By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: His aunt is crazy.
Billy (Jimmy McNichol) has been orphaned since age 3 ever since his parents died in a tragic car accident. For the past 14 years he’s been living with his neurotic aunt Cheryl (Susan Tyrrell), but now that he’s turning 17 he’s ready to move-out. Cheryl though doesn’t want Billy to leave her as she harbors dark incestuous feelings for him and will do anything, even kill in order to keep him with her.
The film was directed by William Asher, who mainly worked on family oriented material like the TV-show ‘Bewitched’ and the beach party movies from the 60’s, so doing this was a stretch for him, but results aren’t bad. Although there’s little gore the well-shot opening sequence in which the father gets decapitated by driving into a truck hauling wooden logs is impressive and more than makes up for it and it even gets shown twice.
The big payoff though is Susan Tyrrell’s performance, which gets completely off-the-charts. She had a love-hate relationship with her real-life mother and the two spent many years not talking to each other and I think this as well as some of the treatment that she received in Hollywood particularly with her working relationship with director John Huston while doing Fat City she used to channel the anger and rejection of her character and it really works. Watching her become more and more unhinged as the film progresses and her increasingly odd facial expressions and voice tones is a treat onto itself and makes catching this otherwise hard-to-find flick worth it.
McNichol’s acting unfortunately cannot match hers and I was shocked to see that he got top billing over her as his talent level, pedigree isn’t even close. His character though is even more annoying as I found it hard to believe that he wouldn’t have seen red flags to his aunt’s mental illness far sooner. The film makes it seem that he had no concerns about his aunt until he turned 17, but I would think living with her for 14 years there would be signs of it earlier. It’s also hard to feel for someone who is so painfully naïve and walks into his aunt’s devious traps when anyone else would’ve know better. It’s dubious too that the aunt would wait until the kid was 17 before making sexual overtures, but I suppose that’s a whole other issue.
Bo Svenson’s as a brash, unethical cop who is profoundly racist and homophobic becomes a strain too. I’m sure at the time this was considered simply ‘soft satire’ that lightly pokes fun at the bad cop stigma, but now it comes off as dated and unpleasant and probably the whole reason why the film hasn’t received a DVD/Blu-ray release.
Julia Duffy, best known for playing Stephanie on the TV-show ‘Newhart’ is on hand in support and although she was already 30 at the time plays Billy’s teen girlfriend and even appears topless, which may interest the voyeurs. However, any story that hinges on one of the characters being put on trial and then found not guilty by a jury due to temporary insanity I just can’t buy into and I don’t think has ever happened at least not in this country. There’s also too much ‘scary music’ that gets played particularly during scenes inside the house that just isn’t needed and almost becomes a distraction and I wish directors and producers would realize that the quiet/natural ambience can be far creepier than any soundtrack.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Alternate Title: Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker
Released: January 1, 1982
Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes
Director: William Asher
Studio: Royal American Pictures