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Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker

Despite its catchy but rather juvenile name ‘Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker’ (aka Night Warning) is a film somewhat ahead of its time with its challenging of social stereotypes and its inversion of the ‘final girl’ role.

Despite it being somewhat swept aside given the tidal wave of early 80s slasher movies, there is a complexity to both its plot and its characters that leave a surprising amount to unpick and discuss.

Perfect for a 2024 release given the ongoing focus to harmful stereotyping, the films plot revolves around orphan Billy and his somewhat unhinged Aunt. Whilst the film opens with Billy as a very young child, the majority of the movie takes place around his 17th birthday. Having lived with his Aunt, from the get go there is something wrong. She’s jealous of his love interests, and seemingly terrified at the prospect that he might move away to go to college. Their lives to that point seemed to have gone exactly as she’d planned it.

That said, when she murders a TV repair man her and Billy are forced under the spotlight of a bigoted police officer, determined to finger Billy as the killer under the assumption that he’s a homosexual.

The film meanders in some rather subtle and interesting plot twists. As a whodunnit the film is already left field as you know who did. The issue is that as the film progresses the police forces negative views cannot see past their assumption of Billy’s ‘deviant’ nature, all the whilst Billy’s aunt mental stability goes from shaky to downright liquified.

The performances here cannot be overlooked. Susan Tyrrell, who plays Billy’s aunt, puts in a seller performance. Whilst there was something off about her from the start, her nuances and habits keep her character on track for a straight dive off the deep end. And off the deep end she goes.

Whilst her behaviours are a little off, its fairly obvious that, aside from her incestuous feelings for Billy, she is absolutely mental – and clearly very dangerous. I think it’s pretty well telegraphed throughout that the circumstances surrounding the ‘accident’ which made Billy and orphan was anything but, however where the story takes her character by its conclusion is so well done that, despite its inevitability, it still packs a punch.

The subtle visual and behavioural changes and degradation – again a testament to Tyrell’s performance.

There are other characters which provide an interesting contrast to other movies at the time. Bo Svenson as the bigoted detective Carlson is an interesting character as his views, extreme as they are, are somewhat humoured by his peers owing to his military history, but still he comes across something of an outdated relic – even in the 80s. McNichol’s Billy is not your typical jock and his sensitivity only serves to fuel Carlsons prejudice.

However, is this film an underrated gem?

Well, yes and no really. As a horror film – or as an exploitation movie as its billed – is somewhat lacking in both scares or violence. There are some murders, however they are comparatively tame given the movie’s contemporaries. The plot works, but as with most films like this, it does descend into something less conceivable by the end of the film, but still the journey getting there is an interesting one for the most part.

Overall, ‘Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker’ is an interesting watch. At the time I can imagine that the movie perhaps didn’t really make much of a splash, however, given its somewhat unique plot and context, I’d still say it’s worth a watch. If you go in expecting a straight up slasher you won’t find it, however, if you’re interested in a film that perhaps expresses more symbolism than initially meets the eye, then you’d probably struggle to find a more unique example.

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