By ARIC MITCHELLAny kid, who grew up in the 1980’s, could relate to the joy of his father bringing home a stack of VHS boxes with the most lurid and terrifying horror films inside them, right? Oh wait, maybe that was just me. Yes, I’ll admit, my old man had a different way of looking at things when it came to children’s entertainment, and I, for one, loved him for it. Consequently, I’m a full time writer not on any type of government assistance. I pay bills, don’t have a record, and am married to a terrific girl, who would be revolted if she knew the things that her father-in-law showed his kids when they were growing up. So I guess I turned out okay, no matter what the extremists would say about how horror movies affect children.
Nevertheless, there is one movie that the old man brought home I’ll never be able to forgive him for. The reason is that it shook my usual steely resolve to its core and made me incapable of doing even the smallest, most mundane task by myself—like going to the bathroom, for instance. Any time I had one in the oven, I had to have my older brother stand watch outside the door, and that was after he made sure there wasn’t a killer lurking in the crapper. The film’s name was “Night Warning,” and it starred bat-shit crazy Susan Tyrrell in a role that would make me scared of women until puberty broke. Sometimes at night I still see that horrific face peeking out of the trees as she stalks a victim near the end of the movie, and I think, “Why God Why?”
Tyrrell is Aunt Cheryl, a twisted caretaker to teenager Billy Lynch (Jimmy McNichol), and by twisted, I mean she wants to have sex with him. We learn from the beginning that this woman has no business raising little Billy. There is something in Young Billy’s very real screams for his parents as they leave on a road trip that tells us something terrible is about to happen, and they’ve left him in the worst possible care. Aunt Cheryl just looks all too happy to be holding a squalling and terrified child in her arms.
A couple of minutes later, Daddy gets a log truck lobotomy and Mommy goes off a cliff as she struggles to keep the car on the road while wearing her husband’s gray matter on her shirt. It doesn’t take a genius to know Aunt Cheryl cut the brakes so she could have her very own child. But as Billy begins his senior year of high school, Cheryl is now faced with the reality that he is growing up and leaving her behind, and she’s willing to do anything to keep that from happening.
When Aunt Cheryl offs a TV repairman because, again, she’s bat-shit crazy, Detective Joe Carlson (Bo Svenson) believes that Billy is the real killer and that the murder was the result of a homosexual affair gone awry. Considering the year this came out was 1982, the issues of homophobia in small town America that this movie deals with make it way ahead of its time, and probably more to blame for it ending up on the “Video Nasties” list than the actual violence. While “Night Warning” is gruesome in places, it’s relatively tame from a gore standpoint. However, it is much more disturbing than anything you see in the horror genre today, save for the film adaptation of Jack Ketchum’s “The Girl Next Door,” which again depicts a killer auntie (Blanche Baker). Seriously, what is it with you middle aged women? You scare the hell out of me.
As Detective Carlson’s bigoted ways mount, and he starts to make life hell on Billy, it pushes Aunt Cheryl further and further to the edge, and the bodies start piling up. Directed by William Asher (I Love Lucy, Bewitched, The Dukes of Hazzard), the film owes all to Tyrrell’s unhinged performance. A true must-see, but with no sign of a DVD in sight, I guess I’ll just have to wait for Netflix Instant to rediscover this little gem.