Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker Blu-ray Review: A Nutball’s (Further) Descent into Madness

Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker (1981) was directed by William Asher and stars Jimmy McNichol (brother of Kristy), Susan Tyrrell, and Bo Svenson. This nutty look at lunacy gets lumped into the mix of ’80s slasher movies but is more a study of insanity with violent deaths sprinkled about. The basic story is that of an aunt looking to keep her nephew close at hand through any means necessary, including murder while the investigating, old-school, bigot cop pesters and hounds the young man. 

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Athletic, handsome, young Billy is looking to change his life after high school and head to Colorado on a basketball scholarship with his girlfriend, Julie, in tow. Trouble is, Billy’s Aunt Cheryl won’t let him leave so easily. She’s raised him since he was a toddler and his parents were tragically killed on a mountain road when the brakes went out on their car. As Billy gets more serious about Julie and leaving, Aunt Cheryl goes to extremes to keep her little Billy boy at home. She’ll murder and accuse an innocent repairman of rape before eventually killing her own best friend to keep Billy by her side, folded in her loving arms. Billy begins to wonder about his aunt’s motives as she sinks deeper into the mud pond of madness. As he starts to poke around the old house for answers, he finds that his aunt ain’t exactly who she pretends to be.  

Meanwhile a no-nonsense, psycho, John Wayne-type detective named Carlson (Bo Svenson) is on the case of the slain repairman and is dead set that young Billy is part of a homosexual triumvirate that involved the repairman and his lover, Billy’s high school basketball coach (played excellently by Steve Eastin). Coach Landers is a positive male role model and a father figure to Billy and not interested in him sexually as Carlson insists upon. There’s another detective on the case, Sargent Cook (Britt Leach), and his diligent research into Aunt Cheryl will bring him closer to the truth. That’s if he’s handy enough to find the evidence he needs before she can strike again. Will Cook get past Carlson blocking his efforts, which he dismisses as pure dog poop?  Will Billy have to take matters into his own hands after he discovers the truth of his past and parentage? Will anyone find out that Aunt Cheryl has pickled more than just heads of cauliflower down in that musty basement? Will you read on for a couple of slight spoilers or stop cold here and witness the horror and insanity of Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker for yourself?

Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker is weird and fascinating from beginning to end. Filled with drama, a bit of blood and humor both intended and unintended. Star Susan Tyrrell (Fat City, Cry Baby) says she did, indeed, intend to play her role a bit comical and over the edge as loony Aunt Cheryl tumbles deeper into pure, murderous insanity. The well-rounded cast which includes Bo Svenson (Walking Tall) Julia Duffy (Newhart), Britt Leach, Steve Eastin and future star, Bill Paxton (who was actually considered for the lead before McNichol was cast), help flesh out the story, adding depth and keeping this one above the silly, slasher line. Director William Asher, known for his work on episodes of I Love Lucy and Bewitched, (he was also married to its star Elizabeth Montgomery) stepped in to take over and bring this one in on time and on (semi-low) budget. Asher wasn’t new to feature films; he’d taken the helm on such silly fare as Beach Blanket Bingo and Muscle Beach Party but this would mark his one and only foray into the realm of horror. 

Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker isn’t really a slasher as we know them today. It’s more in line with Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? and Psycho than Halloween or Friday the 13th, though there are similarities with the original storyline of Friday the 13th. There are slashes and kills and a cop loses a hand, but it’s not complete mindless bloody hacking. There is bloodshed, sure, but no more than one could see while watching a cop thriller and the gore is very minimal, think ketchup everywhere. We watch as a woman is faced with losing her beloved child to the outside world and follow along as a young man is forced to deal with accusations of being someone he’s not. Just as I wouldn’t consider it a true slasher, I also don’t agree with its ban in England along with the other “video nasties” of the era. Creepy character study is a more apt description but that doesn’t really put teen butts in seats and I suppose that’s what  McNichol is for as we do get to see his bare buttocks. That behind scene along with all those of him shirtless mixed with the movie’s gay theme has made it a cult classic among more than just horror hounds.  

Severin Films has loaded this 4K UHD/Blu-ray set with hours of brilliant special features that include three separate audio tracks. One includes star Jimmy McNichol while the other two include the writers and producers. All three are loaded with fun facts and nuggets of info about the cast, crew, filming location and stories of how the whole thing came together. They all help shed light on the themes that run throughout the movie and further spotlight its high points and the movie’s unique take on homosexuality. Writers Steve Breimer and Alan Jay Glueckman describe how some of the story was inspired by aspects of their own lives, thankfully not the murder parts…we hope. They do discuss the name and its alternate titles but not really how it came to be. They agree it’s a cool one and better than Night Warning, its VHS release title, but still kind of an odd choice, though catchy. 

There are also separate short (10 minutes or so) length interviews with other members of the cast and crew including the always entertaining Susan Tyrrell, truly a nutty hoot to watch and listen to as she herself views the film, as she insists, for the first time ever. The UHD disc contains all three audio tracks as does the Blu-ray but all the other extras are found on the Blu-ray disc. 

Special Features include:

  • Audio commentary with star Jimmy McNichol
  • Audio commentary with co-writer/producer Steve Breimer and co-writer Alan J. Glueckman, moderated by Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson
  • Audio commentary with co-producer and unit production manager Eugene Mazzola
  • Extreme Prejudice – interview with actor Bo Svenson
  • Point and Shoot – interview with director of photography Robbie Greenberg
  • Family Dynamics – interview with editor Ted Nicolaou
  • Cast & Crew Interviews with actors Jimmy McNichol, Suzanne Tyrell and Steve Easton, make-up artist Alan A. Apone and producer Steve Breimer
  • Trailer and TV spots

Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker is a nutty 93-minute romp through the life and demise of a crazy aunt, a bully cop, and a handsome lad accused of being someone he is not. The horror of it all lies in the creepy way Susan Tyrell presents Aunt Cheryl’s milk face-licking descent into further madness. At times comical, but all too real in the sense that her madness isn’t played as a drooling butcher dealing death for pure funsies.  

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Joe Garcia III

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