Butcher Baker Nightmare Maker, aka Night Warning, is a film that often comes up when you begin searching out queer horror film history. But despite queer horror being something I actively dedicate my time to, I had somehow missed out on ever watching it myself. Until recently.
On a random thought, I searched Youtube for the title and found a surprisingly quality upload. So I made a quick cocktail and settled in for a first time viewing of what many consider a gay horror classic.
I’m always careful with the reputations of widely regarded queer horror films. Many times the queer aspect is nothing more than a few scenes of subtext, or a passing bit of comedic homophobia, but this film definitely tackled homosexuality and horror with full force. Surprising for a film made in the very early 1980’s.
The story begins with teenager, Billy, and his over-possessive, sexually repressed, psychotic Aunt Cheryl becoming involved in a murder case that very quickly unravels into so much more. You see, the murdered man turns out to be a gay, Billy’s basketball coach turns out to be the man’s lover, and the lieutenant in charge of the case is a proud homophobe who casually drops the words “fuck boy”, “fag”, and “queer”. On top of all this, Aunt Cheryl is determined to keep Billy under her manipulative control forever.
The movie is light on the horror for the first 2/3 of the film, coming across more like a gay VC Andrew’s Lifetime adaption, but the last act is full of murder and madness, more than earning the movie its notoriety as “required queer horror viewing”.
While homosexuality and homophobia are the movie’s secondary driving force, taking a backseat to the larger story of Aunt Cheryl’s insanity, it is a subplot that is nearly always present and the film prominently features a gay character, and not just as a novelty.
Some reviews of the film blast it for the crude homophobic characters, but I found it to be integral to the story and simply truthful of how homophobia exists in different facets. The lieutenant’s homophobia is clearly a manifestation of his own unhappiness, Aunt Cheryl’s homophobic remarks come up only when she wishes to divert attention from her own psychotic break, and Billy’s bully is the immature asshole most of us have dealt with in high school. More so, I feel like the film actually makes a point to show us an oppositional force to the rampant homophobia. While our antagonists are spewing hate and making stereotypical judgments about homosexuality, our protagonists clearly display confusion as to why the sexuality of others matters at all. It was honestly refreshing for me to witness in a film from 1982 have a “masculine” basketball coach be outed as gay and then to have Billy still interact with him as a perfect suitable mentor and male influence. For the decade of the film, I almost expected the revelation to result in endless, emasculating comments and cliches.
I’m very happy to have finally watched this film and can now understand why it’s been mentioned so many times as recommended viewing. Now I too can start suggesting it to those looking to begin their education of the queer horror genre. (And on a final note, anyone looking to get me a $60-100 present may purchase the more in-depth novelization I just noticed on Amazon. Kthankxbye!)