Welcome back for another night at the Drive-In with venerable host Joe Bob Briggs with an arrested development double feature of Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker (1981) and The Baby (1973). This episode is S4E7, and we get a night with a theme that works better than previous nights this season, anchored by two strange films about sexual confusion, infantilized male victims, and bold and assertive character actresses.
Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker (1981)
Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker (sometimes referred to as the confusing Night Warning) is a 1981 exploitation horror film directed by William Ascher with some uncredit segments by Michael Miller. The film was written by Stephen Breimer, Boon Collins, and Allan Jay Glueckman, from a story by Glueckman. The cinematography is credited to Robbie Greenberg, but Jan de Bont has uncredited work on the film’s exhilarating and chaotic opening sequence. The film stars Jimmy McNichol, Susan Tyrrell, Bo Svenson, Julia Duffy, and Bill Paxton.
The movie is an Oedipal nightmare about a teenager, Billy (McNichol), who has been raised by his aunt, Cheryl (Tyrell), since infancy after the death of his parents in a tragic car accident. As Billy’s sights are set on leaving home for college, Cheryl begins to spiral into incestuous and murderous sexuality. In time, a bigoted detective, Joe (Svenson), begins to theorize wildly about a gay element in the events, abusing his authority and his community.
Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker is a mess of a film anchored by a handful of great performances and some thematic ideas that, while interesting, never coalesce into something more significant. The film’s twist is introduced somewhat haphazardly about mid-way through the runtime and doesn’t land. The movie also has an odd ending comprising two endings and a text crawl depicting later events. In many ways, the story is handled pretty poorly – the twist doesn’t feel earned, the more exciting elements of the story are brushed aside, and the overall pacing feels uneven.
The film also has an uneven feel due to direction and cinematography as the credited director and cinematographer, Asher and Greenberg, fill in for the original crew who were removed for the film. The opening sequence depicting the car accident is wonderfully shot and paced and has a real film quality. The rest of the film has the texture of a made-for-TV movie of the 1980s. One wonders how the film would have ended had the studio had more faith in Michael Miller and Jan de Bont.
The real appeal of the film comes from some of the performances. One performance that falls short is 1980s teen heartthrob Jimmy McNichol. McNichol’s Billy is generally wooden and ineffectual, with little going for him beyond looking good in peril. In most other slasher films, such a performance would be reserved for a female victim, which is an exciting component of the film’s queer coding. I get a sense of an “arrested development” theme to Billy’s story, but Billy’s aunt may better express the theme. Cheryl drives the movie.
No, the real performances in the film are those of Susan Tyrrell and Bo Svenson. The film’s energy is highest when the two are together on screen. Susan Tyrell’s menace as Cheryl is both disturbingly sexy and brutally unhinged. Her overall character actor performance style pulls the movie together through the sheer force of will that are her character choices. Bo Svenson is just a game, playing the detestable ideal of the bad cop, the one people envision when they think about the abusive excess of the law. Bo Svenson is the toxic masculinity to the unhinged femininity of Susan Tyrell.
Oh, and Bill Paxton is there being Bill Paxton. Always a welcome presence in any film.
Joe Bob-servations on Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker
I think that Joe Bob did a great job selling the arrested development theme of the night overall. While the film ostensibly centers around the dangerous developmental restraints placed on Billy by his unhinged Aunt, we also see that by the end, the film is very much focused on her lack of development.
I’ve been hesitant to embrace the show’s tendency this season to make a definitive claim on the themes of the pairings, especially when they do not work. I am likely the only person in the Mutant Fam who is fixated on this, but I’d prefer pairings to be less explicitly unified by the show and instead uncover them for myself. But that is just me.
Naturally, Joe Bob’s insights were welcome as ever. We return to the fascinating topic of Susan Tyrrell again after last Halloween’s Angel (1983). We also get some background on Bo Svenson and learn that he wasn’t necessarily the most popular guy on set.
My favorite discussion was about Jimmy McNichol’s role in the film’s creation and just how big of a deal he was. The McNichol craze was before my time, but I managed to get a real sense of why McNichol being in this movie was such a strange thing. While I feel Joe Bob can be a bit hit or miss regarding queer subtext in films, I think his discussion on McNichol’s relationship to the queering of the 1980s was fascinating. A great deal of it was based on a book by Jefferey P. Dennis titled Queering Teen Culture: All-American Boys and Same-Sex Desire in Film and Television, but I found the overall discussion quite interesting.
Final Thoughts on Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker
Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker is such a strange film, but one that is anchored by some incredible acting by Susan Tyrrell and Bo Svenson that you cannot help but be sucked into it. Ultimately, it seems that Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker is a film that seeds loftier themes and ideas than it is capable of sewing, resulting in a curious, yet ultimately minor, chapter of queer cinema. It is a film that could benefit from a remake, though any such remake would struggle to capture the scene-chewing fun of Tyrrell and Svenson.
Joe Bob gave the film 4 out of 4 Stars. I would beg to differ. I’d give Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker 3 out of 5 Cthulhus.(3 / 5)
Best Line: “Perverts and sluts! They are doing everything they can to take him away from us.” – Cheryl
The Baby (1973)
The Baby is a 1973 psychological thriller directed by Ted Post and written by Abe Polsky, a playwright. The cinematographer is Michael D. Marguiles. Curiously, the credited director and cinematographer came into production after it had already begun. The film stars Anjanette Comer, Ruth Roman, Marianna Hill, David Mooney (credited as Manzy), and Suzanne Zenor.
The Baby follows social worker Ann Gentry (Comer), who is still traumatized by a car accident that has had severe repercussions on her husband. Her latest case puts in in touch with the Wadsworth family consisting of Mrs. Wadsworth (Roman), sisters Germaine and Alaba (Hill and Zenor), and the intellectually disabled son, known only as Baby (Mooney) who has been raised into his 20s as an infant. The Wadsworths raise Baby as an infant and use him to pay for the home with state funds. Ann Gentry takes a particular interest in the case, but her obsession also begins to take a problematic turn.
The Baby is a pretty wild film and a great example of the “arrested development” theme of the show. Much like the preceding film, viewers are presented with a twist in The Baby, but this one feels more earned. With that being said, the set-up could have been a bit stronger. For a time, viewers may forget that Ann was even married. The story is quite good, making a strange custody struggle into an epic interpersonal conflict between two strong women, and the hapless male has been rendered into little more than an infant.
Like the previous feature, this is another film driven by performances. Ruth Roman’s Mrs. Wadsworth owns the movie, but Anjanette Comer is suitably game to keep up with her, and they play their roles with earnest and unhinged conviction. The film is propelled by the power struggle of the two women, and the push and pull between them are exhilarating. It is not even a battle of good vs. evil, as Comer’s Ann Gentry reveals a specific unhinged menace that makes viewers wonder if they can trust anyone.
Of course, maybe the film’s strangest and most affecting performance is that of David Mooney as Baby. Any actor can play what reads like an infant. Mooney inhabits the role in such a shocking and unsettling way that it can be profoundly disturbing. The vocalizations Mooney manages are haunting. An adult acting like a baby is easy to tell because generally, adults do not ambulate the right way, nor do they portray the sensory overload of an infant well enough. Mooney does, though. It’s intense.
The pacing of the film is excellent. Not a moment feels wasted. However, the cinematography is adequate but not overly impressive. The Baby is very much an actor’s film. Director Ted Post, a veteran of television, very much comes from the background of directing an actor’s medium instead of spectacle, and the film’s cinematography by Michael D. Marguiles is in line with Post’s perspective. However, the film does look good, and the transfer played on Shudder was fantastic.
Joe Bob-servations on The Baby
Joe Bob’s host segments here primarily focused on elements of the production and the apparent themes of the film. With such a strange movie, themes are a little harder to parse, so I found that Joe Bob leaned more heavily on production details. Specifically, Joe Bob paid much attention to director Ted Post and his collaboration with writer Abe Polsky. I got the impression that Post saw himself as a vessel by which to deliver Polsky’s writing, not so much wanting to interject himself or his thoughts into the feature.
The other production angle that was particularly interesting was the antagonistic relationship on set between veteran Ruth Roman and the younger Anjanette Comer. There was a lot of discussion of Ruth Roman as an actress, and Darcy even cosplayed Mrs. Wadsworth. That conveys how much of a role Roman had in the perception of the film. Of course, much was made about the performance of David Mooney and how he pretty much quit acting after playing Baby. If you’ve peaked, why climb higher, right?
Speaking of peaking, is Baby the peak of the concept of arrested development? It sure seems so.
Final Thoughts on The Baby
The Baby is a weird one. While it isn’t as extreme as Blood Sucking Freaks, it’s a very unsettling film. The internal logic is maddening, reflecting a far less enlightened perspective on abuse and development than we might see today. The film is also equally cruel and kinky, creating a wildly uneven tone that swings between camp and horror. However, it all seems to work. The core drama of two women fighting over an infantilized male creates rich opportunities for dramatic performance. If you can get through the initial revulsion that more fetishistic elements of the movie might bring on, you will witness a compelling duel.
Joe Bob gave The Baby 4 out of 4 Stars. I am pretty close to that myself. I give The Baby 4 out of 5 Cthulhus.(4 / 5)
Best Line: “Maybe you think too much. When it comes to Baby, I do all the thinking.” – Mrs. Wadsworth
Haunted MTL Drive-In Totals
We have the official Drive-In Totals from Shudder for this evening of arrested development.
As for our totals at Haunted MTL, we have…
- 3 Bad Mommies
- 6 “Thee-ate-ers”
- Surprise Bill Paxton
- Bloody Bossom
- Boss Bitches
- Multiple Red Flags
- Gratuitous Nephew Touching
- Gratuitous Key Party Vibes
- Gratuitous Homoerotic Lockerroom Shenanigans
- Scene Chewing
- Problematic Word Dropping
- Dead Baby Jokes
- Ugly Baby Joke
- Bunny and Snake Joke
- Steven King Name Drop Fu
- Clipboard Fu
- Double Ending Fu
- Twist Fu
- Custody Battle Fu
- Chart Fu
- Billy Rolls
- Darcy Cosplay – Mrs. Wadsworth
Episode Score for the Last Drive-In: S4E7 – Butcher Baker Nightmare Maker and The Baby
Season 4, Episode 7 was a solid night for the show, where most nights are pretty much solid anyway. This week’s double-feature selection may not win over every mutant, but the bonkers nature of the films and their pairing work pretty well and are worth the experience. While I think that The Baby, arguably the more unsettling film was also the better film, that is not to say that Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker is terrible either. The central idea of them representing arrested development worked out pretty well, though I feel these films might have been better suited for a Mother’s Day marathon.
Regardless, a fun time at the Drive-In with the mutant fam, as we have come to expect.(4 / 5)
What did you think about the movies? Which do you feel was better? Did “arrested development” night work for you? Let us know in the comments. We’d love to hear your thoughts!
Can’t get enough of The Baby? (Sponsored)
Why not snag yourself a copy of the Arrow Video Blu-ray release of The Baby on Amazon? Using our sponsored link will help Haunted MTL continue to cover horror content.