Another interesting thing about this film is its cast. I'm not sure how surprising it is to find a name like Bill "Game Over, man!" Paxton on the Video Nasty List, because that guy freaks out all over the map! It's also not the biggest surprise since the red sea parted to find Bo Svenson on the list, not because of any genre frequency but because the guy is so prolific, he was bound to show up somewhere. However, to find Newhart's Julia Duffy not only in one of these films, but naked in one of these films is a bit of a (pleasant) surprise. How about Kristi's brother Jimmy "Jimmy James" McNichol, Broadway Star and Academy Award Nominee Susan Tyrrell? Hell, the director (William Asher) was a multiple Emmy award nominee (and winner of one), who was married for a time to Bewitched's Elizabeth Montgomery and is currently Jenny McCarthy's Father in Law.
Lastly, unlike many of the "Secondary" entries on the Video Nasty List (quite a few of which have been looked upon as temporary mistakes), Nightmare Maker is another one of the 14 films that are still Banned in the UK to this day!
Aside from that, Night Warning is a pretty standard slasher/ horror exploitation flick from the early 1980s with mostly mediocre acting and a standard set of themes that go back to Psycho, Carrie and all kinds of films that have imitated the like.
Years ago a young woman named Cheryl Roberts (Tyrrell) agrees to take care of her three year old nephew Billy while his parents (Gary Baxley and Kay Kimler) make a quick visit to his grandmother. Thanks to a faulty brake line (and a long crash sequence) they never make it there. Suddenly, Cheryl's care for Billy goes from temporary babysitting to raising him to adulthood.
Luckily Billy Lynch (McNichol) grows up cared for and well adjusted against a few odds, like the screws his aunt has loose. He's a basketball hero at the school and a favorite of Coach Tom Landers (Steve Eastin), much to the chagrin of rival player (and bully) Eddie (Paxton). He's even got a really hot girlfriend in Julie Linden (Duffy) and the prospect of a full scholarship to college if the rumored scout likes his playing.
It's right around this point in his life that the world is opening up before him... which is exactly where Aunt Cheryl starts to have her problems. It seems that she's taken on a much more than maternal position over Billy (whether he realizes it or not) and doesn't take at all kindly to the concept of Billy going off to college or dating or... living.
The depths of Cheryl's insanity have yet to be plumbed, but the lady still has needs. After all, her last boyfriend has been gone since... well, not too far removed from Billy's parents died. To this end, Aunt Cheryl sets her sight on the fine tuning abilities of the local TV Repairman Phil Brody (Caskey Swaim). Brody being disinterested (even with Tyrrell's naked breasts in his face), Cheryl decides to do something far nastier than sleep with the man.
Soon Detective Joe Carlson (Svenson) and Sgt. Cook (Britt Leach) are investigating Brody's murder and aren't buying Cheryl's "attempted rape" defense, even though Billy is substantiating it for her. Actually, especially because Billy is substantiating it for her. In a case of connect the character dots, we learn that TV Repairman Brody was actually sleeping with Coach Landers, which makes Billy's jealous third point on a Gay Love Triangle a more likely theory for Brody's untimely demise.
Talk about pressure. A crazy aunt, a jealous bully, a hot-seat coach, a murder mystery, a college scout on the way and everybody thinks you're gay in 1982. With all this scrutiny coming at Billy and Cheryl, you'd think it might actually slow down her insanity. Somehow the craziness soon becomes, much, much more pronounced.
Night Warning isn't a film one can easily call "predictable", even though there is no question that it's derivative. One thing that makes Night Warning surprising in places is that Aunt Cheryl is soon so crazy that there no longer really is any kind of logical flow to her actions. Writers Stephen Breimer, Alan Jay Glueckman and Boon Collins (credited on the VHS Box as "Boom Collins") push the limits of Aunt Cheryl's insanity with each passing scene, sort of like Mrs. Bates, still in her own body. This can, of course, be interesting, especially because, as a slasher villain, Susan Tyrrell does succeed in getting extremely creepy/ scary, shooting from doting sweet lady to wide-eyed complete maniac in no time at all.
This brings us to the very violent and bloody aspects of Night Warning that managed to get the damned thing banned in England! There are plenty of blood geysers here, some of which splash on naked body parts. The underlying suggestion of incest doesn't help matters either, nor does Aunt Cheryl's creative methods for keeping Billy under her control. The unsettling thing here, if one allows oneself to get that interested in this film, is the fact that just about everyone is potentially a rotten human being. Cheryl does everything she can to be that nice cookies-and-milk mom, but is really a crazy person from way, way back (and we learn that in a pretty good deal of detail). The cop that should be saving the day can't get his own bigoted prejudices against gay people out of the way long enough for a fair investigation. Even Billy himself might just have a dark side.
The only person you can be sure is trustworthy is sweet, sweet Julie/ Julia. The Ditzy Blonde role that Julia Duffy was so associated with doesn't rear her head here. Instead you've got a smart (very attractive) young woman who is nothing if not devoted to Billy and his well-being. And then she has to deal with crazy old Aunt Cheryl. Lucky her.
It's hard to really dislike this film completely, though it's not what I would call a Classic of the Genre in any way. The acting sounds like it's straight out of the rejected audition tapes bin (with a few exceptions), the blood and gore effects are fairly obvious and the scares are primarily based in Shock Value. In short, it's not all that bad, but it's most certainly not all that good either.
One of the taglines for this film was "They didn't go looking for trouble. They were just too curious. Now... They know too much to live." That has just about as much to do with the actual plot of Night Warning/ Nightmare Maker as does "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..." It seems that just about nobody knew what to make of this film. Two Stars out of Five for Night Warning. It's not the worst thing ever made, but it's convoluted, flawed and forgettable. If not for its notorious BANNING as a UK Video Nasty, it might be forgotten indeed. As it stands it's only available on battered VHS copies that most often mispell the writers' names. But then again, there's the Julia Duffy factor. When this thing is finally released on DVD (reportedly by Code Red), I'll probably actually get it... if for no other reason than for the freeze frame feature. There are images here you can't find on the Newhart DVDs!
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