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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

‘Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker’ 4K Review – Why This 1981 Movie Is Begging for Reappraisal

Between its striking title, lurid artwork, and the timing of its release 1981 bore the likes of Halloween II, Friday the 13th Part 2, My Bloody Valentine, The Burning, The Funhouse, The Prowler, and Happy Birthday to Me one might mistake Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker (also known as Night Warning) for a run-of-the-mill slasher flick. While it vaguely fits in the slice-and-dice mold, the film is anything but generic.

The prologue which may have inspired Final Destination 2‘s unforgettable opening sequence was directed by Michael Miller (Silent Rage, Class Reunion) with cinematography by Jan de Bont (Die Hard, Basic Instinct), but Miller was let go by the production after falling behind schedule. He was replaced by TV veteran William Asher (Bewitched, Beach Blanket Bingo), who shot the remainder of the film with Robbie Greenberg (Free Willy, Swamp Thing) as director of photography.

14 years after his parents were killed in an over-the-top car crash, Billy Lynch (Jimmy McNichol, Smokey Bites the Dust) witnesses his infantilizing aunt-turned-guardian, Cheryl Roberts (Susan Tyrrell, Cry-Baby), kill a repair man (William Caskey Swaim, Friday the 13th: A New Beginning) in cold blood. Thus sets into a motion an unhinged exploit of psychosexual horror that would make Oedipus blush.

Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker gained notoriety for its status as a “video nasty” in the UK. It was part of the second wave of banned titles, which were not prosecuted but were refused a rating and therefore unable to be released. Unlike most films on the list, it wasn’t gory special effects that was objectionable although it features some bloodshed courtesy of Allan A. Apone (The Return of the Living Dead, Friday the 13th Part III) but rather the taboo content.

Screenwriters Steve Breimer, Alan Jay Glueckman, and Boon Collins fearlessly explore homosexuality, incest, and repressed sexuality in their script. Its handling of the sensitive subject matter isn’t exactly sensitive, with the flippant use of inflammatory F-slurs nearing comical levels, but the film was ahead of its time in its empathy for the queer experience in small-town America circa 1980.

McNichol brings his teen idol tenderness to the leading role, but Tyrell steals the movie with her steadfast commitment to the psycho-biddy melodrama. Bo Svenson (The Inglorious Bastards) follows her scenery-chewing lead with an integral role as a bigoted detective. A young Bill Paxton’s (Aliens) charisma oozes off the screen even as in a bully role. Julia Duffy (Newhart) passes for Billy’s high school girlfriend despite being 30 years old.

It’s a marvel of physical media that Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker is coming to 4K Ultra HD a mere decade after making its DVD debut (via Code Red, who followed it up with a Blu-ray edition in 2017). Severin Films has newly scanned the film in 4K from the original camera negative, presenting the hidden gem in crystal-clear quality with HDR10.

Three audio commentaries are included: McNichol is joined by film historian Jeff McKay and Code Red’s Bill Olsen for a rather unfocused conversation from the DVD that would have been better suited as an interview. Breimer and Glueckman, moderated by Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson, offer considerably more insight into the production on their track from the DVD. The final commentary is a new one with co-producer/unit production manager Eugene Mazzola, joined by Red Shirt Pictures’ Michael Felsher. Mazzola has no shortage of stories from the trenches, and Felsher is one of the best moderators in the business.

Svenson, Greenberg, and editor Ted Nicolaou (Tourist Trap, Ghoulies) sit down for new interviews. Nothing like his odious character, Svenson fondly recalls the production and delves into his approach to the craft. Greenberg looks back on the film with a far greater appreciation now than he did when working on it. Nicolaou offers an interesting perspective on the film and its lasting resonance.

Archival interviews with McNichol, Tyrrell, Breimer, Apone, and actor Steve Eastin (A Man Apart) are also included. If you only watch one special feature, make it Tyrrell’s interview. It’s impossible to tell how much of it is a lark as she channels her character’s manic energy for commentary like “I’d fuck anyone to get out of this movie… except Bo.” The trailer and a TV spot round out the extras.

Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker has shades of several influential horrors that came before it Friday the 13th, Psycho, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? but it’s a wholly unique outing with progressive themes begging for reappraisal. Exploitative though it may be, it taps into the most effective brand of camp: endearing rather than ironic.

Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker will be released on 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray on May 28.

The post ‘Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker’ 4K Review – Why This 1981 Movie Is Begging for Reappraisal appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.



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