The underrated 80s slasher Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker (1981) may seem out of touch in 2022 at first glance. It features a homophobic cop, problematic portrayals of women’s mental illness, and incest. Yet, as I watched this film, I was taken aback by its brutal honesty and surprisingly progressive take. The poorly timed, slightly ridiculous jump scares don’t even take away from what’s really frightening about this horror film—The deeply unsettling fact that each of us could lose any semblance of control we think we have over our life at any moment.
Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker’s (BBNM) protagonist is Billy (Jimmy McNichol), a kindhearted seventeen-year-old kid who’s growing up—he has a new girlfriend (Julia Duffy) and he’s a budding basketball star. His aunt Cheryl (Susan Tyrrell) adopted him when he was a toddler after his parents died in a suspicious car accident.
It doesn’t take long to notice that Cheryl has a strange obsession with Billy. The first interaction we see between the two of them is while Billy is asleep, and Cheryl wakes him up by stroking his bare back and leaning in close to purr and mew in his ear. Clearly, there are some boundary issues going on from the get-go.
Susan Tyrrell’s performance is truly exquisite, as she does a fantastic job portraying the realities of emotional and sexual abuse. Frankly, her performance carries the entire movie. Cheryl is relatively kind to Billy at the beginning, but once he announces his chance of getting a full-ride basketball scholarship to a university far from home, she begins a devious plot to make him stay. And by a devious plot, I mean extreme manipulation, the force-feeding of drugged milk, and—of course—murder.
Cheryl’s character falls into sexist tropes such as the fact that she was driven to insanity because her ex-boyfriend left her. At the same time, Tyrrell’s portrayal of Cheryl’s descent into madness coupled with her exponential ramp-up of psychological abuse in order to make Billy stay is direct, honest, and real.
What shocked me the most about BBNM is its progressive take on homosexuality. The story is a blunt and accurate depiction of American society’s general attitude towards gay people in the ‘80s. Detective Joe Carlson (Bo Svenson) is investigating a murder connected to Billy and his aunt when he discovers that the male murder victim had a boyfriend. He then proceeds to be extremely homophobic: he outs the high school basketball coach and tells him to quit or else, he calls many people—including children—a f*g, and he asks Billy’s girlfriend how often they have sex because he believes Billy killed a man over a gay lovers’ quarrel.
You’re probably thinking, “well, that movie sounds god-awful and extremely problematic.” The thing is, BBNM makes it clear that Detective Carlson is no hero. In some ways, he is the ultimate villain of the story. His character reminds viewers that people who are supposed to help us when we’re in trouble may actually be sinister. The movie is firmly on the side of Billy, the hero of the story, who is very close to the gay basketball coach, even after the coach is outed. Homophobia is depicted as a terrifying threat, which I believe is a fantastic message to carry into 2022.
Ultimately, BBNM is concerned with the concept of agency, and that is why this movie is a fantastic fixture in the Horror genre. Aunt Cheryl tries to strip Billy of his agency when he decides he wants to move away and start his adult life without her. The abuse and manipulation she uses on Billy are designed to strip him of his power and make him feel like he has no choice but to obey.
When the police appeared in the story, I sat up on my couch and nodded at the T.V. screen. “Ah, ok,” I said to myself, “now someone will help Billy get out of this horrible situation!” Oh, boy was I wrong. Instead of depicting the police as a source of hope, the film uses the primary detective to further add to the viewer’s dread and contribute to the dwindling hope that accelerates as the story progresses.
I don’t want to spoil it, but the ending is what sold me on BBNM. I’ll say this: it’s full of surprising twists and I truly had no clue who would be the victor until the very end. In my opinion, the ending is empowering and presents agency in a new light. It encourages us to embrace our individual power while we simultaneously support those we love. It may not appear so at first, but this movie is still fantastic in 2022 because of its raw portrayal of society’s ills, its deeply unsettling—yet ultimately hopeful—themes, and (of course) Susan Tyrrell’s outstanding performance.
You can stream ‘Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker’ on Shudder.
The Entire ‘Saw’ Franchise Ranked
I know we are drowning in Saw content as we prepare for a tenth installment. It has been almost 20 years of traps, plot twists, confusion, and commitment to this chaotic franchise. Like many other horror nerds, I did a marathon to ensure I am over-prepared for the new movie. Like any other franchise sitting at 9 entries, it has had highs and lows. I think we should all share our rankings, and I’ll go first.
Ranking Every Saw Movie From Worst to Best
9. Saw 3D (Saw: The Final Chapter) (2010)
Hoffman and Jill battle it out for Jigsaw’s legacy. Meanwhile, a man who lied about surviving Jigsaw is forced to play the game. This is the only movie in the series I have nothing nice to say about. They wasted Cary Elwes time. This movie is so focused on making sure things are flying toward the screen that it forgets what people come to the franchise for. On the bright side, it puts an end to Hoffman and Jill’s tenure in the series. Even though its ending is ridiculous with him popping out of a bag in the morgue and walking through the police station like the Terminator.
8. Spiral (From the Book Of Saw) (2021)
Where You Can Watch: Hulu
This standalone film sees someone new follow in John Kramer’s footsteps. I love Max Minghella, Samuel L. Jackson, and the 21 Savage song on the soundtrack. Seeing Jackson in a trap is also really cool. However, there’s not much else memorable about this one. The plot is predictable, our lead seems bored, and it has the biggest police procedural vibes of any movie in this franchise. While many other films walked the fine line between ACAB and CSI: Jigsaw, this one feels like a Michael Bay cop thriller from the 90s.
7. Jigsaw (2017)
When bodies start piling up 10 years after Jigsaw’s reign ended, police suspect a copycat killer is terrorizing the city. This one tries to expand on Jigsaw’s cult, but Logan isn’t interesting or exciting. It also leaves me wondering why John would forgive the med student who mislabeled his test results (which led to him not getting diagnosed early enough to survive his cancer) but continue to punish everyone else for lesser offenses. I don’t care for any of the people (or their boring secrets) who are in the barn. This one forgets what makes the traps exciting by introducing lasers and a weird spiral-shaped blade inside of a funnel. A funnel that is specifically made to kill Mitch because John blames him for his nephew’s death.
6. Saw V (2008)
Everyone thinks Hoffman is a hero aside from Agent Strahm, who believes he was assisting Jigsaw. This one frustrates me because we open with the man that killed Hoffman’s sister in a trap. However, none of the millions of detectives in this town investigates that odd coincidence. It also sets us up to see Strahm and Hoffman battle, but instead, we watch Strahm find clues to prove what he accused Hoffman of. Evidence that he does nothing with except stand next to as he dramatically reiterates what he said to Hoffman’s face at the top of the movie. I am also very annoyed with the five people stuck in Jigsaw’s house of torture. None of them were written to have common sense.
5. Saw IV (2007)
Lieutenant Rigg is surprised to discover that he must now play the game to save his colleagues. This one gets major bonus points for opening with Jigsaw’s autopsy. It is a solid way to confirm that he’s really dead, and there will be no Scooby-Doo shenanigans. When they crack open his abdomen to discover another tape in his stomach, I am equally impressed and disgusted. I feel like we got too much of John’s backstory. However, I enjoy following Rigg as he embarks on this demented scavenger hunt across the city. This one also gets cooler each rewatch because you catch more lines that make it obvious Hoffman is up to dastardly deeds.
4. Saw VI (2009)
Now that Hoffman has killed and framed Agent Strahm, he must finish carrying out Jigsaw’s wishes, which includes putting an insurance man through a gruesome test. This movie thinks Jill and Hoffman are interesting characters, but they do nothing for me. It even wastes the reveal that Perez is alive by giving her and two other people the most uninspired and avoidable deaths of the franchise. However, seeing Jigsaw’s revenge on William (the insurance guy we hate) is fun. I love watching him get forced to choose who lives and dies among his colleagues after sentencing so many strangers to death over the years.
3. Saw II (2005)
The police are racing the clock to save 8 people that Jigsaw has trapped in a house. I love this one because it shows us that John Kramer is really on another level. Do you remember the first time your jaw dropped when you found out the footage of the people trapped in a house was pre-recorded? Do you remember screaming when the safe opened and we discovered Detective Matthews’ son had been with them the whole time? Let’s not forget this is also when we realize Amanda is in the cult of Jigsaw. No other movie in the franchise has so many reveals stacked on top of each other. Also, the needle pit scene still lives rent-free in so many of our minds today.
2. Saw III (2006)
Jigsaw kidnaps a doctor for an unorthodox surgery as he and Amanda put a man through a gruesome test. This one dares to kill Jigsaw and then ends on a cliffhanger. That’s the boldest thing I have seen from the third installment of a franchise since Halloween III: Season Of The Witch forgot we were there for Michael Myers. Jeff and Lynn are interesting (even if their marriage is a predictable plot twist), but the sequence of deaths that are ignited when they reunite is a thing of art. Finding out how far Jigsaw will go to test those closest to him is also a thing of beauty and what the fuckery.
1. Saw (2004)
Two strangers wake up in a room only to discover they are about to play a very sadistic game. While we have some fun traps, gruesome kills, and good times with some of the sequels, nothing has ever fully captured the feeling of the first movie. Give me Cary Elwes and Leigh Whannell chained in the dirtiest room on Earth any day. This is the one that kept me on the edge of my seat. The tension was palpable as we all waited for the inevitable saw to finally get used. This one effortlessly serves us all the stress, drama, and chaos that many of the sequels struggle with. It also forever changed what my generation thought we knew about body horror.
It Came From Streaming: Hispanic Heritage Month
On October 5th, 2020, my best friend Jonny and I started a podcast, ¡Uy Que Horror! A Latinx Horror Movie Podcast. It focused on the expansive world of Latin American horror films. Three years later, we have accrued over 150 episodes. This means we’ve watched over 150 movies (holy shit) all coming from a Latin American country, starring a Latinx person, or directed by a Latinx person. Does that make us horror experts? Film experts? Latin America experts? I’d love to be humble and say no, but I’m a Taurean only child raised by a Virgo dad, so I say YES. Lucky you, Jonny and I have used said expertise to compile a list of Latin American horror movies you should watch. After all, Latinx Heritage Month and Spooky Season (the most perfect double feature you could ask for) is right around the corner.
Best Movies to Stream During Hispanic Heritage Month
In my list, you’ll find the things I enjoy most in horror: fabulous outfits, goop and glop, weird plots, feelings and emotions, PERFORMANCES, silly goofs, and wrestling (Yes, Santo is on the list). So, who’s got two thumbs, is Latina, loves a spooky time, and has a list of awesome Latine horror movies you can watch? THIS GUY. *points two thumbs to herself*.
Mas Negro Que La Noche (1975)
HOLY SHIT DO I LOVE CARLOS ENRIQUE TABOADA (CET). The man knows how to tell a classic ghost story. Do yourself a solid and watch as many of his movies as possible (Veneno Para Las Hadas and Hasta el Viento Tiene Miedo are high up on the list for me too). Mas Negro que la Noche has the best stuff CET has to offer: independent women wearing FABULOUS 70s outfits and hair, an inherited spooky old house that comes with a black cat, and an ominous feeling that someone is watching you. It made me want to put on a mini skirt, style my hair a la Brigitte Bardot, and search a dark library on a stormy night.
Mas Negro Que La Noche (Darker Than Night) is streaming on Shudder.
Los Parecidos (2016)
I was never a Twilight Zone Girly, but man, do I love a weirdo movie, and Los Parecidos is a big ol’ weirdo that feels like it came right out of Rod Serling’s brain. I love that it’s basically a bottle film, held in a bus station plagued by a torrential downpour for most of the film’s duration. We have a little bit of everything: strange phenomena, a creepy kid, a little Mexican history, and it just looks so good. I don’t want to say too much because it’s SO weird that it would take away from the bizarre discoveries you’ll get as a viewer. Should I be watching The Twilight Zone?!
Los Parecidos (The Similars) is streaming on Screambox.
Mangue Negro (2008)
The feature film directorial debut by the Tom Zavini of Brazil, Mangue Negro is a SLOPFEST. This low-budget wonder feels incredibly Brazilian to me (I lived there for 15 years, so it hits me right in the feels). Can you tell this is Rodrigo Aragão’s first movie? Sure! But that’s what makes it great! The practical effects are delightful and gory and gloopy. Plus, it’s a unique take on the zombie movie, my favorite genre in horror, and its loving references to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead make me happy. GOOP AND GLOP FOREVER!
Mangue Negro is streaming on Plex.
When I’m not watching horror, I’m probably having a snack to refuel and then taking a breather with some animation. I’m a sucker for stop motion, and this Chilean stop motion short film checks both my boxes. Over on the podcast, Jonny and I have discovered that Chilean horror cinema can be a pretty tough watch because it’s often based on the VERY REAL terror brought on by the garbage person that was Pinochet and his monstrous regime. Bestia is set during that troubling time in Chile, but it focuses on a woman known to torture people in unspeakable ways. The film looks phenomenal, and the stop motion never dilutes the horror and shock you feel.
Pro tip: Have a feel-good movie on hand after it ends.
Bestia is streaming on Vimeo.
As Boas Maneiras (2017)
To quote Mariah Carey, “YOU’ve got me feeling emotions!” This movie was a revelation for me. It’s a dark fantasy horror film with musical elements, a small animated segment, gay stuff, and as a cherry on top, werewolves! But if you’re a Sensitive Sally like me, who cries at the drop of a hat, bring a box o’ tissues. The lead actresses in this Brazilian film are ACTING, and they are fabulous. It’s a beautiful fable that’ll have you wanting to hug your mom after.
As Boas Maneiras (Good Manners) is streaming on Tubi.
El Esqueleto de la Sra Morales (1960)
Mexico’s Golden Age of Cinema is unparalleled. We should all be watching those gorgeous movies at all times. The drama! The looks! The language! Jonny and I always say, “You can eat it with a spoon”. And this movie has all of that. A puritanical, bitter wife drives a sweet, good-natured taxidermist to murder. Simple right? But every scene is a meal, every moment is delivered with gusto, and you’ll never hate a villain more. Dessert please!
El Esqueleto de la Sra Morales (The Skeleton of Mrs. Morales) is streaming on Amazon Prime/Mubi.
Santo vs. Las Mujeres Vampiro (1962)
I end this list with the hero we all know and love, Santo El Enmascarado de Plata. There are a few horror-themed Santo movies (he’s spanned all film genres), and we’ve covered some of them on the podcast (Vs Los Monstruos and Vs Las Momias de Guanajuato). But Santo vs Las Mujeres Vampiro is a campy, vampy time. Chock full of goofs, awesome luchador fights, and 60s fabulousness, our hero has to save a girl from being seduced by a coven of lady vampires who want to marry her off to the devil. I mean, doesn’t that sound great?! Throw in some flying elbows and the coolest cars you’ve seen, and you got yourself one hell of a good time. I highly recommend playing this and any other horror-based Santo movie in the background of your Halloween party. A conversation starter for sure.
Check out part 2 (coming soon) for Jonny’s list of favorite Latinx horror movies! Then pop on over to ¡Uy Que Horror! on your favorite podcasting platform (subscribe!). We talk about so many more Latin American movies for you to watch: good, bad, and VERY bad. If it’s Latinx horror, Jonny and Aileen will watch it.
Feliz Latinx Heritage Month y Spooky Season a todxs! ¡Adios!