Written by: Emmett Alston (story) and Leonard Neubauer (screenplay)
Directed by: Emmett Alston
Starring: Roz Kelly, Kip Niven, and Chris Wallace
Reviewed by: Wes R.
“Don't dare make New Year's resolutions... unless you plan to live!”
Though John Carpenter's Halloween was a resounding success, it wasn’t until Friday the 13th, ran away with the box-office in 1980 that holiday horror rip-offs really took form for independent and studio filmmakers. Soon, birthdays, graduations, and even honeymoons were ripe for the picking of slasher movie filmmakers. Adding their own entry to the cycle, the Cannon Film Group superproducer team of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus brought audiences New Year’s Evil the same year that Friday the 13th struck gold. Would this New Year’s party bring about new resolutions for the horror films that followed, or would audiences just be left with a bad holiday hangover?
It’s New Year’s Eve and what better way to spend it than watching the all-night new wave rock show, "New Year’s Evil". Viewers can even call in live on the air with their choice for best rock song. With the help of a recording device to disguise his voice (sounding a lot like the phantom from Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise), a strange man calling himself “Evil” calls in to the show and tells everyone live on the air that he will commit murder (though, thanks to the over-the-top performance and robotic vocalization, it’s closer to “muuuuur-DER!”) Stalking women one-by-one in a number of different locations and wearing different disguises, Evil makes good on his chilling promise, killing a different woman for each time a different time zone hits midnight to mark the new year. Once more, in a Zodiac-like taunting of the police, Evil records (using a hilariously large and dated tape recorder) audio of his murders and then phones back into the show, playing his victim’s final screams and the stabby, squishy sounds of their demise on the air. Why is the killer fixated on the New Year’s holiday, and why does he choose the “New Year’s Evil” show as the vehicle for bringing his message of murder to the masses?
I'd love to be able to tell you that New Year's Evil is an unsung slasher treasure unfairly forgotten by horror fans. Unfortunately, that isn't the case. It's honestly a pretty bland affair, without much to recommend it other than its extremely cheesy nature. Good, bad, these words don’t really apply to the acting here. The script is so hokey and off-the-wall, it’s often hard to tell whether a serious or tongue-in-cheek tone was intended for the film. Portraying the flashy, over-makeup-ed TV host, Roz Kelly managed a number of guest spots on late 70s and early 80s television including “Baretta”, “Kojak”, and “Trapper John M.D.” Grant Cramer, who portrays the TV host's whacked-out son, would go on to star in two genuine 80s cult classics (Hardbodies and Killer Klowns From Outer Space). If you can look past the fake-mustache, you may recognize killer Kip Niven from roles in Earthquake and Magnum Force. Director Emmett Alston didn’t fare much better in his later career. The only other noteworthy (and I use that term lightly) title in his filmography is the minor Sho Kosugi martial arts actioner, 9 Deaths of the Ninja. While not nearly as epic as the Cannon Films ninja trilogy (Enter the Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja, and Ninja III: The Domination) that Kosugi starred in, 9 Deaths does manage to be campy fun in its own right. It is worth noting, though, that in true Cannon fashion, New Year's Evil's finale features a police shootout.
New Year’s Evil is a horror movie with an identity crisis. Played mostly straight, it has some of the most potent cheese content you will ever see in a slasher movie. Matters aren’t helped by the fact that the film’s music, hairstyles, and clothing, are terribly dated. I’ve never usually been too keen on slashers where you see the killer’s face. He Knows You’re Alone and When a Stranger Calls are both much weaker than they would’ve been otherwise because right up front you know what the killer looks like. There’s a reason better slashers choose to either mask the killer or keep him/her in the shadows. It’s much more interesting and most importantly, it’s much scarier. New Year’s Evil also befalls this fate. Not only do you see the killer almost from the start of the movie, you pretty much follow him around watching him try to get laid (astonishingly, had he gone through with each, he would’ve been three for three on the night… quite impressive by any measure). The killer does end up using a mask toward the end of the movie, but it feels like an afterthought. By the time the somewhat cartoonish but creepy Stan Laurel mask makes an appearance, it's too late to have much effect at all.
The kills in New Year’s Evil aren’t particularly bloody, but they are occasionally unique. For example, I dare you to name another slasher movie where someone is killed by being smothered by a bag of marijuana. The film starts off on a sour note with a completely bloodless, off-screen kill behind a shower curtain. However, the rest manage to find the camera’s eye (even if only slightly). The scares are nil, and part of the reason is that a lot of scenes just don’t make a heck of a lot of sense. For instance, after being ignored by his mom (and host of "New Year's Evil") after telling her of his big TV break, the overdramatic son takes a handful of pills and places a pair of red panty hose on his head. Why? Who knows. None of this furthers the plot, or even provides suitable red herring material (as we already know the killer’s identity). The other reason the scares never get off the ground is that far too much time is spent showing the killer getting chummy and cozy with his next potential victim. It’s as if we’re watching a how-to video on the world’s sleaziest dater as he attempts to bed three women in one night (and as stated before, he’s very nearly successful each time). Sleazy, the film is. Scary, it ain’t.
Being that the story centers around a rock music TV show, you can bet you’ll hear plenty of generic and dated late 70s/early 80s sounding rock and disco tracks, and you would be correct. The main titles track, which shares its name with the film, is actually a rocking guilty pleasure (and in some ways, a great deal more fun than the actual film). New Year’s Evil, like a handful of other early 80s slasher movies has thus far been neglected a DVD release. It is, however, currently available for streaming thanks to Netflix. Unless you’re still holding on to one of the original Paragon or Cannon Video VHS tape releases, the Netflix version is the best way to watch it. Though fullscreen, the picture quality on the Netflix version is fairly clear and looks much better than the VHS ever did. I was half-expecting just a VHS convert for the streaming copy, but it does look as if some slight restoration work has been done. New Year’s Evil is far from being a good film, but for all of its ineptness, it is strangely watchable in a bad movie sort of way. In some ways, it’s the perfect bad movie to get the new year off to a rollicking start with a group of your closest (likely drunken) friends. Quality, it isn’t, but it does manage to be fun in the right setting. Don't expect a classic, but I say, Rent it!
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