Welcome to the column "Scream Streams," in which we explore lesser known streaming films that are sometimes gems, sometimes monstrosities, but always a curiosity worth laying your eyes on...
...The 80s probably produced more horror movies than any other time period. The slasher subgenre owned the silver screen for the entire duration of the decade. Horror fans witnessed slasher greats such as Freddy, Michael, and Jason, but also numerous non-serial films such as My Bloody Valentine, and The Burning. With a surplus of films to choose from, some are bound to become lost or forgotten along the way. Some of these forgotten films deserve to be dead and buried, but others deserve a second chance at life. One such deserving entry is Night Warning (1981) whose original name is possibly one of the coolest titles ever: Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker. Seriously, that title is so cool I want to start referring to myself that way and including it on my business cards. Nightmare Maker is an exploitation/psychotic thriller directed by William Asher and written by Stephen Breimer, Alan Jay Glueckman, and Boon Collins with slasher elements, which all combine together to make a video-nasty. Though it has its fair share of violence, the film was most likely banned for the origins of the murderous rage that triggers the killings: an incestuous obsession an aunt has for her nephew.
The movie begins with a pleasant enough opening when a young couple say good-bye to their baby boy as they leave for a trip. Junior seems upset about the separation, but the parents remain reassured they are leaving their little one in the capable hands of Aunt Cheryl (Susan Tyrrell) . Heading to the west coast, the quaint husband and wife listen to the sports announcer talk about the first Super Bowl. The beautiful scenery and All-American football news seem like a great start to a vacation, but then comes a death sequence which would make Final Destination proud. A car, a log, a crash, and an explosion leave little Billy an orphan, which makes for a very happy Aunt Cheryl.
Nothing about Aunt Cheryl is NOT unsettling. Her evil and knowing smile fills the camera frame as her dangerous and ever-lecherous glare follows her nephew (Jimmy McNichol) whether he is awake or asleep. She plays the loving devoted family member but dismisses all of Billy’s interests outside of herself. Rules Billy must follow include no girlfriends and no college. If the rules are broken, she uses a barrage of emotional weapons to persuade Billy away from his dreams. From mocking, to tear-filled guilt trips, to physical violence, Cheryl will not permit the only man in her life to leave her. When holding Billy emotionally hostage does not work, Cheryl celebrates her nephew’s birthday by staging an attempted rape/murder with the unsuspecting repairman, Phil Brody (Caskey Swaim).
One aspect of this movie which will make or break where horror fans stand with it comes from the over-the-top characters. Not only will the aunt’s clingy nature towards her nephew make your skin crawl, but so too will the absolutely pig-headed (and incredibly homophobic) behavior of Detective Joe Carlson (Bo Svenson), who suspects the murder of Brody occurred because of some kind of sexual jealousy on Billy’s part instead of Cheryl’s. The reason behind Carlson’s suspicion? The supposed rapist, and now dead, Phil Brody was actually in a committed relationship with Tom Landers (Steve Eastin), the devoted coach who offers Billy a way out from his abusive aunt. Cheryl, the detective, and the entire school (complete with a super young Bill Paxton) turn on the coach, but Billy’s friendship with Landers does not waiver.
For an early 80s thriller, the film covers surprisingly difficult topics and shows the dangers of homophobic beliefs. The blind obsession with exposing the coach and fighting to equate homosexuality with a sickness distracts the detective from seeing the true sexual predator. Even Cheryl hysterically vocalizes her distaste for gays as a means to disguise her own sexual obsession with Billy. Not only does the incestuous behavior go ignored, but the murder investigation becomes less important than the detective ‘outing’ Billy.
Honestly, the original name makes more sense than Night Warning. The nursey rhyme title of Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker follows the overbearing and smothering-mothering qualities of the aunt. But regardless of what you call it, the film will have a lasting effect. Moments where the aunt simultaneously infantilizes her nephew and displaces her feelings for a long-ago boyfriend will definitely create feelings of repulsion. Thematically, the film is not for everyone, but the movie deserves more recognition in the horror community for tackling societal problems and for Tyrrell’s sheer acting power.
Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker is currently streaming on Youtube.
By Amylou Ahava