Mar 14, 2012

Night Warning

Teenager Billy Lynch has some serious problems: a ‘homophobic’ cop thinks he is a homo-cidal killer and both his hopelessly neurotic/psychotic aunt Cheryl and gay middle-aged gym coach want to fuck him. After his aunt Cheryl impulsively kills a closeted gay man (the longtime lover of coach Tom Landers) who ignores her emotional and sexual needs, Billy boi is suspected of being the prime suspect in a bizarre homo love triangle by an aggressive fag-bashing police detective named Joe Carlson. In the curiously exploitative slasher flick Night Warning (1982) directed by William Asher (who is probably best known for directing silly 'beach party' films like Beach Party and Beach Blanket Bingo), lustful murder, subconscious oedipal complexes, playful pederasty, awkward teenage sex, and virtually every other popular example of Freudian neurosis is assembled in a way that makes this underrated slasher film shine boldly in a subgenre that is well known for its mindless murder-driven mediocrity, and feeble and contrived formless formulas.  Although amateurishly directed and devoid of any sort of genuine artistic merit, Night Warning is a film that calculatedly slaughters its mostly forgettable early 1980s contemporaries.  Owing more to Alfred Hitchcock’s proto-slasher flick Psycho (1960) than an intemperate undead retard in a hockey mask, Night Warning is a schlocky psychosexual romp through the domesticated sidewalk lands of unchecked suburban perversions. Many people have an eccentric, childless and single aunt in their family, thus Night Warning hits close to home as it exaggerates this relatively common phenomenon to a most pestiferous and ambiguously politically incorrect degree. For those that fancy sexually confused and erotically deviant quasi-slasher flicks like Paul Bartel’s Private Parts (1972) and A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge (a film that seems to borrow liberally from Night Warning), Night Warning makes for a pleasantly perverted family affair. 

 Apparently, Night Warning is a bastardized adaptation of the 1981 novel Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker (a title that is one of many alternative names in which the film was released under) written by Joseph Burgo and Richard Natale; a somewhat obscure literary item that, unsurprisingly, features more secondary characters, subplots, and crucial character back-stories than the simply structured, but audaciously themed film. Night Warning also has the distinction and horror fiend honor of being one of the original UK Video Nasty films on the DPP 72 list. Unlike a lot of the Video Nasty flicks (e.g. Blood Feast, The Burning) , which are usually nothing more than plot-less platitudes with the occasional unwarranted murder of a scantily clad whore, Night Warning is one of the few works on this dubious, outmoded list that deserves its reputation as a veraciously coldhearted expression of vulgarity and debauchery as the film is an intransigent assault on society itself, especially the sheltered middle-class; the segment of society that is most often ideally portrayed in lighthearted, sentimentalist sitcoms. Billy, being a literal bastard and the unconscious desire of two divergently perverted minds, is an unwanted abstraction in suburbia, even if he is a nice chap. Additionally, in a traditional middle-class societies of the past, few individuals were considered more pathetic and repellant than a childless old maid past her aesthetic prime, aside from maybe a childless middle-aged homosexual. In Night Warning, all of these socially undesirable (but increasingly more common) ingredients are mingled in a slasher work that was surely prophetic of things to come in postmodern Levittown. 

Following in the grand cult cinema tradition of neurotic female murderers, criminals, and sadists prevalent throughout the wonderful works of Poe-possessed auteur Curtis Harrington (What's the Matter with Helen?, Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?), Night Warning is a film were sexual repression leads to insensible and wholly cockamamie malevolence of the killing kind. Behind the translucent façade of Aunt Cheryl’s pseudo-motherly persona lies an aberrant mind fit for a lobotomy. Unlike most slasher films, Night Warning features pop-psychoanalytic reasoning as to why a seemingly normal woman of the suburbs is more fitted for being an unflinching murderer than a warm mother. One could argue that Night Warning is ultimately an early work of homo-philia with misogynistic undertones. While the killer is a man-hating suburban wench who literally prays to an altar of failed male conquests, the detective also acts as a sub-antagonist who sees all societal problems as the direct result of sadistic sodomy. Undoubtedly, the most sympathetic character in Night Warning is coach Tom; a man who acts as both Billy’s surrogate mother and father. While little Bill’s abusive aunt wants to keep him imprisoned for life in her provincial madhouse, coach Tom becomes a crucial mentor for the boy and, to the dismay of aunt Cheryl, even attempts to get the lonely lad a college scholarship. Whether Tom is an active member of NAMBLA or not remains to be seen, but what Night Warning adds up to is one gutsily outlandish and fortuitously worthwhile slasher flick that has unequivocally left a number of desensitized gorehounds in a startled stupor of perplexed emotions, and delayed and equally muddled responses.  Although nominated for the Saturn Award for the Best Horror Movie of 1982 by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, Night Warning failed to earn the prize.  Naturally, this does not surprise me as subversive works like Night Warning are bound to rub a number of people the wrong way, especially the sort of slasher fan pedigree (I have personally met a number of these people) who fantasizes about being the masked (and often mentally deficient) killer.  Of course, I doubt many people can relate to an incestuous middle-aged bird with a childlike fondness for 'playing house' in a real house, but she sure does know how to treat a guest.

 -Ty E


Anonymous said...

Be honest, you only reviewed this one to get Jervaise's goat. ;)

Soiled Sinema said...

Anon: Well, of course, but I did sincerely like the film. Since I never review slashers and find most to be terribly banal, I felt reviewing "Night Warning" would be an all-around great opportunity. I am sure the ham-man understands.

-Ty E

G O D said...

One of my all time faves! Susan Tyrell is a great actress ,The best part is when she's got Billy around the neck ,and she's forcing him to drink ,"Drink your milk ,Billy"!!!