Saturday Night’s Questionable Horror Feature: Night Warning/Butcher Baker Nightmare Maker (Pick One)

Poster for Night Warning (1982)

You know you’re in for an interesting ride when the studio can’t decide what the title is.

The version I watched over on Shudder was titled Butcher Baker Nightmare Maker, which made maybe a little more sense than Night Warning, since I’m not really sure what the warning was in this movie. I mean, things happened at night, but they weren’t really warnings. They were murders. So maybe Night Stabbings would be more accurate?

So this movie starts off with Anonymous Mom and Dad leaving their toddler, Billy, with Aunt Cheryl (Susan Tyrell) while they go off to visit their parents. Billy is most definitely NOT happy about it, because he cries like someone is threatening to murder his puppy off-camera. Mom and Dad drive off and almost immediately are on a steep and winding road when the brakes go out. They run into the back of a lumber truck and a log crashes through the windshield, flattening Dad’s head and causing the car to fly off a cliff, with mom screaming all the way down until it lands in a creek.

At this point, I was in the middle of writing, “I’m a little disappointed that the car didn’t explode” when guess what? THE CAR EXPLODES. Even though it’s sitting in water. I immediately decided this movie was BRILLIANT.

Cut to 14 years later, and apparently Billy is still staying with Aunt Cheryl. BTW, Billy is played by Jimmy McNichol, Kristy’s younger brother who has apparently not quite mastered speaking like a human. Aunt Cheryl, on the other hand, thinks it’s totally normal to wake him up by draping herself over him and blowing sexily in his ear. And I guess if he’s been raised just by her, he wouldn’t know that was weird. Which begs the question: why does he seem so normal, with his perfectly feathered hair and all?

Then we see Billy playing basketball at school (it’s shirts vs. skins, woohoo!) and it’s made clear that Billy’s an awesome player even though teammate Bill Paxton doesn’t like him. I kind of wish Bill Paxton had more to do in this movie, but sadly, he doesn’t even get murdered. So while they’re playing, my screen started to freeze every few seconds, and I thought it was a glitchy stream but NOPE it was just the film’s way of showing us that the someone’s taking a lot of terrible action shots of the game. Enter Julie, school photographer, and HOLY SMOKES it’s Julia Duffy from Newhart! Who else is in this movie???

Chill, Bill!

So Billy and Julie are jazzed because not only is it Billy’s birthday, but a basketball scout is coming to The Big Game and the coach thinks Billy may win a scholarship, which is great because Aunt Cheryl has made it really clear that she does NOT support Billy’s going to college and leaving her. Meanwhile, a Nosy Neighbor Lady asks Cheryl if she’d like to be set up with some new single dude in town. Cheryl firmly says no…but then makes a really awkward pass at the handyman just a few hours later. He is totally not into her so she stabs him to death, which Billy sees because it’s suddenly nighttime and he’s home now.

The dude dies and Billy removes the knife from his neck as Aunt Cheryl screams that he was trying to rape her and then she throws herself, bloody exposed chest and all, at Billy. So now they’re BOTH covered in blood and in walk Mr. and Mrs. Nosy Neighbor for Billy’s big birthday dinner. OOPS! It’s like a Three’s Company episode gone off the rails, especially because this couple is very Roper-ish. “We said ‘COME AND KNOCK ON OUR DOOR,’ not ‘WALK RIGHT INTO OUR MURDER KITCHEN!'”

Aunt Cheryl, your…ummm…never mind.

So then the cops come and Aunt Cheryl is sticking with her story. But unfortunately, Bo Svenson is playing the detective in charge and he’s like a cross between Dennis Leary and Joe Don Baker, only SUPER HOMOPHOBIC. Like, way over the top, even for a cop in 1982. It becomes clear pretty quickly that he wants to pin this all on Billy, not for any reason that makes sense but because he just doesn’t like Billy.

So naturally, Detective Bo gets super excited when he finds out that the handyman was gay because that would mean his instincts were right that the handyman didn’t try to rape Aunt Cheryl. But not for crime-fighting reasons; it just would mean that Billy was a QUEER, which he really wants to believe because of REASONS.

But the corker is, here’s how he KNOWS the handyman was gay: because he was wearing a ring engraved, with love, from the basketball coach. Not because his name is there, but because of the INITIALS on the ring.

Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but sharing initials isn’t exactly evidence, amirite? I mean, just because the basketball coach has the same initials as whoever gave the handyman a ring doesn’t mean that (a) that person is the basketball coach or (b) that the ring-gifter was in a sexual or even a romantic relationship with the handyman. Right?

But when confronted in the sleaziest way possible about this by Detective Bo, Coach just kind of smiles and shrugs. REALLY??? So despite clearly not wanting to be outed (because it’s 1982), Coach just admits to a clearly homophobic cop that yes, he was in love with the handyman and gave him a ring. But he really wants Detective Bo to understand that Billy had nothing to do with this. And of course, this just makes Bo want to pin this on Billy even more, because he’s an awful human being first and a cop second.

Meanwhile, Billy and Julie finally have sex (does Peter Scolari know about this, Julia?) and Aunt Cheryl catches them and kicks Julie out. The Good Cop–you know, the one that’s not Detective Bo–steps out of the bushes and tells her, hey, if you guys had sex, that’s GREAT because that would mean Billy’s not gay and somehow this will prove he didn’t murder the gay handyman. Right??? Again, I still am not following the logic.

Around this point, we realize that Cheryl’s been hiding the remains of her ex-boyfriend (no, it’s never been mentioned before, so don’t worry if you’re confused) in the cellar for years, but I guess Billy hasn’t even tried to go down there because the body’s not even hidden — he’s just laid out there on a cot beside a little altar she has where she talks to his picture and tells him about how she needs to keep Billy there with them.

Things come to a head when Aunt Cheryl starts drugging Billy so he’ll pass out at his big game and lose his scholarship chances. But Billy’s been suspicious and wants to snoop around in her keepsake box. So even though Aunt Cheryl’s been having a ton of angry outbursts and he even SAW her murder the handyman, he asks Julie–the one person Aunt Cheryl detests more than anyone–to distract Aunt Cheryl while he looks through her things.

Want a haircut?

Julie does, but Billy doesn’t hear Julie being attacked with a meat mallet while he’s in the next room, I guess? He comes out and Julie’s nowhere to be seen, but he notices that Aunt Cheryl has given herself a Pandemic Haircut a few decades too early. (Actually, it doesn’t look half-bad. Brad Mondo probably would have given her a “good try!”)

Brad Mondo. If you don’t know him, GOOGLE HIM NOW.

But Nosy Neighbor Lady pops in just as Billy’s passing out from drinking drugged milk. Nosy overhears Cheryl tell Billy that she’s his real mom, and Dead Cellar Boyfriend is (was) his real dad. That couple from the beginning in the exploding car? They’re just Cheryl’s….something. Brother or sister. It’s not real clear.

This all seems SO MUCH MORE COMPLICATED than it needs to be. It also doesn’t explain why she wants to bang her nephew/son. If anything, this makes it even weirder somehow! Okay, so Nosy has overheard this and knows something weird is happening, so she goes to hide but finds Julie’s camera and handbag. I guess she knows they are Julie’s because they have nametags on them? IDK.

This movie does not stop bringing the crazy at any point. There are several showdowns between Aunt Cheryl and basically everyone. It’s okay though, because somehow Julie survives after several head wounds and Billy’s finally killed Aunt Mom. Detective Bo shows up and even though some other cop tells him that Cheryl was the killer, Bo still wants to just kill Billy. Aunt Mom comes back to life just long enough to distract Bo so Billy can shoot him and somehow, the other cops just know Bo had it comin’ and don’t have a problem with it. Instead, they let Julie run to his arms, and then the film pulls an Animal House where-are-they-now thing and the titles tells us that Billy was found not guilty in the cop shooting due to temporary insanity (said no one ever). It also tells us that Billy and Julie are both at college together. Thanks for the update, movie!

This movie is just banana after banana-level bananas. Seriously. The plot and actions make zero sense, but in its favor, you have a really fun cast doing the best they can with a shit script and apparently, five dollars. Susan Tyrell is pretty freaking awesome as Cheryl, especially when she starts unravelling post-haircut. Check it out if you’ve got Shudder, but please don’t pay more than three dollars to rent this thing.

I Just Watched 1980’s “Terror Train”, and I Have Questions.

Jamie Lee Curtis. Ellis from Die Hard. Vanity (the singer, not the deadly sin). David Copperfield. Abuse of at least one corpse. So much to unpack…

I’ve been listening to the With Gourley and Rust podcast, wherein Matt Gourley and Paul Rust discuss all kinds of horror films, and when they covered Terror Train, I decided I needed to rewatch it because, while I’m pretty sure I watched it at one point in my youth, I couldn’t remember anything about it other than it was one of those prank-gone-wrong-vengeance films. And BONUS – it was free with Amazon Prime, so we watched it on Saturday night.

Let’s start off by saying, okay. It’s not the best horror film of all time. But as one who fully expected it to suck a bag of dicks, it was a lot more fun than expected.

Like many slasher films of this time period, the filmmakers decide they need to make it clear exactly what set the killer off on a life of psychotic murder. And in this case, our killer and med school fraternity pledge, Kenny (Derek McKinnon), is the victim of a really bonkers prank wherein he gets into a bed with Alana (Jamie Lee Curtis), only it’s not Alana. It’s a corpse that’s falling apart (because pre-med students apparently have access to such things). Naturally, this freaks him out, but a lot more than they intended…which is apparently shown by him twirling around in some sheer curtains. I guess that’s supposed to represent his psyche unravelling? Jamie Lee Curtis, meanwhile, is somehow SHOCKED, just SHOCKED that she was tricked into participating in a prank involving a dead body, but HOW DID SHE NOT KNOW?

Cut to three years later, when said frat bros and their womenfolk are celebrating their last New Years’ Eve together as a group by partying on an old tyme steam train, which I guess is something that gets rented out for parties? Kind of like a wine train. And I’m totally ready to accept this, only for some reason, everyone’s in costume. So is it Halloween? No, really, it’s New Year’s Eve. Maybe it’s a Canadian thing?

The lead prankster, Doc (Hart Bochner – the guy who played douchey Ellis in Die Hard!), is apparently in charge of this thing, so he gives a big speech about how this is the last time they’re going to be together and at this point, I’m BAFFLED. It’s January 1 — doesn’t that leave them with like, five months of probably much better weather to party it up together? Or are finals going to be that exhausting?

Check it out, you guys! It’s Ellis from Die Hard with his “Hans! Bubbie!” smirk on! Somebody pour him a Coke!!!

The train takes off, with Crazy Kenny killing class clown Eddie, who’s dressed in the WORST Groucho Marx costume ever. Maybe they were worried about getting rights to the patented Groucho-Glasses, because instead they just use a really creepy and not-very-Groucho-looking mask and a fat tux. Kenny steals this costume and, despite what the movie poster suggests, never puts on a Conductor’s cap. He climbs aboard and starts bringing the terror.

During the overlong getting-on-the train sequence, we see that David Copperfield is going to be performing on the train. Which makes me wonder: What the hell kind of a fraternity hires a magician for its New Year’s train rager? Canadians, I guess. (I’m going to use this explanation whenever I’m confused, which will be often.)

Among the partygoers is Vanity (yes! Prince’s buddy!), dressed in some sort of Cleopatra sort of costume. And her boyfriend is dressed as this:

This is not a Sleestak.

I got super excited at first, thinking it was supposed to be a Sleestak from one of my favorite childhood shows, “Land of the Lost.” But then my husband said no, it was probably just some kind of snake and Vanity was a snake charmer, which in no way is obvious, but okay. That was disappointing.

Anyway, the party rages on while Kenny as Groucho gets all murdery, first with NotASleestak and then with Doc/Ellis’ girlfriend, and eventually, Doc’s best buddy and JLC’s boyfriend, Moe (who kept reminding me of Judge Reinhold for some reason). Moe is killed in the middle of David Copperfield’s act, which I’M SORRY but was super pointless. It was almost like a bathroom-visit interlude because they kept cutting away to show the audience and the entire point is TO BE LOOKING AT THE MAGICIAN DO TRICKS. Also, can I just add that David Copperfield tries hard to give JLC a lot of sexy looks that actually just are super creepy. Like this one:

#Imtotallynotacreeper “Hey babe. Check out my Flying Nun Collar! You know you love it.”

Finally, things pick up as the conductor (Ben Johnson, an Oscar-winning actor who was in a lot of Westerns) starts finding bodies and realizing that hey, something weird is going on! Which seems reason enough for him to manhandle my girl JLC a bit as he drags her around the train showing her the bodies of two of her friends. And then Moe’s also dead, so it REALLY sucks to be JLC and Doc then. This is when they somehow realize that it’s got to be Kenny….in fact, doesn’t David Copperfield’s character (also named Ken, although that seemed unnecessary) look a lot like that kid we pranked in a way-over-the-top manner three years ago? (Fact Check: NO. He doesn’t. AT ALL.) JLC dumps some expo on us suddenly, explaining that Kenny dug magic and also allegedly killed somebody after being hospitalized for his “accident” (getting tangled in curtain sheers, I guess?). Seems like a weird time to remember to add this in, but okay…

Now it’s time for Doc to really channel that inner Ellis and he locks her out of his train compartment even though she’s screaming for him to let her in. Naturally, he’s just locked himself in with Kenny, who has mastered hiding in small spaces. It’s actually a fairly tense scene, and very unusual to see a male actor in total panic mode and letting out high-pitched screams. Unusual but honest? It was kind of funny, but also pretty refreshing, TBH.

TIME OUT to say….there are some contradictions in here. At the top of the movie, the Conductor says something about there being no radio communications on the train, but there’s a phone he uses to talk with the engineer. So…what gives? Where is this train even going? They are in the middle of nowhere! Does it just turn around and come back? No idea.

Meanwhile, Kenny reveals himself to Alana (JLC) in a pretty cool way and we get a little twist when we realize he’s been SUPER busy while hiding in plain sight during this trip! No spoilers here, though — just watch it for yourself. In fact, I’m not even going to tell you how it ends. So take THAT! Stream it and see.

I watch a lot of these 80’s-era slashers, and I have to say, a lot of them are unintelligible/unwatchable. And while this one had some problems, they did a good job with the use and idea of magic/illusions/tricks going awry. The acting was occasionally even good, especially in the case of JLC, Hart Bochner, Ben Johnson and Derek McKinnon. And how many slashers give us a hero in the shape of a 60-year-old train conductor?

On a scale of Utter Rubbish to Entertaining Rubbish, this ranks at Entertaining Rubbish. Well done, Canada!

Ohhhhh, Canada! You minx.

My Perfectly Normal, Totally Healthy Obsession with House Stalking on Zillow

Photo by Tierra Mallorca on Unsplash

I didn’t start getting weird about habitually cruising the Interwebz in search of the perfect home until I was stuck at home with a broken ankle in the summer of 2019. Before that, I may have occasionally glanced at homes for sale, but not with the regularity I do now.

Let me give you some backstory: we’ve lived in a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco for about twenty years. The same one-bedroom apartment, in fact. It’s rent-controlled, so we can’t afford to move or we’d lose the low rent that has enabled us to stay in the Bay Area. As time passes, I find myself fantasizing about becoming a homeowner and yearning for more (or maybe just different) space.

We’d considered moving in the past to the Santa Cruz Mountains, which is close enough to still be able to work. We even put a bid on a home in Felton at one point, but we were outbid. Then, there were fires and evacuations, and we sort of shoved the serious thought of moving aside.

But being stranded in bed, I started checking once, twice, maybe even three times a day. And not just around Santa Cruz! Sometimes I’d look for places around the Russian River in Sonoma County or even as far away as the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Tuolumne County. Are you picking up on a theme here? MOUNTAINS. TREES. FORESTS. Maybe even a RIVER or a LAKE. Would it be possible to turn my love of mountain living in the heart of nature into a full-time thing rather than just a vacation?

When life screeched to a halt in March of 2020 (for a good three months in my case), I began to amp up my daily visits to real estate websites like Zillow and Realtor. I saved searches. Zillow started emailing me daily about sales rates in various zip codes I’d been stalking. They also would nudge me about homes I’d saved, that little heart emoji making them wonder if perhaps I’d like to TAKE THE NEXT STEP?

Morning. Mid-day. In the dead of night. All were good times to revisit real estate. I realized eventually that I wasn’t looking at real estate, really. I was looking for the ultimate full-time vacation cabin. House preferences: cathedral ceilings were a plus, especially if they were made of wood or even just had cross-beams present. Skylights with trees above were another bonus. Wooden walls? PERFECT. Just do NOT paint those bad boys white or you will lose me. You’ll also lose me with any ANGLED wood walls, which was a regrettable design kick in the late 1970s/early 1980s. I love dark wood but open rooms that get at least some sunlight.

I like the idea of neighbors, but I don’t want to have to see them from my back patio or really, any of my windows. Outdoor space is lovely as long as there aren’t NEIGHBORS just on the other side of that fence. Ideally, the home will back up to forested views, or perhaps a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains.

But perhaps most importantly, it HAD to have a hot tub, or allow for one to fit somewhere.

Today, as I waste yet another Saturday scrolling through house after house online, it occurs to me that I’d be better off just sticking with renting AirBnBs in all my favorite getaway places. Getaways are best when they take you out of your daily routine, after all. Would a place in the woods become limiting rather than dreamy after a few weeks? Or perhaps it would just become dull over time, the once-inspirational sweeping vistas eventually becoming just a backdrop to the daily grind.

But that really is an adorable Craftsman you’ve got there, Zillow, you temptress.