Terror Tuesday Report: Night Warning

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The Film

Billy hasn’t exactly had the easiest existence. At the tender age of three, his parents were killed in a car crash. Overnight, his mother’s sister, Aunt Cheryl, becomes his only family. Things seem relatively normal until he reaches his senior year of high school. Proving to be quite adept on the basketball court, Billy is in prime position to receive a full athletic scholarship to the University of Denver…of Denver people! When Aunt Cheryl decides she can’t bear to part with her surrogate son, she acts out in way that forever binds the two of them together in one terrible secret.

Night Warning is not technically a supernatural horror film, but that doesn’t mean the familiar tropes aren’t present. There are demons, ghosts, and a monster in Night Warning…and they are all neatly housed within Susan Tyrrell. What elevates Night Warning from an obscure piece of exploitation to a lost gem is firmly rooted in Tyrrell’s force-of-nature performance. She slowly descends from quirky to unsettling to a full-blown estrogen-fueled, psychotic hurricane. Don’t misunderstand me, it’s not just that Susan’s character is crazy; simply occupying a caricature of madness is nothing impressive. Tyrrell’s performance is layered and brilliantly nuanced to the point that she provides multiple opportunities for the audience to be seduced into empathy. Then, when the sanity brake lines are cut and the ugly beast within her is released, what’s most impressive is her physical transformation. Sure she cuts her hair, but she also changes her posture and the focal point of her facial expressions to be completely and authentically monstrous. It is a revelation to behold.

The superb side dish in this feast of lunacy is one Mr. Bo Svenson. Now I like Bo, but he is far from the universe of likable in this film. He plays a cop who also happens to be a self-righteous, hate-mongering dickbag. He seems more enraged by the idea that Billy might be gay than that he might have killed a man. He’s essentially the right-wing conservative radio host of police officers. Which brings us to his most blatant character flaw: lack of procedural correctness. His hatred for homosexuals is so blinding that he actively ignores evidence that fully exonerates Billy; just dismisses it as a waste of time. No, no Bo, it’s concrete physical evidence that corroborates eyewitness testimony. “Nope, piss off.” What can you do? He does have some of the best one-liners in the film; each a triumph of manliness.

The horror moments of the film, the surprises lurking around each corner are well crafted and impeccably shot. The plot is comfortably predictable at times and wildly unchained at others. The ending of the film is an exercise in horror movie mechanics that are made especially endearing given its lead. That sentence is hopelessly vague and I apologize, but I desperately want to avoid spoiling it. With all my black heart I encourage you to track down a VHS copy of Night Warning or, should your fortunes be so endowed, attend a screening of this amazing film. It will thoroughly surprise you.

The Reaction

What’s interesting to me about Night Warning is that The Drafthouse has already shown it on number of occasions. That in and of itself is not the surprise, but rather the number of this evening’s attendees who had already seen the film who were reacting with just as much excitement and awe as those of us witnessing it for the first time. This palpable, communal vigor was only slightly sullied by a preponderance of chatter coming from the back of the theater. The Alamo staff, as always, were diligent in their address of the problem. At one point, Terror Tuesday emcee Zack Carlson, fed up with a repeat offender the identity of whom he was unable to ascertain, turned in his seat and screamed his two-word disapproval at said faceless talker. In any other environment, this outburst would have seemed uncalled for and childish, but the intent behind it and the standards which Zack was defending filled me with a content not typically instilled by screaming.

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