Director: William Asher
Screenplay: Stephen Breimer, Boon Collins and Alan Jay Glueckman
Starring: Jimmy McNichol, Susan Tyrrell and Bo Svenson
Country: United States
Running Time: 92 min
Year: 1981

What would happen if the man behind the classic sitcoms I Love Lucy and Bewitched directed a slasher with a queer protagonist? That’d be Butcher Baker, Nightmare Maker (also known as Night Warning or The Evil Protege), a controversial cult classic that’s being released on UHD (and in the UK, on Blu-ray) for the first time courtesy of Severin Films. My relationship with the film is a pretty brief one, I caught it on Shudder a few years back and thought it was pretty good, if underwhelming but knowing the passionate fan-base that the film has in the horror community, I wanted to give the film a second chance. The question is, what did I think on my second viewing? Well…

Butcher Baker, Nightmare Maker follows high school student Billy, who lost his parents at a young age due to a freak car accident, and now lives with his aunt Cheryl, who has feelings for Billy that an aunt shouldn’t have. After Cheryl murders a man who rejects her sexually, Billy finds himself caught in the middle of the police investigation, while also discovering things about himself at a crucial point in his life. 

During this revisit, I felt fairly similar to my initial watch. I wasn’t in love with the film, but I did pick up on a few things that furthered my appreciation for the cult classic. One thing that’s undeniable about the film is how crucially progressive the film is for its time. Released in 1981, very few films contained queer characters that weren’t the comic relief or the butt of a joke, so having Billy lead Butcher Baker with compelling writing as a fully-formed three dimensional character is an important touchstone in the landscape of horror cinema. Much has been said about the character in the past, such as how he subverts typical horror tropes like being the film’s “final girl”, and watching the film over forty years later, it’s not hard to see why audiences latched on to this slasher in particular. While I’m a sucker for a good slasher, it’s hard to defend most of them as anything other than schlocky fun, so seeing an attempt at something more thematically interesting than the likes of a Friday the 13th is commendable. 

I think that’s mostly down to the aforementioned director, William Asher’s past in television sitcoms, a genre known for its focus on characters and that signature touch is all over Butcher Baker. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but it reminds of the director of the 1996 horror video game Resident Evil, Shinji Mikami, who had never directed a horror video game before, which made him the prime candidate to lead one. Instead of following the textbook on what’s scary, giving the keys to the kingdom to a man unfamiliar with the genre leads to a more relatable sense of terror, and Asher’s humanistic approach to this material makes it stand out more than other slashers from this era for sure. 

Butcher Baker, Nightmare Maker is a film I admire and respect a great deal, and while it doesn’t rank as highly for me as it does for its many fans around the world, I’m glad I ended up revisiting the film because my appreciation for it has only grown. It’s fantastic to see the film hit the 4K format after previously being banned in the UK due to the video nasty craze of the 80s. Watching it now, it’s baffling to think that James Ferman considered this film a danger to the public of the United Kingdom, but we’re speaking about the same man who claimed that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre could be dangerous if factory workers from Manchester saw it, so… 

If you haven’t seen it yet, now’s the perfect time to check out Butcher Baker, Nightmare Maker, thanks to this solid release from Severin. 

Film:

Butcher Baker, Nightmare Maker releases May 13th via Severin Films on 4K UHD and Blu-ray. I viewed the UHD disc for the feature and the Blu-ray for the bonus features. The UHD disc contains a new 4K scan from the original negatives, with a HDR10 grade implemented. The scan looks solid, the last time I watched the film was a few years back on Shudder and the prior transfer left a lot to be desired, in my opinion. Severin’s new scan improves image detail and clarity, helping with the night-time sequences, with a healthy level of visible grain. It’s not one of the best transfers I’ve seen, but it’s an impressive step-up from previous masters. On the audio front, there’s one track, an English DTS HD MA 2.0 track, with optional English HoH subtitles. It’s a decent audio track that’s faithful to the original release without getting too showy. It won’t blow you away, but given the nature of the picture, that’s not too much of an issue. The following extras are included: 

Audio Commentary with Star Jimmy McNichol

Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Producer Steve Breimer And Co-Writer Alan Jay Glueckman, Moderated By Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson 

Audio Commentary with Co-Producer and Unit Production Manager Eugene Mazzola

Extreme Prejudice – Interview with actor Bo Svenson

Point and Shoot – Interview with Director of Photography Robbie Greenberg 

Family Dynamics – Interview with Editor Ted Nicolaou 

Cast and Crew Interviews with actors Jimmy McNichol, Susan Tyrrell and Steve Eastin, Make-Up Artist Allan A. Apone and Producer Steve Breimer

Trailer

TV Spot

The first audio commentary, moderated by Jeff McKay and Bill Olson with Jimmy McNichol is an archival track from 2017 and it’s an alright track. There’s an amateurish feel to the track, and while McNichol’s recollection of the shoot is pretty fun to hear, I didn’t find this incredibly compelling, unfortunately. 

The second audio commentary, moderated by Nathaniel Thompson with Steve Breimer And Alan Jay Glueckman is another archival track, but a much more interesting listen. It covers all aspects of the film, from its original inception to the final picture itself. I’d highly recommend checking this out if you’re interested in hearing about the film!

The third audio commentary, hosted by Michael Felsher (of Red Shirt Pictures) with Eugene Mazzola is a brand new track exclusive to this release. Off the bat, the pair have a fun rapport and for people interested in specifics on the production, this is a juicy track. Mazzola touches on his past as a child actor, his experiences being the unit production manager on Butcher Baker, Nightmare Maker and even mentions being directed by Roger Corman (R.I.P.) early on in his career. A good, informative track!

Extreme Prejudice is a brand new 10 minute interview with actor Bo Svenson, exclusive to this release. He plays the detective in the film and it’s a really interesting interview. He talks about how he approaches each role he takes. There’s a level of humour to him that’s entertaining to watch and it brought some unexpected laughs. A really great interview.

Point and Shoot is a brand new 15 minute Interview with director of photography Robbie Greenberg, exclusive to this release and it’s another good one. He talks about how he was brought in after prior cinematographer Jan de Bont was fired, his admiration for director William Asher and how the story shaped how the visuals in the film looked. It’s a good interview.

Family Dynamics is a brand new 17 minute interview with editor Ted Nicolaou, exclusive to this release. Like many extras on the disc, he praises the film for its take on homosexuality, how he found the experience editing Butcher Baker, his prior work such as Roar and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, as well as his friendship with cinematographer Jan de Bont. It’s a solid interview and Nicolaou is a delight to listen to. 

A series of archival cast and crew interviews with actors Jimmy McNichol, Susan Tyrrell and Steve Eastin, Make-Up Artist Allan A. Apone and Producer Steve Breimer are included, which run for around 45 minutes. My favourite was probably McNichol’s, who recounts the shoot fondly and expresses love for the progressive nature of the film, especially given when it came out. A solid selection of interviews here that are worth a watch.

A trailer and a TV spot are included. 

Butcher Baker, Nightmare Maker’s UHD debut is a commendable effort, with an impressive array of archival and new bonus features and a solid A/V presentation to boot. Fans of the film will be delighted to add this former video nasty to their collection. Recommended!

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