naive. Thinking we could actually raise money (laughs) which we failed to do on all counts.
But anyway, once we thought let’s make a commercial film, I thought let’s try and make a horror film.
But the problem was I didn’t know what it was going to be.
I was just sitting around one day playing with titles, and I was trying to come up with titles that hadn’t been used.
‘Psychopath, oh that’s been used. This and that, oh that’s been used.’
Then I came up with the title Basket Case , and the moment I thought of that, I just had this image of a monster in a basket leaping out like a jumping jack in the box.
It was the stupidest thing, but it was so visual I thought ‘I can have a lot of fun with that.’ I knew it didn’t make any sense at all.
Having a creature in a wicker basket actually raised more questions than it answered, but I thought it’s a funny idea, it’s a crazy idea, it’s a cheap idea, but let’s roll with it and see what we can do.
The writing process
At the moment that I came up with the idea that Duane and Belial should be brothers, I was in Nathan’s hot dogs in Times Square, which was a huge fast food joint for hot dogs. It had two floors. It was bigger than it needed to be.
And I was downstairs eating hot dogs when I thought of that detail.
When I’m working on a script, I always carry a pen or pencil with me so I can write stuff down.
So suddenly I was writing dialogue and scenes on napkins.
And that’s what I came home with a whole bunch of mustard stained napkins and actually the dialogue I wrote at Nathan’s that day is almost verbatim in the film when he tells Casey the hooker about his past.
It’s almost verbatim.
The audition process
I wanted Duane to be very anonymous in the crowd. I wanted him to be very ordinary.
But when I saw Kevin (Van Hentenryck), he was so tall he stood out in a crowd. And I thought, that’s better.
It makes him a little gawky and Kevin was able to play this wide-eyed innocent almost to the point of that he’s maybe a little mentally off.
And I just thought he was great at that. I just thought I had no trouble with that.
First day on set
The first day was a disaster. It was an absolute disaster, because we used a 16mm camera that we borrowed from a friend, and I kept saying there is something wrong with the view-finder.
And no one was taking me very seriously, you know ‘What do you know about a camera?’ and we filmed the scene where the tenants come into the Irish guy’s room and find him dead – that was the scene we were shooting.
And we got the footage back and sure enough everything was so off-centre it looked like I was aiming and cutting people off right at the chin and filming most of the ceiling.
And sure enough we found out the camera had the wrong viewpoint on it.
So we scrapped that weekend and started the next weekend and reshot it. So that was a dreadful way to begin a film.
Oh, I didn’t know what I was doing.
So, there’s often times when you don’t know what you’re doing, when you either get creative or you’re in a kind of a mental bliss where you don’t realise just what the odds are against you.
We had two Belials, one was a very rigid puppet, but I realised I could do stop motion with it, very bad stop motion, but I could still do it.
The other one was more of a hand puppet. I painted a glove red that looked like a tongue and I treated him like a hand puppet.
So there were scenes in the film when he’s in the hotel room, and I am actually stuffed inside the dresser drawer, which was hollow, sticking my hand up with the red glove on it.
I had the puppet sticking up out of the basket making it work, looking through a crack in the dresser drawers and a mirror across the way, so I could see which way I was pointing and what I was doing.
That’s about as home-grown crude at it gets. And I also did the awful stop-motion animation. And that was just terrible.
Favourite memory from the shoot
I have very few favourites.
One of the few days when we actually had a crew - about six people - was the day Belial is on top of the girl at the end.
Everybody thought that was great because she was naked, so everybody had a good time… until I put the blood all over her crotch, and everybody got so offended.
I think it looked worse when it was on the set than it did on film. I didn’t care, but the crew was so outraged and angry that in protest they said they were going to walk out.
I said ‘Get out of here, leave, go away. I don’t give a shit’.’
So it was only shot with me, Kevin Van Hentenryck and the producer Edgar Levins.
Edgar had to climb in the hole in the mattress and on a pole he’s making Belial bounce up and down on her. That’s not how movies are supposed to be made.
Watching it with an audience
It’s always terrible. You know it’s weird because in the case of Basket Case, the audience were laughing pretty much at all the bits that I was hoping they would laugh.
And yet all I was doing was thinking was ‘Oh they’re not going to laugh at the next one, they’re not going to laugh at the next one.’
And after 90 minutes of them liking it I remember thinking, ‘Well, next week’s audience won’t.’
So it’s a terrible experience. I learned real fast not to watch my films with an audience. I just go through hell with that, but obviously audiences inexplicably liked it, so I ain’t complaining.
I really don’t know why Basket Case has such a big cult following. I’ve asked other people that. I don’t really know.
I think if I had to guess, it’s funny. And I think the humour helps it a lot. I suppose if that story was played seriously what do you have?
I think it’s such a wacky idea and I think the comedy works. I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.
I was mystified when it became you know and as soon as it started playing at midnight it started selling out.
I couldn’t understand it and there were lines played at the theatre I mentioned a few minutes ago, that’s four blocks away from me and it played there for two and half years. What the hell? So I never did understand it.
I’m always struck at how polite and respectful they are.
I would have thought the fans of my movies would be foaming at the mouth degenerates, but they’re not.
They’re really sweet and decent, and a few times I’ve always been thrown by that.
I remember the first time I came to London was for FrightFest , for Bad Biology a couple of years ago.
And I had assumed I had been forgotten and so had the films, because I was thinking in terms of theatrical release.
So I didn’t think anybody would connect me with Basket Case .
And I’m in the theatre and all these kids are coming up to me ‘Can you sign this Basket Case box for me? Can you sign my Basket Case DVD?’
I totally forgot there was a whole generation that grew up with these on home video.
So I was flabbergasted.
I’ve been asked about it making a remake and really I don’t see what the point it. Leave it alone.
I’ve had some serious requests, usually they’re from people who want to pay me as little as possible because they figured they can do it low-budget too.
I already did the low budget version and if you’re going to remake it at least do a big budget version.
And if you do, I don’t know, I just think if you did it once, why do it again?
I’m not a big fan of remakes, I’m not at all. Come up with another crazy idea.
The Basket Case Trilogy is out now on Blu-ray