Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker (1982)
Billy is a 17-year old living with his Aunt who has a strange attachment to him. When Billy indicates that he wants to go to college, his Aunt goes to extraordinary lengths to prevent him doing so. This involves butchering a number of individuals before police suspicion lands on her nephew himself.
Atmospheric and Kitsch, no other “video-nasty” tackles head-on subjects as corrosively emotional as incest or as timelessly relevant as institutional bigotry. Hammy, gloriously entertaining and offering some brutal comment on societal attitudes of the time, Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker is probably the most memorable of a genre literally hacked-to-death by armchair critics. That said, the film fell foul of the British Censors (the BBFC) and is still without a certification in the UK.
It all starts off with a beautifully-choreographed decapitation at a car crash, which renders our main character an orphan and the responsibility of the ever-doting Aunt Cheryl (Susan Tyrrell). As the film goes on we realised that Aunt Cheryl will do anything to prevent Billy from leaving her, including setting up an elaborate sexual assault which goes horribly wrong when she butchers a plumber who refuses her advances. This incident sets off a bizarre chain of events which mix aspects of mid-afternoon soap opera with a none-too-formulaic 80s slasher.
At its heart, this is an eccentric and rabid psycho-sexual thriller which abstains from splatter fare until the glittering chaos of the final 15 minutes – it certainly isn’t another Halloween or Friday the 13th clone. Undeniably driven by the bombastic acting beneath Tyrrell’s mania and Bo Svenson’s prejudices, the movie frequently plays fast and loose with the script but the sheer dynamic of the main characters belittles any disconcerting glances from would-be screenwriters.
Jimmy McNichol as our male lead doesn’t do too badly, and certainly looks the part. But it’s Tyrrell’s scenery-eating aunt who raises the roof; she is crazed, sexually repressed and absolutely bonkers. There is a great sequence in which Tyrrell licks milk from a drugged McNichol’s neck in some kind of bizarre breast-feeding ritual whilst the oft-displayed lustful advances towards her nephew will make you squirm and wretch. But the scenes between McNichol and Tyrrell are clearly a highlight as we are left to wonder whether this relationship can really progress to the disgusting incestuous situation we all fear.
Bo Svenson does just as much to make the audience uncomfortable as a homophobic detective who is consumed by a hatred of ‘deviant’ behaviour of all kinds (Svenson’s conversations with his dog in a dingy office are priceless sound-bites). Svenson’s character becomes fixated on the idea that a homosexual love triangle is the root cause of the murder but it’s his spitting pseudo-political rants that really dirty the atmosphere.
The rottenness of our detective flows over into the creepy cinematography – it’s all candlelights, rocking-chairs and child-like bedrooms in the house of horrors which initially seemed to be a house of domestic bliss. This transformation from a comfortable suburban home to an almost haunted-house of perversions is one of the film’s biggest achievements.
Perhaps predictably for the genre, the finale takes place on a stormy night complete with a machete and a decades-old corpse in the cellar; these may sound like genre staples, and they are, but don’t let that fool you. They add rather than detract the film’s appeal on all levels, and result in a riotous end to the picture which literally screams out to any horror movie fan. It’s pure and utter chaos as a sodden and by now, mental beyond all proportion, Aunt Cheryl does some stalk, slice and dice in order to ‘protect’ her Billy from the defiled world around him.
The coup-de-grace moment is worth the wait but the film, mistakenly in my view, withdraws its final punch in what seems to be a nihilistic conclusion but ultimately is a happy ending. Aside from that, this is a terrific and deliriously off-the-wall movie. Certainly, the most unique film on the BBFC banned list. Hotdog LOVES it.
NB: “Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker” is also known as “The Evil Protege” and “Night Warning”.
hotdog rating: 9/10