The sixth entry in the 31 Days of Slashers series is Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker (1981), also known as Night Warning. Billy Lynch (Jimmy McNichol) is a senior in high school and wants nothing more than to play basketball in order to get a college scholarship. Orphaned at a young age, he lives with his incredibly clingy Aunt Cheryl (Susan Tyrrell) who absolutely does not want Billy to leave home for college. After the death of a TV repairman, Billy and his girlfriend Julie (Julia Duffy) are drawn into a murder investigation headed by Detective Carlson (Bo Svenson). As more deaths occur, Billy begins to question everyone around him. The film also features an early appearance by Bill Paxton as Eddie, the bully on the basketball team.
This bizarre slasher film was helmed by William Asher, the director of 102 episodes of I Love Lucy and 131 episodes of Bewitched, as well as several teen beach movies in the 1960s. This was the only horror film he ever made and boy is it a doozy! For a director to have such a deep background in television sitcoms, Asher was able to direct a truly dark and disturbing tale that features shockingly progressive queer representation and also a creepy incestuous undercurrent. If the mention of these classic sitcoms has made you think that this film might not be worth the time, definitely reconsider, as Asher is able to abandon his sitcom past to weave together a sinister narrative here.
Susan Tyrrell’s performance is incredibly captivating. Tyrrell lets down every wall and truly embraces the absolute insanity of her character. Her manic behavior is characterized so convincingly that you will be left thinking about her performance long after the film is over. Teen idol Jimmy McNichol also turns in a respectable performance as the troubled Jimmy. While Bo Svenson’s performance as Detective Carlson may not be as dramatically engaging as Tyrrell’s he certainly is capable of capturing the characters intense homophobia that drives his investigation.
Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker features an incredibly progressive representation of queerness in Steve Eastin’s performance as Coach Landers. While so many of the films of the time where stigmatizing queer characters solely as monstrous killers and villains, Coach Landers is a level-headed father figure to Billy and is shown to have a very healthy and happy relationship with TV repairman Phil Brody (Caskey Swaim). At the end of the day, the violent homophobia of Detective Carlson is proven to be one of the real monsters of the film.
Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker is an odd film in that it features such dark themes but also a bright light in its positive queer representation in a time where that was unheard of in mainstream cinema. With its blend of disturbing death sequences, creepy family relationships, and Susan Tyrrell’s incredible performance, this slasher is a definitive must watch this month.
Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker can be streamed with a membership on the Shudder app. The Code Red blu-ray which features an excellent restoration and some interviews with the cast can be purchased HERE.
I’ll be back tomorrow with another entry in the 31 Days of Slashers series!