Saturday, May 30, 2009

Night Warning (1982)

...aka: Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker
...aka: Evil Protege, The
...aka: Momma's Boy
...aka: Mrs. Lynch
...aka: Nightmare Maker
...aka: Thrilled to Death

Directed by:
William Asher

Mix one part psycho-thriller, one part horror film and one part twisted family drama, and you get this fascinating, thoughtful and unfortunately mostly forgotten film that deserves a decent DVD release (and may actually get one here soon from what I've heard). A young couple leave their 3 year old son Billy in the care of the wife's eccentric, lonely, doting sister Cheryl (Susan Tyrrell) while they go out of town. Thanks to the brakes mysteriously going out, the couple end up dying in a grisly car accident and Cheryl is rewarded sole custody of the child. Fourteen years later, Billy (played by Jimmy McNichol, the brother of Kristy) is now a high school senior with a promising future. He has a sweet, pretty, patient photographer girlfriend (Julia Duffy), he's the star player on the basketball team and he's on his way to winning a scholarship to the University of Colorado. Unfortunately for him, his love-hungry and overly strict spinster aunt isn't quite ready to sever the ties and her reasoning seems a little on the perverse side. Not only does she have a crippling fear of being left alone, but she's in fact gotten a little bit too close to Billy over the years. I mean, on a romantic level. Out of desperation, she unsuccessfully tries to seduce a TV repairman and ends up stabbing the man to death in their kitchen, claiming he tried to rape her. She even gets Billy to lie for her when an investigation begins. The cops aren't buying the story, especially when it's revealed that the victim was gay, and was romantically involved with Billy's basketball coach. This sparks the obsessive interest of extremely homophobic police detective Joe Carlson (Bo Svenson), who has it in his mind that Billy actually committed the crime.

Cheryl, pretty much off the hook for the first murder because the cops have no solid evidence of what really happened, concentrates her energies back on her nephew, and goes to great lengths to insure his opportunities don't come to fruition. When her emotional outbursts start to drive him further away, she resorts to slipping drugs into his milk, at first to make him destroy his chances at impressing recruiters at an important basketball game, but eventually to keep him sickly enough to where he won't even want to leave his bed. And just wait and see what happens when she really gets backed into a corner! One of the chief reasons this movie works so well is the go-for-broke central performance from the always interesting Tyrrell. It's an extremely well-modulated performance with the actress going from flighty, slightly overbearing and eccentric to full blown psycho over the course of the movie. She does a great job with the quieter, more subtle moments, such as the eerily romantic looks, gentle touches/kisses and baby talk directed toward her nephew, and does equally well when she's completely out of her mind, chops off her hair and is running around outside swinging a machete like a madwoman. I've read some reviews stating that Tyrrell is overacting here, but I completely disagree with that notion. She does go bat-shit crazy eventually, but the whole time she was easing her way into this final state of hysteria. I was very impressive with her work here. I think it's on par with the performances Bette Davis was delivering in the 1960s in her psycho roles. Great stuff.

In addition, the film moves along at a brisk pace, the script is good, the performances (also including Marcia Lewis as a neighbor, Britt Leach as a level-headed police sergeant and Steve Eastin as the basketball coach/gym teacher) are all good and there's a pretty hectic and violent finale, which I thought was a bit overdone, but I can live with it. Another aspect that makes this film stand out is Svenson's character; Det. Carlson. It's made quite clear he has a deep, almost consuming hatred of homosexuals (as well as being casually racist), which is completely clouding his judgment and getting in his way of him being objective about any evidence he has on hand. Some people seem to be perplexed by the finale, but it makes perfect sense when you think about what self-loathing can do to some people.

Named Best Horror Film of 1982 by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror ("Saturn Awards").



spookyx3 said...

since you mentioned it elsewhere, here's susan tyrrell on NIGHT WARNING:

"it was a piece of crap! i mean i liked it because it gave me a chance to go berserk. i always like that, but i don't need a piece of shit movie to make me go berserk. i could go berserk right here in front of you. it looks like it was written on the spot, it was a mess. they would ask, 'how can you say this, what can you do?' i was trying to make it funny. i hate that one."


needless to say, i don't agree with any of that. and if she was trying to laugh it off, she failed. it's a good performance. the interview refers to FORBIDDEN ZONE as "one of her only films that she likes."

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Yeah I definitely don't agree with her. It's a great movie and she gives a great performance in it. Not sure why she looks down on it as it's certainly better than a lot of other movies she did (including Forbidden Zone IMO)! I wonder how she feels about Andy Warhol's Bad. That's my second favorite of all her roles behind this one.

spookyx3 said...

"'i hated it. i don't like making anything. it's no fun. none of this is fun until you see it and it's a hit. but if it comes out a piece of drek then i'm just pissed off. BAD was just so ugly and i was so ugly it wouldn't wash off at night. everybody was so bad and beautiful, and i was so good and ugly. i love to watch it, i think it's very brilliant, very funny. i love the music of mike bloomfield. it was right before he killed himself. he was a heroin addict, he didn't want to live. he'd never leave his bed or his bedroom in san francisco, he'd just shoot up in bed, he was surrounded by his musical instruments.
'warhol wasn't interesting, he was just what truman capote called him, 'a sphinx without a secret'. i'm more of a truman fan than and andy fan. he never made any of those movies, others did, he would just come in and go, 'i want more close-ups of coke bottles and more close-ups of soup cans', he wanted close-ups of anything with a label on it. someone just showed me a picture of me and brigit berlin (polk) in his diary, i love her. she's skinny as a rail now, which, i'm sorry but i loved her fat. she's so funny, such a wit, and very rich.'

tyrrell received a 'best actress' award from the academy of horror and science fiction for BAD in '77:

'yeah, i had to stand next to darth vader, and i shook his chin and he screeched, 'don't you ever touch me!', then when i finally saw the show i was at a bar in tijuana, plastered out of my mind. i forgot it was on TV and i looked up and saw that hideous william shatner singing 'rocket man'. i was looking at his shoes, he had these velvet shoes on with W. S. on them. he couldn't sing, he was smoking, so would talk the lyrics between puffs. it was horrible and hilarious.'"


haven't seen BAD. just the paul morrissey ones with dallesandro i them, i think.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Bad is a really sick black comedy so it'll depend on your sense of humor whether you find it funny or not. I've shown it to several friends and get very mixed reactions. Glad to know Tyrrell is at least happy with THAT film and her very funny work in it. I think it's actually much better than Morrissey's takes on Dracula and Frankenstein for Warhol. Not seen any of the other stuff they made from the early 70s (Heat, Trash, etc.) but I'm interested in seeing it.

spookyx3 said...

what's weird is, PSYCHOTRONIC #8 has a lawrence tierney interview. he disparages BAD (oh, don't mention that, it was a terrible film. a terrible film.") and the writer follows up with "susan tyrrell didn't like it either." the issue after the tyrrell piece ran, they printed a letter from a reader who was glad to hear susan didn't like BAD. i mean, when she said "i hate it" i assumed she's talking about the process of making the (or any) movie. "i love to watch it, i think it's very brilliant, very funny" doesn't sound like a slam, to me.

saw BAD last week (laserdisc rip on youtube). i did like it, just figuring out how much. i'm still thinking about it, and will probably watch it again soon. most of the criticism about BAD seems to be that it's counterfeit john waters. i will say i wasn't very taken with DESPERATE LIVING from '77. then again, i don't think i really totally _get_ waters anyway. maybe i just haven't seen enough.

can't offer any real opinion on those morrisseys 'cuz i haven't revisited them. apparently, i really dug the dialogue and style (but not the shooting-up on camera) in TRASH. and holly woodlawn and jane forth. FLESH is a complete blank to me, and i grew restless during HEAT. watching all three in a single sitting probably wasn't the best idea.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

I have a hard time understanding how one could think her admitting she loves watching it and thinks it is brilliant is a slam!

Tierney has also done a LOT worse. Like dozens of worse movies. I think he probably found it distasteful and maybe didn't get the humor. His role in it was tiny and forgettable anyway so I am surprised they even asked him about it.

I'm a big fan of SOME of Waters' movies. My favorites are Female Trouble (my favorite by far) and Serial Mom and I also like Multiple Maniacs, Polyester and some of his others. Desperate Living I don't think is one of his best but it has its moments. Can't say I really get the comparison between Waters' movies and Bad myself!

spookyx3 said...

from another (online) source: "andy warhol's BAD was 'one of my favorite movies, even though I looked like dogshit in it.'"

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Ha, she really did but it was perfect!

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