Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker follows a sadistic and unhinged suburban killer, incest, a gay love triangle, and buckets of blood. This falls under the grindhouse exploitation cinema banner, but it's so much more than that. This film tackles some taboo subject matter for its time period of the early '80s, which have now become the mainstream, proving this genre is always ahead of its time and paves the way for others. The 1080p HD transfer and DTS-HD 2.0 audio track are both great, and the bonus features of interviews and commentary tracks are all worthwhile. Highly Recommended!
Exploitation films usually receive an undeserved reputation for being too hardcore or over-the-top with mainstream audiences and the casual movie-watcher. However, these same exploitation films are usually ahead of the curve bringing taboo subjects and elements to the big screen for the first time, which in turn Hollywood follows suit. Whether it bringing attention to subtle political, social, or even gender issues - exploitation celebrates these amazing differences in a great way. John Waters created a universe for the LGBTQ community before there was one, starting mainly with Pink Flamingos. And in 1981, director William Asher featured gay characters in his horror thriller Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker that was very ahead of its time. Some forty years later, this film still holds up very well.
Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker which later went on to be titled "Night Warning" went through a series of changes before it landed with filmmaker William Asher. Originally, Michael Miller was brought on to direct with cinematographer Jan de Bont (Speed, Twister, Die Hard, Cujo) shooting the movie. After they filmed the first scene, the studio went a different direction and hired Asher, which seemed odd, because his credits included tv shows like I Love Lucy and Bewitched, along with films like Beach Blanket Bingo and Beach Party. Nobody would have thought that someone with that resume could bring a modern-day telling of Oedipus the King by Sophocles to life, but he did in a glorious way with a fantastic cast.
The film centers on a high school senior named Billy Lynch (Jimmy McNichol) who lives with his overbearing aunt Cheryl (the amazing Susan Tyrrell), who has raised him since he was a little kid after his parents were killed in a car wreck. He's a popular young man at school, a star basketball player, and is offered a scholarship to play at a major university. This does not bode well with his aunt Cheryl as she wants him to stick around and help with the house. Billy strikes up a romance with the school reporter Julia and is liked by his basketball coach Tom Landers who seems to have taken an interest in Billy's college prospects.
One evening, Cheryl hires a repairman to fix their television set and makes sexual advances towards him, which he refuses. In a fit of rage, she murders the man, which Billy witnesses in horror. She cries foul that he tried to rape her, which brings in a bigoted police detective named Joe to investigate. It turns out this tv repairman and Billy's basketball coach were in a relationship, which has Joe believe that Billy is in the center of all this in a gay love triangle and that aunt Cheryl is just covering for Billy. From here, with the help of Julia and another police detective, Billy slowly figures out all the terrifying dark secrets behind Cheryl and what she's been hiding for years, which climaxes in a gruesome bloody mess.
Not only did Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker tackle the subject of gay relationships during a time where most people kept quiet about it, but it also explored the bigoted elements of law enforcement, which is ever-present some four decades later and the extreme taboo topic of incest. That's a ton of mind-blowing themes for a film that was released in 1981. Asher showcased the bullying and hatred towards same-sex relationships but also revealed how proud these characters were of their love.
Again, being an exploitation film, it was very ahead of its time. The twists and turns still pack a punch and the performances range from nuanced and subtle to over-the-top, wherein this case works perfectly. This sexually charged film really broke the mold in 1981 with its raw energy and grit, and willingness to show these non-accepted (for its time) elements in such a good way. Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker is still a fantastic horror movie that was a prototype for many films that came after it and is wonderfully clever, fun, and scary all at the same time. Plus Bill Paxton shows up here, which makes any movie better.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker knifes its way to Blu-ray through Code Red. The disc is housed in a hard, blue plastic case with a cardboard sleeve featuring some awesome artwork of the cast of the film. The reverse artwork is different artwork with the alternated title as well. There is no digital copy.
Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker comes with an excellent 1080p HD transfer from Code Red, which looks to be from the 2017 2K scan from the original camera negative. This forty-year-old film looks excellent now in this high definition transfer in its aspect ratio of 1.78:1.
Colors are bolder and richer in every lighting condition. The exterior shots reveal amazing blue skies, green leaves, and the trees and primary colors in the costumes. Inside the house, colors take on more browns with the wood furniture and look a tiny bit darker. The blood is various shades of red but always pops in the best of ways. Black levels are deep and inky with almost no issues of bleeding or murky shadows.
The detail is vivid, revealing great facial pores, individual hairs, practical makeup effects, and blood droplets. The textures in the clothing and vintage props look incredible as well. The filmic image is in tack and provides that nostalgic early '80s feel of cinema. There are no big signs of noise, banding, or aliasing either.
This release comes with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 track that sounds good within its own limits. This is a full-sounding 2.0 mix that utilizes the screams, vehicle noises, gunshots, and scares pretty well. It could have benefited from having a fuller sound in a 5.1 realm with bass, but this gets the job done. The score always. adds to the suspense of the movie and never really drowns out any other audio element. The dialogue is clear, however, there are a couple of instances where it sounds a bit soft. Other sound effects though are quite great and come across as well-balanced and louder than expected.
There are about 46 minutes of bonus material here, none of which are brand NEW, but rather the extras and commentary tracks that have been imported from the previous release. That being said, those extras are fantastic and worth watching.
Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker is a film that was way ahead of its time that featured a great cast, a fun horror story, and some great social and gender issues that weren't talked about much for its time. This movie still holds up in more than one area. The video and audio presentations are both great and the bonus features are excellent even if there aren't any new ones. Most people haven't picked this up yet in previous releases, so this comes Highly Recommended!