Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker

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  1. rhett

    rhett Administrator

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    [​IMG] Reviewer: Rhett
    Review Date: October 12, 2014

    Format: DVD
    Released by: Code Red
    Release date: Summer 2014
    MSRP: $24.99
    Region 1
    Progressive Scan
    Widescreen 1.78 | 16x9: Yes
    2013



    inline ImageSlasher films are derivative. I say this with admiration as one of the sub-genre’s biggest fans. When we talk about any entry in the genre, discussion usually falls back upon Psycho, Halloween, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street etcetera. The formula is so simple, and those movies so big, that really every other film is heavily indebted to only a small sampling of pictures. That predictability, though, is often what gives the slasher sub-genre its charm, it’s an old friend you can always catch up with – and see some murder and all that. But among the glut of all these slashers that poured out in the early 80s, there were definitely a few that really stood out from the pack. One of those is Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker. Even its title stands out as something pretty unique (although it would come to be known on video under the more nondescript Night Warning) compared with the usual generic, date-centric nomenclature of most (Graduation Day, Prom Night, New Year’s Evil, April Fools Day, etc.). Directed by the guy who brought you Beach Blanket Bingo and I Love Lucy, starring an Oscar-nominee, shot by the cinematographer of The Santa Clause 3, edited by the location sound recordist on The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and with special effects by the guy behind Faces of Death just the credits alone are a concoction so strange you wonder how this broth will ever cook. But cook it does, and after years in the freezer, Code Red has finally brought this slasher fan favorite back to boil on DVD. Make your wrist limp and let’s give this one a shot.

    The Story

    inline ImageFinal Destination 2 owes more than a tip of the cap to the beginning of this film, as a terrible vehicular accident involving a logging truck and one very unlucky head serves as the requisite past tragedy that shapes the rest of the picture. Ten years after his parents were unfortunately killed in the brake-failure accident, young Billy Lynch (Jimmy McNichol, brother of Kristy) is a promising senior in high school. He’s got it all – a loving and supporting girlfriend, Julia (Julia Duffy, Newhart), a killer shot on the school basketball team, college aspirations and one crazy aunt. Aunt Cheryl (Susan Tyrell, Forbidden Zone, Oscar-nominated for Fat City) has been caring for Billy since the accident, but she might be caring a little too much. She’s very protective over Billy – scorning his relationship with “jezebel” Julia and trying to dissuade him from going off to college and leaving her. She loves him in an unhealthy manner, and it’s about to get even unhealthier.

    inline ImageSexually repressed and reminded of her impending loneliness on Billy’s eighteenth birthday, Cheryl decides to take it all out on the local TV repair man. She throws herself at him as he’s leaving, but her rejects her advances, causing her to knife him down in a fit of blood rage. Billy arrives home just as its happening, and Cheryl pleads to him that she was being raped and that was her only line of self-defence. Billy believes her, but convincing Detective Joe Carlson (Bo Svenson, Walking Tall) is a whole other story. Carlson doesn’t buy Cheryl’s story – in fact, he thinks she’s covering up for Billy, and the motive he thought up certainly is queer. Carlson finds out the repair man was gay and in a relationship with Billy’s basketball coach, Tom Landers (Steve Eastin), and naturally (hmmph) decides that Billy is also gay and that he killed the victim as part of a gay lover’s quarrel. Okay then.

    inline ImageAs if Billy’s plate wasn’t full enough now as it is, he’s also got a big basketball game that could punch his ticket in to college if the scouts like what they see. Determined not to have an empty nest, Cheryl drugs Billy, causing him to faint during the big game. Now he’s housebound and at her mercy, and she’s out to get anyone who stands her way. Sgt. Cook (Britt Leach, Silent Night, Deadly Night), Julia, her nosy neighbour and anyone else who enters her home is about to get one hell of a Night Warning!

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    What a weird little movie. For a slasher there isn’t a whole lot of slashing going on, and most of the horror doesn’t even happen in the night. Indeed, the horror is more situational and of the uncomfortable variety. The film audaciously incorporates incest as a central mover, and Susan Tyrell plays it up to the hilt. She’s a tour de force in this – so rare for a slasher film to have such a bold, outgoing performance, and especially one from a woman (and one who isn’t a Final Girl). Tyrell doesn’t look like she’s playing crazy, like you get with Robert Englund in A Nightmare on Elm Street, she looks like she’s actively living it. Her asynchronous inflections on random words and syllables, her shaky, impassioned intensity when she’s swinging her butcher knife and he clownish, big eyed reactions just all feel so genuinely insane. It’s impossible not to be intrigued and disturbed by her wild manner. Tyrell carries the film, and her performance is one of the most grandiose the slasher, and maybe even horror, has ever seen. Wild, wild stuff.

    inline ImageIntriguing in a different way is Bo Svenson’s performance as the homophobic detective. His insanity is more reserved but equally as disturbing. You could make a pretty effective drinking game about how many times he nonchalantly calls out “fag” (drink twice when Jimmy McNichol takes off his shirt), and his whole Popeye Doyle doggedness to this motive of his is horrifying. Many of the accounts on the DVD say that Svenson wasn’t playing a character that far removed from himself – indeed he’s got that strong personality and stature to intimidate. Like you don’t see incest in many movies, you sure don’t see such blatant homophobia, especially in a picture from the early 80’s. Butcher was written by a young gay writer, Alan Glueckman, and he says on the commentary how much of the story was inspired by incidents pertaining to his own life, so the gay hatred here feels meaner and more personal than the usual story concocted by Hollywood writers removed from such prejudice. Svenson’s character gets all the attention, but it should be mentioned that Steve Eastin’s gay coach character is very sympathetic and far removed from the typical flamboyant queer caricature that Hollywood typically conveys. Glueckman has written a script that’s often bold and outrageous, but proves its maturity with the handling of the coach character. As realized by Tyrell and Svenson though, the movie mostly maintains an aura of insanity unfamiliar to most slasher flicks. And it’s infectious.

    inline ImageThe actors certainly make Butcher memorable (even a young William Paxton rounds out a notable supporting cast) and the script definitely makes it unique, but the director deserves equal share in the film’s enduring effectiveness. At first blush it may seem odd to praise the director of Beach Party and Bewitched for his handling of horror, but it’s precisely that background, and his unfamiliarity with the horror genre, that makes Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker feel so fresh. It isn’t handled like a horror movie, it’s more like a sitcom. The lighting is bright, the emphasis is on the characters rather than the camera, and the shadows lie in the performances rather than the sets. There isn’t a lot of action, but the actors play it big in the frame. Director William Asher made his career directing performances, not staging scares or style, and so the frank, palpable performances feel much richer than in most horror films. When you’ve got a firecracker like Susan Tyrell, the emphasis should be on performance, and Asher does his best to not let style, scares or even plot get in the way of the beefy drama. His quaint, stagy, sitcom direction is actually an asset here, and yet another thing that separates this film from all the other slashers, before or since. Tyrell’s performance wouldn’t seem so crazy if the lighting and camera were equally as bold or stylized, but because everything is staged so simply, it actually makes her performance bigger. Sometimes the best direction is the simplest.

    inline ImageIn a traditional horror sense, Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker is mostly a cake without flavor – the cinematography (other than the opening car crash reportedly staged by cinematographer great Jan de Bont of Cujo and Die Hard notoriety) is bland, the editing, with silly freeze frames and basic structure, feels more fit for television, and the dialogue is fairly on point, and most importantly, the kills are not very graphic, mostly consisting of simple stabbings or gunshots. The frosting on Baker’s cake, though, is in the garishness of its plot points and its performances. It’s not the most refined movie, but it certainly is one of a kind. What more would you expect, I guess, from a film inspired by a children’s rhyme about three guys rubbing and dubbing in a tub before they head to the fair? This one’s a party, alright!


    Image Quality

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    Baker comes out of the kitchen looking good and complete, but lacking the kind of plating you’d hope for in such a lively dish. The transfer has good clarity and a nice, natural grain structure. The full spectrum of highs and lows are accurately preserved here, maintaining the dynamic range of the film’s origins. The print has little specs throughout, but they’re generally not distracting and only help to reinforce the age of the picture. What is distracting, though, is the complete lack of color correction, which causes color temperatures to vary not only scene to scene, but even shot to shot. The wide shots in the basketball game will have a light green hue (from the florescent lights, likely) and then the insert of the basketball net will be pinkish. This kind of thing is evident throughout and it’s distracting. It’s a shame because the source material here is very good, it’s just clear there was very little done in correcting the transfer here for video. A colorist would have fixed that, as well as adding a little contrast to make the images seem less flat. Rather than a proper DVD transfer, this feels more like a film revival, where the print is wildly inconsistent from old age and use, but charming in its antiquity just the same. I’m really happy to see this on DVD and in widescreen for the first time, especially on such a clear, well-preserved master from the original negative, it’s just a shame it wasn’t given a proper pass through a colorist.

    Sound

    inline ImageThe film’s original English mono track is all that’s provided, and it sounds very good. Sound effects are crisp, dialogue clear and all that synth comes through clean. There’s a light, very faint natural noise floor that gives it a vintage sound, but the hiss, crackle and dropouts often associated with these old mixes is nowhere to be heard. As a mono track the sound is lacking in range, with little bass and sometimes flat dialogue, but it all comes through clearly, and that’s all these vintage flicks ever really need.

    Supplemental Material

    It may have taken 17+ years for Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker to hit DVD, but if the extras are any indication, that time was well spent. This disc has a number of seasonings including 4 interviews, 2 commentaries, and a theatrical trailer.

    inline ImageThe first commentary is with star Jimmy McNichol and is moderated by Jeff McKay and with an unbilled Bill Olsen from Code Red. McNichol doesn’t have a lot to say about the picture specifically, but McKay and Olsen do a solid job of keeping the commentary interesting, getting McNichol to open up about his career, his Teen Beat days, his sister and a whole bunch of other tangents. Both Olsen and McKay also bring a lot to the commentary themselves, sharing trivia behind-the-scenes and showing a genuine interest in the picture. You can really tell they like it, and that makes it enjoyable all the way through. The second commentary, with Writer Alan Glueckman, Writer/Producer Steve Breimer and moderator Nathaniel Thompson from Mondo Digital. This doesn’t quite have the geekish energy of the first commentary, but it’s equally as good a listen because the two speak candidly, and sometimes very personally, about the story, the production and their thoughts of the film and its crew. Thompson does a good job staying in the background and letting Glueckman mostly carry the conversation, coming in only to prompt the crew whenever there are quiet moments. The best bits are from Glueckman when he describes how the story came to be and how it parallels his own life both in terms of his sexual identity and the fact that he was adopted and always wondered if his real mother could be as crazy as Susan Tyrell (answer: Impossible.). Two solid commentaries that inform the film both from a trivia standpoint and a personal one.

    The interviews on this disc come from McNichol, Breimer, Actor Steve Eastin, Makeup artist Alan Apone and the late, great Susan Tyrell. If you can imagine, Tyrell is actually crazier in this interview than she is in the film. She starts off saying she hates the film, but then she starts watching it during the 11-minute interview and shoots out a bunch of funny, off-color remarks. She talks about doing coke on set and wanting to do Jimmy McNichol. A parrot then flies on her shoulder. She then removes her prosthetic legs, and then a tribute intertitle pays tribute to her life as she died in 2012 shortly after the interview. If that synopsis sounds weird to you, then you don’t know Susan Tyrell! Great little piece.

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    The rest of the interviews are more straightforward. McNichol sits in the shade yet still wears sunglasses (wonder if Corey Heart is an influence on his musical career?), and most of the things he talks about are already covered in his commentary (8 minutes). Steve Eastin kicks things off with a bang by confessing “I make love to willow trees like a madman” and then segues into talking about being a positive early gay character, mentoring a young bill Paxton, and just having a good time on set (9 minutes). Alan Apone did the makeup but he has more to say about the rest of the crew than he does the effects, particularly how Bo Svenson got decked on set after sexually harassing the hairdresser on set. Apone also briefly talks about the opening log “jam” death (5 minutes). Lastly, Producer Steve Breimer talks for 12 minutes about the different titles of the film, shares some kind words about the actors and talks about how they experimented much with the structure of the film during editing and ultimately chose to embrace Tyrell’s craziness rather than try to conceal it until the final act. Good choice.

    A trailer for the film under the Night Warning title is also included. It’s interesting how they play up the two young actors (“a chilling tale of a young boy and girl!”) and don’t even show Tyrell (or Svenson) clearly in a single shot of the trailer. Talk about false advertising.

    An asterisk to this release is (what’s new?) the quality control by Code Red. First off, the disc arrived with the packaging intact, yet the insert sleeve had a huge rip throughout the back. So this would have had to come from the production level. Whatever, it happens. To keep with the cooking metaphors in this review, you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. What’s less explainable is how almost ever extra either starts or ends in the middle of a sentence, never properly trimmed and corrected for DVD. For example, the commentary with the writers begins midway through an explanation by the moderator telling the group how they’re going to start the commentary. It then ends with Alan Glueckman posing a question to the listener that he never gets to finish because it cuts off a few seconds before the end of the film. How does that make it through? Most of the interviews similarly end with the interviewee in mid-sentence, cutting back to the menu before they’ve finished their comment. Then there are the interlaced interviews (fly me out to LA and I’ll shoot them for you with my RED camera for free if that will help, seriously), poor lighting (McNichol is in shadow with a bright sunlight background dominating the shot) and the lack of color timing on the feature, so on and so forth.

    And then there’s the whole issue of availability. Here you have a huge fan favorite like Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker, one that was one of the top vote getters on our recent poll about favorite films that still haven’t hit DVD, and hardly anyone can get it. You can only buy it through the Code Red website, and it only sporadically comes in stock. You can’t buy it internationally, either. For an example of how this distribution model is selling Code Red, and the film in question, short: the poll we mentioned above was created AFTER Butcher was already released. I didn’t know about it, and more importantly neither did all the consumers who voted, either. Code Red has some awesome forgotten gems in their library that should be seen by a wider audience, but until they fix these gaffes, both in the creation and distribution of these releases, they’ll continue to remain a niche company with tepid consumer confidence.

    Final Thoughts

    inline ImageWith a loveably Loony Tunes performance by Susan Tyrell, a compellingly deplorable one by Bo Svenson, and a script that really takes both of them to some pretty taboo places, Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker is a captivating psychological thriller that stands apart from its slasher class. Code Red presents the film with a clean, if raw-looking, visual transfer and a respectable mono mix. With over four hours of extras with key cast and crew, slasher fans should have a picnic with all the helpings. Given Code Red’s distribution and quality control issues, buyers should approach this with a little hesitation, but overall this is wholly recommended to all horror fans looking for something a little off kilter. Rub a dub delightful!

    Rating

    [​IMG] Movie - B+

    Image Quality - B

    Sound - B

    Supplements - A-


    Technical Info.
    • Colour
    • Running time - 1 hour and 36 minutes
    • Rated R
    • 1 Disc
    • Chapter Stops
    • English mono
    Supplemental Material
    • Commentary with Actor Jimmy McNichol, Moderator Jeff McKay and Code Red's Bill Olsen
    • Commentary with Writer Alan Glueckman, Writer/Producer Steve Breimer and moderator Nathaniel Thompson
    • Interview with Actor Susan Tyrell
    • Interview with Actor Jimmy McNichol
    • Interview with Actor Steve Eastin
    • Interview with Produer Steven Breimer
    • Interview with Makeup Artist Alan Apone
    • Theatrical trailer

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    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 7, 2015

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