Roz Kelly - Diane "Blaze" Sullivan
Kip Niven - Evil
Chris Wallace - Lt. Ed Clayton
Grant Cramer - Derek Sullivan
Genre - Horror/Slasher/Thriller
Running Time - 85 Minutes
I don't know about you, but I'm very happy that 2010 is almost over. After dealing with stressful classes, a slightly broken heart, and a horrible family tragedy in October, I'm more than glad to wish this horrible year adieu and welcome 2011 in. So I will watch that big ball in Times Square drop [no, not my big balls - those dropped back in 1992] while drinking alcohol and forgetting all of 2010's bullshit.
It's a surprise that I didn't end up like the killer in 1980's NEW YEAR'S EVIL. Killing annoying, horny people because of a nervous breakdown due to certain people in his life - I can almost relate. Except I wouldn't be caught dead at a New Year's Eve party, hosted by a second-rate Sharon Osbourne, that showcases dancers who move worse than the zombies from The Walking Dead. Totally odd and mediocre, just like the actual film itself.
Diane Sullivan, also known as Blaze (Roz Kelly), is a wannabe Dick Clark - a DJ who hosts a live coast-to-coast New Year's Eve television broadcast from Hollywood, California. Her husband is busy dealing with personal issues [a.k.a. getting away from his selfish, shrew of a wife] and her son, Derek (Grant Cramer), is left neglected [even though he won himself a big television role] and deals with it by popping pills and wearing his mom's red nylons [don't ask]. During the broadcast, Blaze receives a call from a person called "Eeeeeeeevil" (Kip Niven), who promises that he will kill someone on the hour as each time zone across the United States countdowns to midnight, with his final victim being someone close to her. Once the police realize that this isn't some sort of sick prank when Evil leaves a trail of dead bodies across Los Angeles, Blaze must be on the defensive while hosting her TV show, knowing that the killer will make his presence known sooner than later.
NEW YEAR'S EVIL is one of the many horror films from the early-to-mid 1980s that focused on a certain day/holiday where bad things happened, following the successes of HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13TH. It's the only horror film that seems to be focused on New Year's Eve that I know of, making it one of great interest and novelty amongst early slasher fans. The film was produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, who funded many films for Cannon Group films, including all those DEATH WISH films and 1987's MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE. Unfortunately, NEW YEAR'S EVIL isn't as watchable as those films. In fact, it's not really a good slasher [that strangely doesn't have a U.S. DVD release - what's up with that?]. But there's a certain kind of charm to the film, making NEW YEAR'S EVIL worthy of a look to only a certain point.
Like with many films I've been reviewing lately, the script seems to be where the problem lies. Written by Emmett Alston and Leonard Neubauer, the story for NEW YEAR'S EVIL is a mixed bag. In fact, it's quite confused as it wants to be a slasher yet moves forward as a thriller. We have a Final Girl [and I use the term "girl" for Blaze VERY loosely], a killer who disguises himself [while showing us his face the entire time, taking away from the mystery and suspense of the film], and one-dimensional victims that you'll want to see slaughtered because they're either stupid, annoying, or most likely both.
Yet the film tends to focus more on the killer than his actual victims, taking away the feel of a slasher and entering serial killer territory. Because of this, we sympathize really quickly with "Evil", since he's really the main character of the film, not the selfish and bitchy Blaze [who's supposed to be the protagonist]. He's charming, funny at times, and is full of flaws that grounds him to reality. Any guy who can be a nurse, 70s porn star mustache-wearing yuppie, a priest, and Stan Laurel in one night gets my respect. Unfortunately, it's impossible to take him seriously since he almost bumbles each attempt at living up to his promise of murdering women as each time zone counts down to midnight. In fact, he murders someone even before his promise. And his Mountain Time attempt doesn't even happen because he gets in trouble with a biker gang and the police! As a matter of fact, Evil is a pretty lousy villain now that I think about it. What's the point of the film's gimmick then? And why did he need to kill women once each time zone rang in the New Year? What did that have to do with his revenge?
And what was my point again?
Oh yeah - we actually care and like Evil since we follow him for 80 percent of the film. And since we see his face the entire time, we're left with the question of his motive. Why is he killing women, recording them on a huge boombox, and then calling Blaze using a voice disguise that makes him sound like Fozzie The Bear? I won't spoil it, but it's pretty obvious what his relationship to Blaze is within the first ten minutes of the film. And while some may think his reasoning for the murders is a bit far-fetched, I honestly felt kind of sorry for him. If I were in his position and missing a few screws, I'd probably think that taking my anger and frustration out on women would be a good way of handling with it. It does come off as a bit misogynistic though, since he never targets men like other slasher villains. In fact, Evil's motives and murders are less FRIDAY THE 13TH and more DON'T ANSWER THE PHONE!, that terrible sleazy exploitation flick from the same year. But the reasoning for his madness is plausible and I did want him to succeed actually. Hey, he was the only character with a fleshed out personality. Of course I want to win at the end!
That being said, the other characters are bland and dull. This goes especially to Blaze, who may be one of the worst Final Girls in slasher history. Not only does she not know how to put on make-up [clowns have better taste], but she's selfish, neglectful, and kind of bitchy. Plus she rather gyrate against second-rate musicians than locate her husband or listen to her messed up son. And for someone we're supposed to root for and care about, she's barely on screen most of the time. Honestly, I couldn't care about this woman or what happened to her. That's not good screenwriting. To be honest, I found her weird son more interesting. While he had even less time onscreen than Blaze, at least he took pills and wore stockings over his head and face. That's more personality than most horror characters get, especially during the early slasher era. I wish I had seen more of him and less of Blaze. That would have made the film better for me. As for the cop and his psychiatrist friend, the less said about them, the better. With this people in charge, I'm surprised Evil didn't kill more people. Yeesh.
What makes NEW YEAR'S EVIL somewhat entertaining, however, is the dialogue. I don't know what drugs the screenwriters were on while writing this movie, but I couldn't help but laugh at some of the things these characters said. From Evil pronouncing his name as "Eeeeeeevvvvviiiilllll...", to the cop saying that "There's enough evil to fill Death Valley, this one is just following through on his threats [doesn't evil always follow through? what a dumbass!]," to my personal favorite "Spin out and boil your hair [what the fuck does that mean?]", NEW YEAR'S EVIL has a lot of memorable quotes. And I love the fact that Erik Estrada was used into leading a woman into being killed. Ponch would have been proud!
And while the script isn't that great, at least it was original for the time and the pacing was actually pretty good. I'm surprised more horror films haven't capitalized on New Year's Eve. If that was ever a perfect setting for a horror movie, I don't know what is.
Gorehounds will be disappointed by NEW YEAR'S EVIL. There are hardly any kills, and when there are, you don't see anything as it happens offscreen. You get stabbings from a switchblade, some throats being slit, attack by a brick, gunfire, suicide, a decapitated head, and my favorite - the woman who got strangled in a bag of pot...with the pot still in it! If you're gonna die, you might as well be high, right? I also loved the gag where Blaze is tied to the bottom of an elevator shaft as it moves down, hoping to crush her when the elevator lands. Not only was it fun to watch, but it was original as well. More gore would have helped compensate for the weak narrative, but at least we get something!
The direction by Emmett Alston is pretty simple stuff, focusing on a point-and-shoot affair. While it lacks in style, the film is technically competent and looks better than most early slashers. I also felt the 85 minutes went by pretty quickly, meaning the film definitely had a good pace. I wish there was more tension and suspense, but that's kind of hard when we see the killer's face the whole time. I think if he had worn the Stan Laurel mask the entire time, it would have made for creepier moments. I do think some of the death scenes were well filmed, especially the one in the dumpster, as well as the elevator scene coming close to nail-biting than anything else in the film. My main issue is filling some of the film with scenes of two bands, Made In Japan and Shadow, playing their songs during the New Year's Eve party. While the songs weren't all that great, I still kind of dug them for their novelty [the theme song in particular]. But these scenes don't add much of anything to the film and ruin any sort of flow or momentum NEW YEAR'S EVIL tries to create. If I wanted to watch a music video, I'd go on YouTube and watch a music video. Now I know what GRADUATION DAY and it's 8-minute walk-around-the-roller-rink scene was inspired by. Yuck. And it didn't help having scenes of the crowd shuffling on their feet to the music. It was like watching Soul Train... after Shang Tsung had swallowed their souls. If these kids were punks, then Sid Vicious is rolling in his grave.
The acting was pretty bad, save one. That one goes to Kip Niven as Evil, who brought a lot of charm and humor to the role as the film's antagonist. I believed he could be a ladies' man, as well as a nutjob with a Freudian complex. I wish he was written better because he could have made for a more memorable horrror villain since he had the chops to pull it off. Grant Cramer, probably best known as one of the leads in KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE, isn't the best actor but he is memorable for playing a wacked out, neglected, tormented son who needs to wear his mom's stockings just to feel closer to her. And Roz Kelly, the former Pinky Tuscadero from Happy Days, just bored me as Diane "Blaze" Sullivan. I didn't find her hot. I didn't find her interesting. I found her unappealing and annoying. I don't know if another actress - a better actress - would have made the role better, but Kelly did nothing for me. I heard she was arrested in 1998 for firing a 12-gauge shotgun into the living room window of her neighbor's home because a car alarm woke her up. Where is THAT movie?
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE GOING TO ERIK ESTRADA'S HOUSE FOR A PARTY
- If your bathtub faucet is dripping, leave it alone. That annoying sound of losing water is better than that annoying feeling of losing blood... or so I hear.
- Diane's son, Derek, won a role on a primetime show, to which she was indifferent to. I know another show Derek will soon be appearing on - Intervention.
- Blaze wants people to "spin out and boil your hair." I'm not sure what that means, but judging from that 80s Pepsi commercial, Michael Jackson sure did!
- Derek is a drug addict. It took his mom's neglect, rather than KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE, to push him over the edge. Unbelievable...
- Evil used the name "Erik Estrada" to seduce a potential victim into going somewhere with him. While that's laughable today, back in 1980 that was a huge C.H.I.P.(S.) on someone's shoulder.
- The killer suffocated some annoying blonde bimbo with a plastic bag full of weed. For an airhead, I thought she'd last longer.
- Another female victim tried to seduce Evil while he was in priest garb. Stupid bitch. She should have made like Beyonce and wished she were a boy. Then she'd have a better chance!
- If you're a working wife and mother, don't ever neglect your family. When they decide to get back at you for the lack of attention, the last thing you'll be having are some Happy Days.
THE FINAL HOWL
NEW YEAR'S EVIL is definitely not one of the highlights of the slasher boom of the 1980s. It's extremely predictable. It's pretty dull for the most part. And it has one of the worst Final Girls in slasher history, compared to the more compelling villain. Still, it's an interesting nostalgia piece that has some entertainment value at certain moments, along with a great performance by Kip Niven. Recommended for slasher fans only. This will be a New Year's Eve tradition, only by default.
1.5 Howls Outta 4