Night Warning (1982) ****
D: William Asher
C: Jimmy McNichol, Susan Tyrrell, Bo Svenson, Marcia Lewis, Julia Duffy, Steve Eastin, Britt Leach, Bill Paxton, Caskey Swaim
Plot Synopsis: An orphaned teenager finds himself being dominated by his aunt who's hell-bent on keeping him with her ...at all costs.
Review: In Night Warning, we watch as various lives intersect with one another. This is the result of the characters questioning what it was that happened during the murder of a TV repairman. A local woman, named Cheryl Roberts (Tyrrell), claims she killed this TV repairman when he attempted to rape her. However, a police lieutenant (Svenson) believes that the woman's nephew, named Billy Lynch (McNichol), is the guilty party and that Aunt Cheryl is covering for him, especially when it's revealed that this TV repairman was involved in a gay relationship.
What makes a film like Night Warning work better (then a lot of its contemporaries) is that the story, being told, is always engrossing. The characters that populate this film are all trying to get to the bottom of what happened or trying to figure one another out. So the film is able to continually expand upon the film's initial premise all the way until the film's final frames.
However, we can't talk about Night Warning, without talking about the film's performances. Julia Duffy conveys just the right balance of caring for her boyfriend, Billy, but doubting if he is, who he says he is. Duffy also happens to have a nice, unforced chemistry with Jimmy McNichol. Marcia Lewis has the tricky part of walking a fine line as a nosy neighbor who pokes & prods, but who also happens to be sympathetic to the situation at hand. It's a tightrope that she walks with precision.
There's Bo Svenson, who plays the police lieutenant. His character is both bigoted & racist and is so caught up in his own ideas, that he can't see the truth even when it's staring him in the face. This type of role could have easily came across as caricature ish, as the behavior that this character engages in, is truly despicable. Instead of turning this character into some villain waiting in the wings, Bo makes this character very real by making you fully believe that every word, that this vile police lieutenant is spitting out, is what this character truly believes in his heart of hearts.
And then there's Susan Tyrell, who plays the role of Cheryl Roberts. She's a woman who's not only losing her grip on reality as she tries in vein to hold onto her nephew, but who also harbors incestuous feelings for him as well, due to her own repressed sexuality. Tyrell pulls out all the stops, in a larger then life type performance that fans have been raving about for decades now.
However, the best performance of the film belongs to Jimmy McNichol. He has to be the sweet, caring boy that his aunt doesn't want to let go of. He has to be the boyfriend, whose very own girlfriend doubts whether or not he's heterosexual. He has to be the star athlete who is both admired & resented. And, he has to be the young man that might not be who he says he is to the town's police lieutenant. This role is a juggling act, for sure, but McNichol is 100% credible, as in, you can see why all these various characters, believe all these various different things about him.
Also of note, is William Asher's direction. The same skill that he brought to staging comedy in TV shows (such as I Love Lucy & Bewitched) is used effectively throughout in Night Warning, but in a dramatic way. The film literally opens up with a bang, in what has to be one of the most harrowing car crash sequences ever committed to a horror film, and it closes out with an equally electrifying finale in which everything comes to a boil.
Now, if you were to ask a fan what makes Night Warning such a memorable viewing experience, some of the responses would include, how the film was ahead of its time in terms of incorporating both gay & racial issues into its narrative. Other's might talk about the myriad of performances, the assuredness of the direction or the film's opening & closing sequences. Ultimately though, what makes Night Warning one of the best horror films of the 80's is that the film presents us with complex characters caught in a complex situation and instead of trying to dodge the big issues, the film examines the various quirks of each character and strangeness of this overall scenario.
It's been said that good films entertain you while great ones invite you to be a part of the world that its characters inhibit. Night Warning falls into the latter. [R] 96 mins.
Also Known As:
- Butcher Baker Nightmare Maker
- Momma's Boy
- Thrilled to Death
- Nightmare Maker
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