"Basket Case 2" picks up -- literally -- where 1982's cult-fave "Basket Case" left off. An ambulance arrives outside a fleabag Times Square hotel to pick up the mangled remains of Duane and Belial Bradley, Siamese twins separated long after birth. Hardly identical -- Duane is benign and "normal"-looking, the squat Belial is malignant and looks like a tumor on steroids -- they spent much of the original film tracking down the doctors (including one veterinarian) who clumsily accomplished the deed before their 13th birthday.

Since then Belial has been living in a wicker basket, which Duane carries with him wherever he goes (talk about separation anxiety!). Duane finds the docs, at which point Belial does away with them, usually by jumping onto their faces, delivering thereon the clawful truth. At the end of the 1982 original, the twins dangled from the hotel's neon sign before slip-sliding away to the pavement and the kind of oblivion such a low-budget film normally achieves, had not certain genre film critics declared it a classic.

Much of the original crew is back, including writer/director Frank Henenlotter and Kevin Van Hentenryck as Duane. "BC2" benefits, but not that much, from the reputation of its predecessor and a bigger budget. The plot conceit is that Duane and Belial survive their fall and are rescued from the hospital by Granny Ruth, a spinster/activist/doctor with a penchant for "unique individuals of the same flesh." In fact, Granny Ruth has an attic full of them on her Staten Island sanctuary and she invites Duane and Belial to become part of her outcast community. For Belial, this will mean both therapy sessions with Granny Ruth and a blossoming sexual relationship with a like-shaped creature in the attic. There seems to be a little Dr. in this Ruth.

Unfortunately the Bradley boys are being pursued by a prying tabloid reporter and a pushy photographer looking to expose and exploit them. At this point things get obvious.

"Basket Case 2" has some gore, but the accent is clearly on mutant makeup, which makes it a lot more like the recent, misdirected "Nightbreed" than Todd Browning's 1932 classic, "Freaks." Too often the film seems like an extended version of the fabled cantina scene in "Star Wars," and while several of the "individuals" are indeed "unique," many of them look like hand-me-downs from makeup mavens Tom Savini and Rick Baker.

As for the script, there are too few flashes of the absurdist comedy that could have rescued the film. It certainly has none of the bite of "Re-Animator," which it's being compared to. It's not likely that the cast could have done much anyway: Singer Annie Ross is too stiff as Granny Ruth; Van Hentenryck comes off like a young John Larroquette (that's not a compliment); Judy Grofe is a cut-rate Theresa Russell as the reporter, and so on. In fact, the only major improvement over the first film is Robert Baldwin's cinematography.