Theme Song: A song called “Little Boy Billy” featuring words and music by Joyce Bulifant is listed very prominently in the credits, but there’s not a single song with lyrics in the entire movie.
At one point in the movie the crazy aunt sings a song with, “Billy,” in the lyrics, but we never hear the official version.
This music plays over the closing credits. I suppose it sounds like an instrumental version? Night Warning did have some marketing troubles, so maybe the song was cut when they attempted to go for the slasher movie audience.
Interesting Dated References: Bruises and torn clothing being the only evidence of a rape; Being raised by a single woman as a primary cause for becoming a homosexual.
Best Line: It’s absurd how many times the character played by Bo Svenson says, “fag.”
Social Context: There’s a lot (A LOT) of homophobic ranting in this movie. Detective Joe (Svenson) has a weird anti-gay agenda and he never even offers up any justification or satisfactory explanation for his witch hunt.
There’s not even a boring subplot about why he is so concerned with the local homosexual populace in his town.
Summary: Two loving parents go on vacation, leaving their young son Billy with his Aunt Cheryl. After traveling on twisting California highways, the father realizes his brakes have stopped working and he drives directly into a truck hauling a bunch of extra long logs. The father is decapitated by said log and the car drives off a cliff, crashing into the ground in a flaming mess. Jan de Bont (Speed, Twister) shot this scene (and only this scene), and for so much action to take up such brief screen time, it’s handled really well.
Flash forward to fourteen years later, and an overprotective and somewhat sexually aggressive Aunt Cheryl is starting to come unglued. Billy is about to graduate high school, has a steady girlfriend, and is a star on the basketball team.
At school, Billy (left, skins) bickers with a young Bill Paxton (right, shirts). Coach Tom (center) defends Billy and then proceeds to tell Billy about a special scout flying in from the University of Denver who wants to offer him a full scholarship.
When Billy tells his aunt about the opportunity she goes ballistic, but forgives him the next morning when she sees his shirtless, supple, young body. Later that day, Television Repairman Phil comes by the house to do some work. Aunt Cheryl tries to get the guy to have sex with her, but instead just winds up repeatedly stabbing him.
Billy arrives home right as this is happening and Aunt Cheryl claims Phil was trying to rape her. At that same moment, the neighbors come over for dinner and see Billy holding the knife.
Then super-homophobic Detective Joe (Bo Svenson) shows up to investigate. He repeatedly accuses Billy of being a “fag” and insists he killed Television Repairman Phil in a fit of homosexual rage. After noticing a ring on Phil’s finger, Detective Joe is able to piece together that Coach Tom and Phil were partners/lovers.
So after forcing Coach Tom to resign by accusing him of being in a love triangle with Billy and Phil, Detective Joe visits Billy again and repeatedly asks him about being a “fag.” He also confronts Billy’s girlfriend, Julie, and demands to know if they are “making it,” because if they aren’t it would give him hard evidence that Billy is a homosexual. Oh, and let’s not forget about how he told the coach to “resign or be lynched.” Even by 1980s standards this is all pretty over the top. Bo Svenson is playing the part like a maniac and every other word out of his mouth is, “fag,” or, “homosexual.”
Later that night Billy and his girlfriend Julie make love. Halfway into the love making, Aunt Cheryl busts in and demands that the “slut get out of her house.” Fans of Newhart and Designing Women will be pleased to know Julia Duffy briefly appears sans-top. Fans of Newhart and Designing Women will also be pleased to know they have terrible taste in sitcoms.
The next day right before the big game, Aunt Cheryl slips Billy some drugs so he’ll do terrible and not impress the college scout. When he wakes up, Aunt Cheryl is babying him and won’t let him leave. She’s also dosing his milk with some type of sedative.
Then Aunt Cheryl cuts her own hair in front of the mirror, which we all know is the worldwide signal that you’ve gone bat-shit crazy. Oh, and this whole time she’s been talking to the corpse of her high school boyfriend, which is in the basement. See, Aunt Cheryl is terrified Billy will leave her and she’ll be all alone, so her logical solution is to kill people.
At this point things start to get convoluted. Aunt Cheryl reveals to Billy that she and her dead corpse high school boyfriend are his real parents. Also in there, she beats Julie with a meat tenderizer, kills the neighbor lady, and force feeds Billy more doped milk.
Julie runs off into the woods, Billy calls the coach for help, and then Billy stabs Aunt Cheryl with a fireplace poker. When Detective Joe shows up, he treats Billy and Coach like they killed everyone. Julie shows up with another cop and says she saw a corpse in the basement and announces that Aunt Cheryl was crazy. Instead of believing her, Joe threatens to shoot Billy.
After a bit of a stand-off, Billy shoots Detective Joe. Then we get the weird postscript featured above, which totally wasn’t needed.
None of this really makes any sense. The whole side story about the vengeful homophobic detective has nothing to do with the psychotic overprotective murderous aunt. It’s like they took two different movies and tried to slap them together, before deciding at the last minute it would be better to make a slasher film.
Despite the difficult story, the rest of the movie is done well. Svenson does a great job being over the top. Susan Tyrell (Andy Warhol’s Bad, John Waters’ Cry-Baby) is equally over the top as Aunt Cheryl, and Jimmy McNichol (Kristy’s younger brother) does a pretty good job as Billy. But overall the disjointed story just seems odd. Directed by William Asher (Beach Blanket Bingo, Muscle Beach Party, Bikini Beach, etc.).
Poster and Box Art: Night Warning was originally released in U.S. theatres as Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker. The poster for that theatrical run is pretty solid.
There was also a book released at the same time, which featured the artwork in color. It’s a creepy rendering that goes well with the somewhat creepy original title.
I think if they would have kept this original art for the home video release, the movie would have fared a little better, but the production company opted to give the U.S. home video release a lame title and even worse cover art (seen at the beginning of this write-up).
In Europe the movie was released as Nightmare Maker and given an equally terrible cover, which probably contributed to the movie ending up on the Video Nasty list.
Availability: Night Warning is not available on DVD or streaming, however since it is regarded as a Video Nasty, it is fairly easy to find.