Night Warning opens with a fantastically brutal car crash, immediately calling to mind the opening of Final Destination 2 – and while it’s a far cry from the over-complicated Rube Goldberg-esque disaster of the latter film, it manages to pack much more of an emotional wallop. Night Warning‘s opening scene dropped my jaw and sat me up straight – all the while hinting at the undercurrent of interpersonal craziness about to unfold in front of me.
Susan Tyrell shines in Night Warning as the over-protective Cheryl Lynch, who has taken care of Billy – her nephew and High School basketball star – ever since the aforementioned car crash claimed the lives of his mother and father. Billy is on the cusp of receiving a full college scholarship, and his ever-approaching graduation unlocks some of Cheryl’s more… lethal tendencies. After murdering a TV repair man for resisting her advances, Cheryl attracts the attention of a racist, bigoted and homophobic detective (Bo Svenson) who is motivated by his own hatred to prove Billy’s part in a homosexual love triangle including both the murder victim and the local basketball coach. Aunt Cheryl can’t take the pressure, and slowly unhinges as she struggles to keep her household together – at any cost.
Sounding a little bit complicated? Well, it is, and yet as the plot-line crisscrosses from homophobia to Oedipus tinged incest, Night Warning maintains a surprising level of depth for a pseudo-slasher from 1982. I’d go as far to say that Night Warning actually functions more as a psycho-sexual drama than anything else, really. Which isn’t to say that we aren’t treated to the requisite murder scenes, it’s just fairly obvious that there’s more going on under Night Warning’s hood than empty kills and ratcheting up the body count.
As other reviewers have pointed out, Night Warning is particularly interesting for its subtle commentary on homophobia and hate in the 1980s. The homophobic detective is clearly written and treated with disdain by the film, which goes so far as to make him the second villain of the story. The more level-headed characters in the film also treat him this way – like Billy who stands by the homosexual Coach character and defends him when Aunt Cheryl makes loony claims that he is “sick”. These kinds of attitudes on screen were definitely not the norm – and especially not depicted in slasher films – in the early 1980s. You could even say Night Warning was ahead of its time in this respect, as even in 2013 we’re seeing big-budget, hateful films like The Big Wedding utilizing homosexuals as punchlines to crude jokes.
I checked out Night Warning because of the deliriously off-the-wall performance from Susan Tyrell, an early-career appearance of Bill Paxton as a High School bully, and the incredibly nuts opening car accident – but its overall tone and the deft hand of former Beach Party director William Asher surprised me quite a bit. Night Warning gets a definite recommendation for standing out uniquely within the glut of slashers released in the early 1980s.