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April 29, 2021

Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker (1981) Movie Review


Well, I thought it might be time to review something other than horror comedy. That genre is a lot of fun, but after a while you need a little variety, you know? So I searched my streaming cues for something that’s not very funny. And boy howdy, did I pick a doozy.

Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker is a sweet, wholesome story about family, love, and killing anyone who gets in the way. After a tragic accident killed his parents, Billy’s Aunt Cheryl raises him. Now, fourteen years later, Billy is set to graduate high school. His basketball skills could earn him a scholarship to attend the University of Denver, the same school his girlfriend, Julie, will be attending. Life is great for Billy, but Aunt Cheryl ain’t having any of it.

Cheryl has become a bit obsessed with her nephew and will do anything to prevent him from leaving. It starts off small – accusing the TV repairman of attempted rape. Technically, she ripped her clothes off and threw herself at him and when he refused, she stabbed him to death. Billy witnessed what he thought was an attempted rape and defends his Aunt vehemently.

Funny thing, though, the repairman was the gay lover of Billy’s basketball coach so…why would he want to rape Cheryl? Unfortunately, Lieutenant Carlson homes in on this homosexual angle and is convinced Billy is gay, was involved in a relationship with his coach and the TV guy, and it all went sideways during a lovers’ quarrel. Cheryl is just covering up for her nephew.

When this plan to traumatize Billy into staying doesn’t work, Cheryl takes more drastic measures. She drugs Billy right before the big game to fuck up his scholarship chances; she bashes his girlfriend in the head with a meat tenderizer; she kills the nosy neighbor AND a cop. By now, Cheryl has gone bye-bye and all her past transgressions and secrets come to light. After a final epic boss battle, Billy kills his obsessed and mentally deranged Aunt with a fire poker.

And even after all of this, after Julie (she survived, by the way) tells what happened, Lieutenant Carlson still thinks Billy killed them all BECAUSE GAY. He actually tries to kill the unarmed kid as his sits on the floor, covered in blood, in a shocked stupor.

Don’t worry. Billy lives, is found not guilty of murder, and goes off to college with his best gal. All is right with the world!

 

What do you mean, he's too old for my breast milk?

Wow, there’s a lot to unpack in this movie.

For a film from 1981, it holds up well. It looks well made, the acting is far superior than might be expected from a genre film forty years old, and the story contains a lot of elements that were rooted in taboo and prejudice (homosexuality and homophobia; mental illness; incest). Yes, lots of horror films approach these kinds of subjects all the time, but for all the movies I’ve watched, I don’t remember a film that shone a light on these topics quite the same, or with the same vigor. And despite the predictability of the twists and surprises throughout, they didn’t diminish the story in any way.

While everyone in the film did a great job, you will understand right away why Aunt Cheryl is the star (played by Susan Tyrrell). Within the first thirty seconds of her appearance, she is unsettling and creepy and up to no good. Throughout the film, the inappropriate obsession with her nephew – the way she looks at him, touches him, is jealous of his other relationships – is revealed in each scene. It doesn’t develop; it’s full-blown off the rails from minute one. We’re just allowed glimpses of what’s already there. It was a great way to build tension between characters, drive the story forward, and almost gives us relief when Cheryl’s fa├žade finally cracks and falls off, so she can be her true batshit crazy self.

The only character that kept pulling me out of the story was Lieutenant Carlson. I know there are genuine, unstable homophobic people in the real world, and in a way, Carlson is just as obsessed with Billy as Cheryl is – just for different reasons. But he was written with so much hyperbole as to be satiric. I swear, the man said the word ‘fag’ about twenty-seven times in just one scene. Maybe that was on purpose; maybe it was an accident. All I know is I kept being reminded I was watching a movie every time Carlson was on screen, and that diminished the experience.


'Sup, girl?

The practical effects, though some looked rather fake, still worked here. A preserved head, desiccated corpse, and fake blood appeared authentic. I have to assume, during a Cheryl and Julie fight scene, that the rock Cheryl uses is, in reality, Styrofoam. But dayum, I seriously thought Susan Tyrrell bashed Julia Duffy in the head with a real rock!

I feel the pacing of the film dragged around the one-hour mark. This movie could have cut out about 15-20 minutes and still made a strong impact on the viewer. There’s a lot of time spent showing Billy practicing basketball or hanging out at school, getting into fights with his nemesis (HOLY SHIT, IS THAT BILL PAXTON??), etc. Even some of the scenes with Cheryl’s nosy neighbor/friend could have been trimmed a bit.

Overall, I think this is a highly enjoyable film, despite its few faults. Susan Tyrrell is worth the price of admission alone. The body count, pickled head, and telephone pole through a driver’s head, are just extra gravy for this mashed potato pile of bonkers.

4 hatchets (out of 5)


 



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