FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Aug 26, 2008

VHS Week, Day 1: Night Warning

I'm not quite sure what I was expecting, exactly, from "the best horror movie of 1982" (that's Night Warning, folks), but whatever it was I expected...I'm pretty sure I didn't get it. Actually, I do know what I was expecting- some sort of slasher flick. After all, part of the lengthy description on the back of the box reads as follows:
Numbed by this deadly chain of events, each person seeks to escape the mounting terror, only to find they're racing headlong toward the guilty party.
Yeah sure, it's a bit vague, but still, it gives one a certain slasher-y impression. Had I seen the box art for this movie under its original title Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker, however, I would have had a far more accurate impression of what the film would entail.

Well, no matter. It just goes to show, you simply can't trust a wily VHS box!

So, Night Warning. It's a bit like Mommie Dearest on crack with a bloody twist of Psycho- in other words, it rocks! I knew it would rock within the first fifteen minutes, when young Billy's parents drive off, leaving him in the care of his Aunt Cheryl (Susan Tyrrell), only to die in a car accident moments later. This wasn't any old car accident, though- this was a low-budget Final Destination-style sequence de resistance! The brakes go out, then Billy's dad is decapitated when the car rams into a logging truck, then the car pitches over a cliff, then it explodes- all ensuring that Billy's parents are wicked dead. Consider my mouth open and my cheeks slapped in a decidedly Home Alone fashion!

14 years later, Billy is all grown up and Jimmy McNichol-ized. He's still living with Aunt Cheryl, who creepily and consistently crosses the line into don't ever do anything like that with your nephew territory. When Billy wants to have a girl over for his birthday dinner, Cheryl says no, insisting she'll be his date. She watches him sleep and wakes him by purring in his ear and scratching his back like a perverted cat. It's all very unsettling, and it's only the beginning.

I swear, it's like Cheryl thinks she's Judith Light of television's Who's the Boss in the made-for-TV movie Too Close to Home (also starring Rick(y) Schroeder of television's Silver Spoons), the way she does anything and everything to keep Billy in her home and her clutches. When simply trying to convince Billy that he won't make it in college ("It's for rich kids and people with brains- you wouldn't fit in!") doesn't work, Cheryl drugs his milk so he passes out at the big basketball game and ruins his chance at winning an athletic scholarship.

Things heat up when a TV repairman pays a visit and Aunt Cheryl puts the creepilicious moves on him...or rather, things don't heat up, much to Cheryl's dismay. He deflects her gropings and come-ons until he finally relents and suggests she give him a blow job. Despite the fact that she's agreed to do "anything", Cheryl flips out and stabs the repairman to death. Billy walks in and ends up covered with blood, clutching the knife. This can't be good, right? Right!

Cheryl fully admits to killing the repairman, claiming that it was self-defense as he was attempting to rape her. Detective Carlson (Bo Svenson) is unconvinced, however- he's sure Billy is the murderer. And the motive? Psychosis homosexualia, of course! The repairman was actually bisexual and was having a love affair with Billy's basketball coach- and Carlson just knows that Billy was the c-squared to their a-squared and b-squared. It's a murder most Pythagorian! And gay!

Yes, gay. 1982 was a year when homosexual characters started inching their way out of the celluloid closet (see also: Best, Personal). Carlson is a homophobe and a rascist painted with a wide, wide brush: he uses the word "fag" the way the Smurfs use the word "smurf". "Are you a fag? I bet you're a fag. He's a fag. Fag fag faggity fag. PS: fag!" Aunt Cheryl is no better: when Billy continues to treat his coach a human, she quips "Do you know that homosexuals are very sick?" Eh. At least all the homophobes are kookadooks.

Eventually, Aunt Cheryl goes completely off the rails, by which I mean "completely off the fucking rails". She cuts her hair off a la Jodie Foster in The Accused, she kills everyone who gets between her and Billy, she kills everyone who comes close to discovering her secret, she has a secret which may or may not involve a corpse in the basement. Susan Tyrrell gives an unbelievable, balls out performance that simply needs to be seen. She. Is. AWESOME.

Though it wasn't at all what I thought it was going to be, Night Warning was absolutely a delight- even if I still have no clue what exactly a "night warning" is. Man, Susan Tyrrell! She fucking owns this movie. There's a DVD release rumored for later this year so you can check it out for yourself- this is a real VHS gem, an underrated psychological horror flick. The only thing that would've made it better is if it'd been Kristy McNichol in the lead instead of her brother Jimmy. Sure, that would've added a whole 'nother layer to the psychosexual drama, but that's okay. Kristy McNichol makes everything better. Even the Gardenburger I had for dinner- delicious as it was- would have been tastier if Kristy McNichol had made it for me. It's, like, totally a fact.


Anonymous said...

This is why the Ponder rules. Awesome review. I too pine for the days when the McNichols bestrode the earth like colossi. Or Kristy did (and, yeah, I thought she was cuuuuuuute too). Jimmy was sort of a Jr. Colossus. Maybe a Titan. A Giant on a good day.

Sounds like a crazy flick. Everything's topsy-turvy! Homersexuals! A NON-lascivious cable guy! And, of course, as Bertram Wilberforce Wooster, sage, has told us many times, "It is no use telling me that there are bad aunts and good aunts. At the core, they are all alike. Sooner or later, out pops the cloven hoof".

Wes Fierce said...

I cant read this entire post yet because I'm going to be watching Night Warning myself, soon. But I'm really optimistic about it after reading the first three paragraphs! :D I dont see Bill Paxton's name being thrown around anywhere though O_o

Stacie Ponder said...

Gah! I totally forgot to mention Senor Paxton, who does a swell job at channeling Chet, the douchebag he'd so memorably portray in Weird Science a couple of years later.

kindertrauma said...

Susan Tyrrell is just astonishing in this movie. I remember reading the novelization under the title "Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker" as a teen and being really scandalized and intrigued by the whole gay thing because it was so rare in the genre at that time. It's too bad they ended up not having a clue about how to market this, it's coming out on DVD soon so maybe it will finally get the audience it deserves.-UNK

FDot said...

I caught this at a midnight screening a few months ago. I have never enjoyed myself so much at a movie. Seeing Bill Paxtomn and Julia Duffy early on was just icing.

Anonymous said...

This movie is so 100% YOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

Best first five minutes of any movie I've ever seen.

We had Susan Tyrrell out to the theater last year to screen it and she swore she'd never watched it before. She HATED it!


Anonymous said...

The guys who produced/wrote this currently run a dinner theatre in the Kansas City area...

At one late night screening, it was said that JanDeBont was briefly involved with the film - he shot the opening sequence (ref. the ending of THE 4TH MAN).

P. K. Nail said...

I saw this movie at a film festival a few years ago, and it's one of my favorite movies ever. Susan Tyrell and Bo Svenson are all kinds of awesome. I heard a story that Tyrell was so into her role that when she hit Julia Duffy in the head with the rock, she actually knocked her out. After the screening, Bo Svenson gave a Q&A. When asked how much of his character he drew from the script, he chuckled and said "Man, I didn't read the script; look, I was on the set for about four days, and I was sober for half of that."

This is a periodic re-watch for me, and I love it to pieces.

Anonymous said...

This movie is completely awesome. I can't wait for the DVD to come out!

Anonymous said...

Great review. I also was lucky enough to see this at the Alamo Drafthouse last year with Susan in attendance (hello Zack!). Here are some pictures of Susan and her kickass tattoo'd fake legs:

And here's one of the VHS she signed for me:

And here's my write-up about the screening:

An excerpt:
Alamo-regular David Strong brought Tyrell onto the stage (she's in a wheelchair, and has two kickass faux-tattoo'd plastic legs). She had some difficulty speaking, but she was very energetic. It was a joy just to watch her reminisce. Or rather, refuse to reminisce. For some reason, she didn't want to answer any of Lars' questions at all, which was pretty hilarious. Apparently she had to pee and her "legs can only hold so much."

She did mention that she (a) hated this movie, and (b) has never seen it. She also told us how her only memories of this movie were sitting in an attic with the makeup girls laughing about the silly script and how the director thought he was making a serious movie. She described the film as a "cinematic, slasherific, something." She tried to tell us to look for a deeper meaning, but couldn't get the sentence out without laughing at... us? the film? herself?

. . .

After the movie the curtains actually closed. Don't really remember ever seeing that before. Strong brought Tyrell back on stage, and she fielded more questions. She remained amazingly feisty/cantankerous for 3:30 a.m. Lars did a great job 'moderating'... instead of just bowing down to everything she said, he held his own.

Example: Tyrell referred to John Waters as a "court-stalker" and Lars half laughed and said "What does that even mean?" Later, instead of answering a question, she told us to look up the answer on the internet, to which Lars instantly replied "We're not really into looking things up on the internet."

Worst Question of the night came from a guy who started asking her about his thoughts on Serial Mom, John Waters, and Kathleen Turner. The guy kept saying that she needed to meet John Waters and how she'd be great in T4. Her only response: "Uh... have you heard of Crybaby?"

She had a lot of other great anecdotes... most of them were about how she didn't like the people she worked with. She especially seemed to have it in for Bo Svenson (who played a grade-A homophobic ass in the movie). She was accompanied by 3 20-something blonde girls who I (and others) assumed were her daughters. But Tyrell denied that she has any kids, and when asked about the trio, cryptically claimed that they lived in the same trailer park. Tyrell eventually tired of the questions, tossed the mic again, gave another order to Mr. Strong, and off she went. Classic.

Marty McKee said...

This is coming to DVD from Code Red as BUTCHER, BAKER, NIGHTMARE MAKER. The original trailer (for NIGHT WARNING) deceptively sells it as a boy-and-girl-running-from-a-killer movie with nary a glimpse of Tyrell and Svenson.