Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker

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Night Warning
Butcher Baker Nightmare Maker.jpg
Original theatrical poster
Directed byWilliam Asher
Produced byRichard Carrothers
Dennis Hennessy
Stephen Breimer
Written byStephen Breimer
Boon Collins
Alan Jay Glueckman
StarringJimmy McNichol
Susan Tyrrell
Bo Svenson
Marcia Lewis
Music byBruce Langhorne
CinematographyRobbie Greenberg
Edited byTed Nicolaou
Royal American Pictures
Distributed byComworld Pictures
Release date
Running time
96 minutes
CountryUnited States

Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker, later released as Night Warning, is a 1982 American exploitation horror film directed by William Asher, and starring Susan Tyrrell, Jimmy McNichol, Julia Duffy, and Bo Svenson. Framed as a contemporary Oedipus tale,[2] the plot focuses on a teenager who, raised by his neurotic aunt, finds himself at the center of a murder investigation after she stabs a man to death in their house. The boy's sexually repressed aunt secretly harbors incestuous feelings for him, while a homophobic detective investigating the crime irrationally believes the murder to be a result of a homosexual love triangle.

Given a regional release in Oregon in November 1981 through Comworld Pictures, the film expanded to other U.S. cities in early 1982, and was nominated for a Saturn Award for the Best Horror Movie of 1982 by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films. It was reissued theatrically in 1983 under the title Night Warning, under which it was subsequently released on home video.


High school senior Billy Lynch lives with his protective aunt Cheryl, who has raised him since infancy after his parents died in a car accident. A gifted basketball player, Billy is offered a chance at a scholarship to attend the University of Denver, but Cheryl dismisses the idea, assuming that Billy will stay with her to "contribute." At school, Billy is bullied by one of his basketball teammates, Eddie, who is jealous of Billy's close camaraderie with their coach, Tom Landers; meanwhile Julia, the school newspaper photographer, begins to take romantic interest in Billy.

On Billy's seventeenth birthday, Cheryl changes her mind about the scholarship, and asks Billy to stop by the television repair shop to have the shop technician, Phil Brody, come by to look at their set. That night, after Phil works on their television, Cheryl makes aggressive sexual advances toward him; when he refuses, Cheryl stabs him to death with a kitchen knife, which Billy witnesses through the window. Cheryl hysterically claims Phil tried to rape her.

A bigoted police detective (and former Marine and Purple Heart recipient), Joe Carlson, is assigned to the case, and is skeptical of Cheryl and the alleged rape attempt. After discovering that Phil Brody was gay, and that he was in a same-sex relationship with Billy's coach, Tom, he assumes the murder to be the result of a love triangle between Phil, Tom, and Billy, and that Cheryl is covering for her nephew. Carlson begins questioning Billy, accusing him of being a "fag", and harasses Tom, forcing him to resign from his job at the high school. Carlson also inquires from Julia about her and Billy's sexual relationship. Meanwhile, Cheryl feeds Billy drugged milk which causes him to perform poorly at his scholarship tryout, and cleans out the attic so he can have an apartment space in the house. Sergeant Cook, who has been casing Cheryl's home, believes Billy to be innocent, and is suspicious of Cheryl.

After walking in on Billy and Julia having sex, Cheryl becomes enraged with Billy. In the attic, Billy finds a photo of a man named Craig, whom Cheryl claims was one of his mother's old boyfriends. Billy asks Julia to come by the house to distract Cheryl so that Billy can investigate further; locked in a box upstairs, he finds his birth certificate, indicating that Cheryl is actually his mother, and that Craig was his father. Meanwhile, downstairs, Cheryl strikes Julia in the head with a meat tenderizer in a fit of jealousy, and again drugs Billy with milk, rendering him unconscious.

Julia awakens in a secret room in the basement, where she discovers Craig's mummified corpse and his severed head in a jar of formaldehyde next to a makeshift shrine. Cheryl's nosy neighbor Margie, having grown suspicious, arrives shortly after to investigate the goings-on on the property, and is followed into the woods behind the house by Cheryl, who stabs her to death with a machete. Sergeant Cook then enters the house in search of Julia, who has been reported missing by her mother, and is also murdered by Cheryl after discovering Julia in the basement. Cheryl chases Julia out of the house, and they both fall in a pond near the woods, where Cheryl again knocks Julia unconscious.

Billy awakens in the attic, which Cheryl has adorned with his childhood toys, and stumbles downstairs to call the police. While attempting to dial 911, Cheryl attacks him with a knife, and a violent struggle ensues, ending with Billy impaling her with a fireplace poker. Billy calls Tom, asking for help. Shortly after, Carlson arrives at the house, where he finds Tom treating Billy's stab wounds, and sees Cheryl's lifeless body on the floor. In a rage, Carlson blames Billy and Tom for the crimes, and draws his gun on them, despite Julia's insistent cries that Cheryl was responsible. Tom and Carlson get into a scuffle, during which Billy is able to grab the gun, shooting Carlson multiple times. Carlson bleeds to death in front of the living room piano while Billy and Julia embrace, both crying.



Theatrical distribution[edit]

The film was first given a small regional release through Comworld Pictures[3] under the title Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker in several cities in Oregon, including Salem and Corvallis, on November 20, 1981.[a] A novel tie-in written by Joseph Burgo was issued by Pocket Books on December 1, 1981.[3][6] The film's theatrical release expanded in March 1982, screening in St. Louis, Missouri,[7] as well as Vancouver, British Columbia.[8]

The film was re-released in January 1983 under the title Night Warning, first screening in the California cities of San Francisco[9] and Santa Cruz,[10] as well as Indianapolis, Indiana.[11]

Home media[edit]

The film screened on The Movie Channel in the fall of 1983,[12] and was released on VHS through HBO Home Video under the Night Warning title[3] in 1985.[13]

Independent label Code Red issued the film on DVD[14] in 2014, and reissued a Blu-ray on July 18, 2017 which featured a 2K scan of the original film elements.[15]

Critical response[edit]

Upon the film's opening in Corvallis, Oregon, local Corvallis Gazette-Times critic Lloyd Woods praised the performances of Tyrrell and Svenson as well as the direction of William Asher, whom he felt "does a credible job in developing the derangement."[16] Leonard Maltin awarded the film two-and-a-half out of four stars, writing: "Explosive, tour-de-force acting by Tyrrell distinguishes this formula horror film.[17]

Following its January 1983 re-release under the title Night Warning, critic J. A. Conner of the Santa Cruz Sentinel characterized the film as a "Tennessee Williams version of Psycho" and deemed it an early contender for the worst films of 1983, summarizing: "Night Warning is just another drive-in grindhouse sleazoid mess that some how wandered into town by the back door."[10]

AllMovie awarded it two-and-a-half out of five stars and labeled it "an especially unique entry into the slasher film cycle in the 1980s" based on its influences, 1960s Gothic horror films.[18] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "Unfolding deftly under Asher's direction, "Night Warning" combines darkly outrageous humor with persuasive psychological validity."[19] Variety called it "a fine psychological horror film" in which Tyrrell "gives a tour-de-force performance".[20] In Horror Movies of the 1980s, John Kenneth Muir rated it 3.5/4 stars. Muir called it "a true gem of the decade" and "the 1980s most twisted, bizarre cinematic vision of motherhood".[21]

In a 2019 article published in Film Comment, Justin Stewart praised Asher for directing "with a meat-and-potatoes efficiency and visual sense, letting the casting, risk-taking performances, and the twisted, quirky screenplay...  carry the day," and also praised Tyrrell's performance.[22]


  1. ^ A Los Angeles Times profile on star Jimmy McNichol notes that the film is scheduled for a January 1982 release,[4] but newspaper listings indicate it was screening at several cinemas and drive-ins in Oregon in November and December of 1982.[1][5]


  1. ^ a b "Movies". Statesman Journal. Salem, Oregon. November 20, 1981. p. 52 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  2. ^ Kabatchnik, Amnon (2014). Blood on the Stage, 480 B.C. to 1600 A.D.: Milestone Plays of Murder, Mystery, and Mayhem. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 53. ISBN 978-1-442-23547-2.
  3. ^ a b c Thompson, Nathaniel. "Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker". Turner Classic Movies. Archived from the original on February 13, 2019.
  4. ^ Gelt, Gary (December 6, 1981). "Jimmy McNichol follows Kristy into feature films". Los Angeles Times. p. 13 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  5. ^ "LT Cinema World". Albany Democrat-Herald. Albany, Oregon. November 25, 1981. p. 11 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  6. ^ "Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker". Book Depository. Archived from the original on February 13, 2019.
  7. ^ "Movies". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. St. Louis, Missouri. March 19, 1982. p. 49 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  8. ^ "Movie times". Vancouver Sun. Vancouver, British Columbia. March 26, 1982. p. L36 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  9. ^ "District theaters". The San Francisco Examiner. San Francisco, California. January 7, 1983. p. E9 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  10. ^ a b Conner, J. A. (January 14, 1983). "Battle for worst film of '83 has begun". Santa Cruz Sentinel. Santa Cruz, California. p. 7. open access
  11. ^ "Movies". The Daily Journal. Indianapolis, Indiana. January 18, 1983. p. 2 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  12. ^ "TMC – Movie". The Journal News. White Plains, New York. November 12, 1983. p. 6 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  13. ^ Night Warning (VHS). HBO Home Video. 1985. 1814.
  14. ^ Alexander, Chris (November 29, 2016). "In Praise of 1982's Night Warning". ComingSoon.net. Archived from the original on February 13, 2019.
  15. ^ "Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker Blu-ray". Blu-ray.com. Archived from the original on February 12, 2019.
  16. ^ "Banal 'Butcher' doesn't cut it as a horror movie". Corvallis Gazette-Times. Corvallis, Oregon. November 27, 1981. p. 17 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  17. ^ Maltin, Leonard (2013). Leonard Maltin's 2014 Movie Guide: The Modern Era. Plume. p. 1375. ISBN 978-0-142-18055-6.
  18. ^ Donald Guarisco. "Night Warning (1982)". Allmovie. Retrieved June 18, 2012.
  19. ^ Thomas, Kevin (February 12, 2004). "Deathly delights vamp it up in a retro horror show". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 5, 2015.
  20. ^ "Review: 'Night Warning'". Variety. 1983. Retrieved February 5, 2015.
  21. ^ Muir, John Kenneth (2012). Horror Films of the 1980s. McFarland & Company. pp. 333–334. ISBN 978-0-786-45501-0.
  22. ^ Stewart, Justin (January 15, 2019). "TCM Diary: Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker". Film Comment. Film Society of Lincoln Center. Archived from the original on February 13, 2019.

External links[edit]