As 1970s’ exploitation and splatter horror gave way to the slasher era of the 1980s, horror movies occasionally straddled styles. The result was some tonally oddball movie like Nightmare Beach, Pieces, Humanoids from the Deep, Sleepaway Camp, and Madman. While these movies had recognizable slasher DNA, their atmosphere and aesthetics felt like spiritual descendants of 70s exploitation trash movies. Another illustration of this kind of oddball horror, Butcher Baker Nightmare Maker, subsequently re-branded as Night Warning, barely saw the inside of movie theatres. Few horror fans have probably heard of it. But horror-streaming platform Shudder recently added this obscure 80s horror entry.
Years ago, Billy Lynch’s parents died in a horrific car accident. Raised by his single aunt, Billy now aspires to a college basketball scholarship while dating the school newspaper photographer, Julia. But Billy’s Aunt Cheryl harbors a dark secret along with an unhealthy obsession for her nephew. She has no intention of letting Billy leave. And when Aunt Cheryl murders a man in her kitchen, Billy’s desire to protect her attracts the attention of a crooked police detective.
Butcher Baker Nightmare Maker Creeps More Than It Scares With Oedipal-Themed Plot
Butcher Baker Nightmare Maker is an oddity of a horror movie befitting its B-roots. Three different writers contributed to what’s a pretty straightforward thriller. At face value, the movie’s twists and turns go pretty much as expected. One doesn’t need a Film Studies degree to figure out most of Aunt Cheryl’s secrets. You also won’t have much trouble figuring out when a character’s time is up. That is, the horror elements are conventional. But it’s the movie’s Oedipal-themed relationship between Billy and his Aunt Cheryl that gives Butcher Baker Nightmare Maker its exploitation bona fides. As expected, if the movie is never scary, it’s certainly creepy and uncomfortable, particularly when the thriller unveils its final twist.
… it’s certainly creepy and uncomfortable, particularly when the thriller unveils its final twist.
Veteran television director William Asher competently handles the movie’s more slasher-oriented scenes. Unfortunately for Asher, he bares no responsibility for the movie’s best moment – the surprisingly spectacular car crash. Original director Michael Miller along with famed cinematographer Jan De Bont (The Haunting) filmed what’s a pretty well-executed and graphic opening, especially considering the movie’s low budget. Nothing Asher does approaches this opening. Nonetheless he puts up a few brutal death scenes up on the screen.
Butcher Baker Nightmare Maker Both Dated … and Ahead of Its Time
It’s a B-grade exploitation thriller, so don’t expect much in the way of good performances. What you get here ranges from stiff to scene-chewing with not much in between. Before (and after) Butcher Baker Nightmare Maker, Jimmy McNichol (Billy Lynch) didn’t do much. And there’s probably a reason. Fun fact, McNichol starred in a short-lived Saturday morning live-action Shazam! That wasn’t a good show and neither is McNichol’s performance here. Both Susan Tyrrell and Bo Svenson bring some veteran sensibilities to their respective roles. Svenson is a little more even-handed as the homophobic detective, while Tyrrell devours everything around her. If you pay close attention, you’ll catch Bill Paxton (Frailty, Near Dark) in a small role.
What you get here ranges from stiff to scene-chewing with not much in between.
Arguably, Butcher Baker Nightmare Maker’s direct treatment of sexual orientation is years ahead of its 1982 release. Though he’s only a supporting character, Steve Eastin’s ‘Coach Tom Landers’ represents an early positive portrayal of a gay man in horror. Neither deviantized nor played for laughs, Coach Landers gets to just be an ordinary man who also happens to be gay. And Butcher Baker Nightmare Maker clearly paints Svenson’s grossly homophobic detective as the movie’s secondary villain. Moreover, while ‘The Final Girl trope’ wasn’t yet crystalized, the movie’s gender flip of predator and prey adds another interesting wrinkle to things.
Butcher Baker Nightmare Maker a Passable Oddity of 80s Cinema
For what’s essentially a low-budget exploitation thriller, Butcher Baker Nightmare Maker proves to be more interesting than you’d expect. That’s not to say it’s a good horror movie. In most respects, it’s a rather generically plotted thriller. Though it’s Oedipal undertones are exploitative enough to elicit discomfort, Asher avoids crossing a line. Mixed performances and a bit of shocking slasher violence, however, take a backseat to the movie’s surprising subversion of the ‘Final Girl’ trope and treatment of its LGBTQ+ character. Don’t expect anything here as classic as the source material it reference. Still Butcher Baker Nightmare Maker is a passable oddity of 80s cinema.