★★★★.5 out of ★★★★★
Directed by William Asher.
To describe this film, one must invoke the voice of Bill Hader’s Saturday Night Live character, Stefon. The audience cheers as Stefon slides in from stage right. Hands rise to face. Breathe deep.
“Shudder’s hottest new film is Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker. This movie has everything.
“A high school basketball star who open mouth kisses his mom-aunt after he drills her with a hot poker. An Academy Award nominee keeps her headless boyfriend’s corpse next to its severed skull in formaldehyde. And a John Waters superstar vamps from Oingo Boingo’s Forbidden Zone.”
And that’s just one of our actors.
Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker also features a steamy sex scene with an Emmy-nominated star of legendary sitcom, Newhart, some truly hateful scenery chewing by Tarantino favorite Bo Svenson contrasted against a pleasantly progressive take on same-sex relationships from everyone else in the town, and a star turn by the beloved toy store owner from Silent Night, Deadly Night. The late, great Bill Paxton’s in it, too.
All that and we still haven’t highlighted the film’s male star: ’70’s “Teen Bag” heartthrob, Jimmy McNichol.
If you only know Jimmy McNichol from his castrato high notes on the smash disco album he recorded with his sister, Kristy McNichol, star of Little Darlings and Sam Fuller’s outré White Dog, you clearly weren’t around for the seventies.
Between the sitcoms, the variety specials, the talk shows, and commercials, Jimmy and Kristy McNichol were a kid-powered commercial force until they hit adulthood with the 1980 made-for-TV movie, Blinded by the Light, which The Washington Post described witheringly as featuring “Kristy McNichol, 17, and her dull brother James, 18.”
Perhaps looking to shed WaPo’s unfair moniker and move into more adult roles, Jimmy plunged into horror melodrama with Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker.
Here he didn’t just shed his image. He shred it. Like the wood chipper scene in Fargo.
At the start of the film, we see Jimmy, orphaned at a young age, raised by his Aunt Cheryl. Now that Jimmy’s a hot high school basketball prospect poised to leave home on scholarship, auntie has other plans because she cannot bear to let him go. In fact, she seems to have an unnatural, often sexual, attachment to Jimmy.
Thus she does everything she can to sabotage Jimmy’s success. She berates. She belittles. She befuddles. She murders a TV repairman and drugs Jimmy before a big game. She even breaks in on Jimmy and his girlfriend while they’re making whoopie.
But while Aunt Cheryl will not be dissuaded, neither will Jimmy who cannot wait to escape the insanity of living in this nuthouse. And with two immovable objects, we’re treated to a violent collision of Oedipal armageddon straight outta Pier Paolo Pasolini.
No matter how much he wanted to leave his Teen Beat past behind, there was no way Jimmy McNichol’s manager was going to let this howler out of the bag. Its premiere was limited to a single location, the major metropolis of Salem, Oregon.
I doubt Jimmy McNichol even flew up to attend. This film could never be the adult vehicle he needed to shake his teenybopper track record. It’s far too much Charles Manson in Charge for middle America.
But for the rest of us, Jimmy McNichol made a compelling climactic film for the ages.
Fitting well alongside Shudder‘s carefully curated collection, Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker is no mere curiosity. It’s a fascinating and horrifically transgressive experience that bears rewatching and will satisfy everyone from art house to grindhouse.
Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker is Rated R and currently streaming on Shudder.