When New Year’s Evil dropped at my doorstep a few weeks ago, I was pretty excited. An 80s slasher I’d never seen, produced by legend Menahem Golan and hand craftingly put out by Scream! Factory? Sign me up!
Wait. Slow the roll. This movie wasn’t at all what I expected.
Punk rock radio DJ, Diane “Blaze” Sullivan (played by Roz Kelly – better known as Pinky Tuscadero) is being stalked by a mysterious phone caller that keeps contacting her live on the air during her New Year’s Eve TV concert special. Disguising his voice, he threatens to kill people every hour in each passing time zone until he finally reaches her. The film’s action jumps right in with a murder so ridiculous in its logic – the killer literally walks past the victim by 5 feet without her seeing him which given the geography would be impossible. It felt as if the film was already spoofing itself. Then, the ludicrous nature of the plot – murdering someone in the greater Los Angeles area, every midnight that passes in each time zone, ultimately killing his final victim in Pacific Time – seems like a lot of work. Also, the fact that it’s New Year’s Eve doesn’t have much significance. Once we learn the secret of our psychopath, played by Kip Niven (previously seen in the Magnum Force death squad), you in fact realize that he could have easily done this on a Tuesday afternoon and it probably would have been a lot easier and more successful.
So, what’s the big deal on this special release? The film doesn’t really have a big cult following, it’s not particularly scary, has nothing super special in the way of make-up effects and it barely registers on the scale of horror history’s cultural relevance. Released in 1980, New Year’s Evil was an attempt to cash in on “holiday” titles like Halloween. Funny enough, Friday The 13th was released the same year and we all know which of the two horror money grabs went on to great success. The killer’s laughably poor attempts to sound scary on the phone by over emphasizing his maniacal plan probably didn’t help. He sounded more like a drunk doing a nasally impersonation of a Dalek. Grant Cramer from Killer Clowns In Outer Space shows up in his first ever movie role as Blaze’s drug addled son and his performance, while limited in screen time, is the best part of the movie. Overall, this film is part of the big pile that is cheap slasher movies of the 80s.
And that’s exactly why it’s awesome! I’m a sucker for VHS horror movie nostalgia and this film reminds me of one of those rentals from my mom and pop video store. You know – the kind with the cover you could stare at the whole time you’re at the store, wondering what the movie is like. While it certainly has that clichéd “so bad, it’s good” factor, it actually does have a handful of nice scenes including a cool gag in an elevator. Whatever the film’s power is, it was strong enough for me to watch it back to back, the second time with audio commentary. And even on the commentary, director Emmet Alston doesn’t hold much nostalgia for the movie, telling the moderator that missing the premier in 1980 was “ok”.
The Blu-ray has some interviews with Cramer, Niven and the film’s DP Thomas Ackerman. They do have a fondness for the movie which made me appreciate the film more. It should be noted this was Ackerman’s first feature and he would later go on to shoot some big Hollywood blockbusters like Beetlejuice and Anchorman. His cinematography work is a standout amidst a very low-budget flick.
If you like collecting slasher movies because that’s your thing, then it’s certainly worth picking up. Or if you like having a total blast watching campy horror movies, this one is a nice addition to your party collection that a room full of horror fans will love. Scream! Factory has done an amazing transfer of the film. I read that previous releases were either horrible DVD-Rs OR a full frame unrestored version that recently showed up on Netflix. This Blu-ray is widesreen and crisp. The original Punk Rock and New Wave performances on Blaze’s TV show sound great and are totally retro. Plus, seeing 80s Hollywood Boulevard is always a real treat.
Seriously, I can see me throwing this on the TV as background for my next New Year’s Eve party. I know it would definitely be a great conversation starter. I mean, asphyxiation by bag of marijuana? How can that NOT be a good time for everyone?
Grab your copy of New Year’s Evil right here.