I'm not quite sure what I was expecting, exactly, from "the best horror movie of 1982" (that's Night Warning, folks), but whatever it was I expected...I'm pretty sure I didn't get it. Actually, I do know what I was expecting- some sort of slasher flick. After all, part of the lengthy description on the back of the box reads as follows:
Numbed by this deadly chain of events, each person seeks to escape the mounting terror, only to find they're racing headlong toward the guilty party.Yeah sure, it's a bit vague, but still, it gives one a certain slasher-y impression. Had I seen the box art for this movie under its original title Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker, however, I would have had a far more accurate impression of what the film would entail.
Well, no matter. It just goes to show, you simply can't trust a wily VHS box!
So, Night Warning. It's a bit like Mommie Dearest on crack with a bloody twist of Psycho- in other words, it rocks! I knew it would rock within the first fifteen minutes, when young Billy's parents drive off, leaving him in the care of his Aunt Cheryl (Susan Tyrrell), only to die in a car accident moments later. This wasn't any old car accident, though- this was a low-budget Final Destination-style sequence de resistance! The brakes go out, then Billy's dad is decapitated when the car rams into a logging truck, then the car pitches over a cliff, then it explodes- all ensuring that Billy's parents are wicked dead. Consider my mouth open and my cheeks slapped in a decidedly Home Alone fashion!
14 years later, Billy is all grown up and Jimmy McNichol-ized. He's still living with Aunt Cheryl, who creepily and consistently crosses the line into don't ever do anything like that with your nephew territory. When Billy wants to have a girl over for his birthday dinner, Cheryl says no, insisting she'll be his date. She watches him sleep and wakes him by purring in his ear and scratching his back like a perverted cat. It's all very unsettling, and it's only the beginning.
I swear, it's like Cheryl thinks she's Judith Light of television's Who's the Boss in the made-for-TV movie Too Close to Home (also starring Rick(y) Schroeder of television's Silver Spoons), the way she does anything and everything to keep Billy in her home and her clutches. When simply trying to convince Billy that he won't make it in college ("It's for rich kids and people with brains- you wouldn't fit in!") doesn't work, Cheryl drugs his milk so he passes out at the big basketball game and ruins his chance at winning an athletic scholarship.
Things heat up when a TV repairman pays a visit and Aunt Cheryl puts the creepilicious moves on him...or rather, things don't heat up, much to Cheryl's dismay. He deflects her gropings and come-ons until he finally relents and suggests she give him a blow job. Despite the fact that she's agreed to do "anything", Cheryl flips out and stabs the repairman to death. Billy walks in and ends up covered with blood, clutching the knife. This can't be good, right? Right!
Cheryl fully admits to killing the repairman, claiming that it was self-defense as he was attempting to rape her. Detective Carlson (Bo Svenson) is unconvinced, however- he's sure Billy is the murderer. And the motive? Psychosis homosexualia, of course! The repairman was actually bisexual and was having a love affair with Billy's basketball coach- and Carlson just knows that Billy was the c-squared to their a-squared and b-squared. It's a murder most Pythagorian! And gay!
Yes, gay. 1982 was a year when homosexual characters started inching their way out of the celluloid closet (see also: Best, Personal). Carlson is a homophobe and a rascist painted with a wide, wide brush: he uses the word "fag" the way the Smurfs use the word "smurf". "Are you a fag? I bet you're a fag. He's a fag. Fag fag faggity fag. PS: fag!" Aunt Cheryl is no better: when Billy continues to treat his coach like...like...like a human, she quips "Do you know that homosexuals are very sick?" Eh. At least all the homophobes are kookadooks.
Eventually, Aunt Cheryl goes completely off the rails, by which I mean "completely off the fucking rails". She cuts her hair off a la Jodie Foster in The Accused, she kills everyone who gets between her and Billy, she kills everyone who comes close to discovering her secret, she has a secret which may or may not involve a corpse in the basement. Susan Tyrrell gives an unbelievable, balls out performance that simply needs to be seen. She. Is. AWESOME.
Though it wasn't at all what I thought it was going to be, Night Warning was absolutely a delight- even if I still have no clue what exactly a "night warning" is. Man, Susan Tyrrell! She fucking owns this movie. There's a DVD release rumored for later this year so you can check it out for yourself- this is a real VHS gem, an underrated psychological horror flick. The only thing that would've made it better is if it'd been Kristy McNichol in the lead instead of her brother Jimmy. Sure, that would've added a whole 'nother layer to the psychosexual drama, but that's okay. Kristy McNichol makes everything better. Even the Gardenburger I had for dinner- delicious as it was- would have been tastier if Kristy McNichol had made it for me. It's, like, totally a fact.