Night Warning (1983)

(courtesy of guest reviewer – GORELORD)

Poor Billy Lynch. All he wanted was to go to the University of Denver and pursue a scholarship in basketball. Instead, he was caught up in a world of murder and madness which he could not escape. Aunt Cheryl wouldn’t dare allow it!

I hadn’t really heard of this warped little gem before I stumbled across it at my local flea market one summer morning in 1999. I usually like to go through the many horror film books I own, trying to discover some of the forgotten treasures from the genre. For some reason though, this one escaped me. Well thank the lord for small miracles because this film was a wonderfully twisted surprise.

It’s about an unstable, sexually repressed woman named Cheryl (played by Susan Tyrell) who has been caring for her “nephew” Billy (played by Jimmy McNichol) ever since Billy’s parents were killed in a horrific car crash and explosion 14 years ago. It seems that someone tampered with the break lines, causing the accident. Aunt Cheryl wouldn’t know anything about it, now would she? When Billy begins to look ahead to his future in school and with his cute girlfriend Julie (played by Julia Duffy), Aunt Cheryl’s jealous rage begins to build inside her and her incestuous urges begin to come to the surface. A possible basketball scholarship has Billy looking at leaving for the University of Denver, which is where Julie will also attend. But Aunt Cheryl will have none of it!

Billy’s the man of the house, and boy does Aunt Cheryl ever need a man! She needs a lover so much in fact, that she butchers the TV repair man with a kitchen knife when he shoots down her sexual advances. Boy, talk about your fatal attractions! Cheryl claims that the guy tried to rape her, even though the viewer already knows that she’s nuts. Homophobic Police Detective Carlson (played by Bo Svenson) takes this as an opportunity to bring down a couple of “fags”. Or as he also calls them, “deviants”. He tries to pin the murder on Billy (whom he feels is gay) because Billy’s basketball coach is homosexual and was lovers with the murder victim. Carlson is convinced that Billy killed the guy during a lovers quarrel. Detective Carlson hates gays and guilty or not, he still thinks they should suffer.

With Billy still intent on going to University on a basketball scholarship and getting closer to his girlfriend, Aunt Cheryl starts to slip deeper into a psychotic state. She frequently visits a secret room where she carries on obsessive conversations with her dead boyfriend Chuck while his skeletal remains lay in a heap on the floor and his head sits preserved in a jar.

When she catches Billy and Julie having sex she becomes closer than ever to going over the edge. “Perverts and sluts! They’re doing everything they can to take him away from us”, she bellows to her dead boyfriend. She even goes to extremes when a basketball scout from the university comes to one of Billy’s games to check out his talents by drugging his milk. He ends up passing out on the court and before you know it Aunt Cheryl has him back home in bed in a room she has decorated with his childhood toys. You also get the idea that she’s completely losing it when she goes into the bathroom and chops off most of her hair.

Billy’s girlfriend Julie makes the mistake of trying to distract Aunt Cheryl while Billy snoops around her room. She gets a wooden meat tenderizer in the head for her trouble. Every time Billy starts to recover from his earlier passing out spell, Aunt Cheryl makes him drink more of the drug laced milk. In fact, towards the end of the movie she’s literally ramming it down his throat.

When too many people start coming around the house, Cheryl feels her future with Billy is threatened. Before you know it she’s a full fledged drooling, raving, depraved lunatic. Not even her nosy friend Margie (played by Marcia Lewis) or an investigating Sgt. Cook (played by Britt Leach) are safe from her insanity. It’s time for the blood to splatter as Aunt Cheryl slices open stomachs, chops off hands, slashes throats, and bashes heads in. Anything for her little boy Billy.

Now, I don’t want to give away anything more because when Aunt Cheryl starts to really go loony you’ll want to see it for yourself. There is a truly disturbing and bloody final scene that adds even more trauma to the tragic youth of Billy Lynch. Billy’s worst enemy may not be Aunt Cheryl, but rather sleazebag gay bashing Detective Carlson, who’s hatred of homosexuals causes him to try and use the law to his own advantage. And there is a major secret revealed in the film that paints the picture of a woman who had become disturbed long before her sexual interest in Billy had emerged.

Although this film does go the route of the slasher genre towards the last half, there is a fair bit of suspense built up in the firs thour and fifteen minutes or so. The cast is really good for this type of sleazy material, especially Susan Tyrell, who makes one of the most convincing depraved psychopaths I’ve ever seen. Move over Bette Davis (Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?), Betsy Palmer (Friday the 13th), and Priscilla Alden (Criminally Insane, Crazy Fat Ethel 2), Susan Tyrell takes the throne as the ultimate kill-crazy psycho bitch! Bo Svenson plays the gay hating police detective to perfection and had me absolutely despising his scummy character. As a matter of fact, his character is the most despicable figure in the entire movie, even more so than crazy Aunt Cheryl. And Julia Duffy (from TV sitcoms Newhart and Designing Women) is pleasant and enjoyable in her film debut as Billy’s girl.

William Asher (director of many 60’s beach party movies) gives the film a real gritty feel with his direction and the story really plays on Aunt Cheryl’s desire for Billy. One scene in particular really reveals Cheryl’s deranged motives. Billy tries to go back to school and Aunt Cheryl’s bizarre point of view truly comes across. “You don’t want to go back there anyway Billy. You’ve learned enough. Besides, it’s full of perverts! You stay here with me. I’ll teach you things”. At that point even Billy must have realized who the real repressed pervert was.

Overall, a truly fantastic oddity from the early 80’s slasher craze and a grimy film you won’t soon forget. Voted as the best horror film of 1982 by The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. This is also out on video as Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker, Thrilled to Death, and Momma’s Boy. No matter which title you find it under, this is a film horror fans will definitely want in their collection.


2 thoughts on “Night Warning (1983)”

  1. I’ve been trying to find this one (and Mortuary) for years. I’ve never seen it, but my slasher collection will never be complete without it. I’m hoping that it will get a dvd release. Night School eventually did and Mortuary is getting a release later next month so maybe this one will too.

    1. Here’s hoping, but watch out: this thing shares an alternate title (Thrilled to Death) with a 1989 Chuck Vincent movie about a couple of psycho swingers terrorizing the straights next door…which already made it to DVD in 2007. So don’t do what I did and let hope blind you to what you’re actually adding to the shopping cart.

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