What’s in the Basket?: Talking Basket Case, Horror Movies, and Creativity with Kevin Van Hentenryck

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From 2010-2012 (I think) I wrote for Splatter-Shack.com under the pseudonym The Diabolical Dr. Ross. It was a homegrown horror site for fans, and we had a lot of fun. Splatter-Shack, unfortunately, is no more. That means my interview with Kevin Van Hentenryck has been without a home for a while.

Not anymore . . .

Here it is:

Kevin Van Hentenryck is a cult movie icon. He is best known for his work on Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case trilogy, in which he starred as the conflicted, nerdy, and naive Duane Bradley. We are first introduced to Duane as he walks down Times Square carrying a mysterious basket under his arm in Basket Case Part 1. What’s in the basket? Booze? Easter eggs? Hardly. It’s his surgically removed Siamese twin brother Belial, who is so deformed that some don’t even consider him human. Duane, telepathically linked to Belial, tries to lead a normal life–despite Belial’s violent desire to vengefully punish the doctors that separated them. Van Hentenryck portrayed, in the Basket Case films, an unforgettably tragic character, as awkward and endearing as he was deadly. In addition to the Basket Case trilogy, Van Hentenryck also appeared as the “man with the basket” in Frank Henenlotter’s second feature film, Brain Damage, and starred in the horror/comedy short, The Catskill Chainsaw Redemption as a soul-searching maniac.

Kevin Van Hentenryck is a man of many talents and interests. Apart from acting, he is a successful sculptor and sculpting instructor specializing in stone carving. And when time and logistics permit, he makes music. Splatter Shack was proud to present this exclusive interview with the one and only Kevin Van Hentenryck, and it’s a joy to bring it back on RPAAL.

ROSS PETERSON: Kevin, it’s an honor. Thank you so much for talking with us. First off, how did you land the role of Duane Bradley, and how did you first become involved with Frank Henenlotter?

VAN HENTENRYCK: Well, I was studying in New York City at the Academy of Dramatic Arts, and Ilze Balodis, who plays the social worker in the first Basket Case film with the glasses, she was a member of the administration of the school. One day she said to me, “I know this guy who makes movies. You should meet him.” I said, “Okay.” So I went and met him and I ended up doing three small parts in a film previous to Basket Case called Slash of the Knife, which never got released but apparently Frank liked the way I worked. So sometime later, a few months later, I don’t really remember the timeframe, he calls me up one evening and says, “I have this idea for a film. Do you wanna hear it?” And I said, “Yeah, sure.” So he tells me the whole storyline of Basket Case over the phone. He talked the whole movie through to me over the phone. He asked me if I was interested. I said, “Sure. Sign me up.” That was it.

RP: Do we have any hope of one day seeing Slash of the Knife released?

KVH: I highly doubt it. Frank has insisted all along that he would never release it.

RP: Did anyone anticipate Basket Case becoming such a seminal cult classic when you were making it?

KVH: No, no. We weren’t even sure we’d be able to finish it when we were making it. It was such a struggle. At the time, we were thinking, you know, if we could only just finish it, then maybe, maybe, we could get a distributor.

RP: So once it was released, did it have a decent run? What was its reception?

KVH: Well, the first version of the film that was released was badly cut for the rating’s board. It just ruined the film. So it didn’t do that well at first. But, Joe Bob Briggs, you know, John Bloom, was an early champion of the film. He wanted to show it as a midnight movie, but he refused to show the cut version. So I don’t know if it was above board or under the table, but they got him an uncut version that he showed and people loved it. And when they saw that reaction they just started quietly switching all the cut versions to the uncut versions, and it totally took off… The rest is history.

RP: Now, the locales in Basket Case rival those of Taxi Driver in terms of New York City sleaze.

KVH: Oh yeah.

RP: Did you ever feel threatened while on location for Basket Case?

KVH: Oh yeah. As a matter of fact when we started off at the Hotel Broslin, there was this place near Madison Square Garden. We tried to start filming there and, you know, we had bums coming up to us saying, “If you give us fifty bucks we wont steal your cables.” And the Times Square shot in the beginning, you know, we were threatened while we were doing that. Nobody wanted their picture taken. Because in that scene, that’s the real Times Square except for myself and the pusher character. Everything else is real life. Businesses didn’t want the front of their establishments photographed. They didn’t know what it was for.

RP: When you were bringing Duane to the screen, what was running through your mind? What were your motivations? How did you conceive of the character?

KVH: Well, the Bradley brothers consider themselves one entity. They believe themselves to be one person that was cut in half. I always tried to work from that perspective as much as possible, to reinforce that, to demonstrate that whenever I could. A good example of that, of my input in the character, is where I’m in the bar with Bev Bonner and I’m drunk and I’m referring to Belial, and I say “Duane and I.” After the cut Frank said, “You made a mistake,” and I said, “No I didn’t.” He thought people would think it was a mistake, but anyone who knows how film is made would know better than that. That oneness of being between Duane and Belial really helps with getting an insight into the Bradley brothers’ psyche.

RP: So if someone were to remake Basket Case, would you have anything to do with it?

KVH: That’s up to whoever buys the rights I suppose. I’d like to do another film about the Bradley boys.

RP: Another sequel?

KVH: Yeah.

RP: Has Frank Henenlotter expressed any interest in doing another Basket Case sequel?

KVH: He’s expressed mild interest. But, regardless, I’d like to play Belial again. I’d like to make Belial into a real character and not just this raving thing. That’s why I’d like to do it, so we can flesh out Belial’s character and have a real relationship between the brothers… and that’s a really complicated relationship.

RP: So how do you feel about all of the cult classics being remade? Do you like it or does it annoy you?

KVH: Well, you have to look at it as a sort of flattery. Whether or not it’s executed well is something else entirely. For someone to believe that a film is worth remaking, that is a real statement of praise. The trouble is, though, that it’s like a band trying to cover a great song. Something like, I don’t know, The Doors’ “Light My Fire”, or whatever your taste is. You pick any icon in any genre and it’s a losing game to try and redo it.

RP: And that’s why so few remakes these days are really any good?

KVH: Yeah. You can’t go back. You can go forward, but you can’t go back. But on the same token, I think it would be very interesting to revisit the Bradley brothers today. Very interesting.

RP: Now, besides acting, you are a professional sculptor, and aren’t you in a band as well?

KVH: I play music on and off. The band thing is on and off. When there’s people around we get together and play.

RP: So you don’t tour or record?

KVH: No, we’ve never really got that off the ground.

RP: As far as your sculpting goes, what inspires your art?

KVH: Well, the stone carving has been my primary focus since even before we made Basket Case. I consider myself a fine artist, and not a conceptual artist. But the whole thing about art is the distillation of feeling so that others can share in it. That’s what I attempt to do in my work.

RP: What advice do you have for someone trying to break into the world of filmmaking, or more generally, trying to pursue a creative endeavor?

KVH: There’s a line in something that I’ve heard along the way that says, “There is no try. There is only do.” Don’t be trying to break into anything. Just do it. If you want to be good at something you have to practice it. You have to do it all the time. You have to live, breath, dream it. So it doesn’t matter. I always used to say when I was first starting with sculpture, not that I wanted to be a sculptor, but that I was a sculptor. Be what you want to be. I have a little card in my studio that I cut out of a magazine. It was, I don’t know, a self-help magazine or something. But this little phrase kind of sums up my approach. It says: “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” That’s what it’s really about. If that’s not what you’re doing, if that’s not how you’re approaching things, then you’re wasting your time.

RP: What are your plans for the future as far as film and your art are concerned?

KVH: Well, I have a lot of sculpture that’s in progress here in the studio. Every summer I do a free two week stone carving class in the Catskill Mountains in New York State. I’m on Facebook. People can contact me through Facebook if they’re interested in learning stone carving for free in the Hunter Mountain area of New York. It’s about 45 minutes northwest of Woodstock. I also do sculpture classes at a couple of other locations. I have a few people talk to me about film stuff, I’d like to get back into that… And I’m writing a script for Basket Case 4.

RP: Really? Basket Case 4?

KVH: That’s right. It’ll be very different than the first 3. It will be sort of like the first one in feeling, but totally different otherwise.

RP: How will it be different?

KVH: It’s much more realistic and psychological. The Bradley brothers are 50 now. There will be a couple of sets of female twins and a mixup there… you know, a little craziness.

RP: Would you direct it?

KVH: I’d love to. But I don’t know anything about directing, so I’d have to have a really good assistant director–somebody who really knows film. But I know these characters. So I’d want to be involved to some degree at that level. But, like I said, I’m working on it. It’s not done, but I’ve got a good treatment on it.

RP: How long have you been working on it?

KVH: I’ve written little bits for years on and off. I’ll get an idea and I’ll jot it down and slowly I’m assembling them into something that makes sense.

RP: So, one last question that is totally unrelated to anything. If you could listen to one album forever what would it be? If you could watch one film forever what would it be?

KVH: One album? Holy shit. I guess it would be the Who. The one where they’re pissing on the monolith.

RP: Who’s Next?

KVH: Yeah that’s the one. I wore that one out when I was younger. And a movie? Boy, that’s a really tough one. There are so many films. I’m a real fan of Fellini’s Satyricon. But, I’m also a big fan of the Who’s Quadrophenia, for example. That movie’s a lot of fun. It kind of depends on my mood I guess. My favorite monster movie is Frankenstein.

RP: The 1931 Frankenstein?

KVH: Boris Karloff, man! In that era, with that make up, for him to make that monster sympathetic, it still blows me away.

…very, very, very cool. A huge Splatter Shack thanks [and personal thanks] to Kevin Van Hentenryck! Be sure to check out his website at www.kevinvanhentenryk.com, and it’s probably time you revisited the Basket Case trilogy as well.