There are plenty of holiday-themed horror movies out there from Bob Clark’s Black Christmas to John Carpenter’s Halloween to the lesser and cheaper-looking entries like Jack Frost, but what if they made a horror film that was wall-to-wall new wave and punk music, a film that followed the machinations of a serial killer during the ball dropping on New Year’s Eve? That seemed to be the premise behind Emmett Alston’s New Year’s Evil, where everyone was invited to be “The death of the party.”
Coming out of the Cannon factory New Year’s Evil is pretty much what one could expect from producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, it is a film with a low budget and a cast of relatively unknown, but this entry was still early on in the Cannon Groups history, so they allowed director Emmett Alston a little freer reign when it came to creating his 80s slasher film, in what was already an overpopulated genre. The basic plot of this film surrounds a New Year’s celebration being hosted by Diane “Blaze” Sullivan (Roz Kelly), a punk rock media celebrity whose show plans to ring in the New Year across each of America’s time zones, but an anonymous caller informs Blaze that when the clock strikes midnight in each time zone, a “Naughty Girl” will be “punished” i.e. murdered. What is interesting here, and by interesting, I mean very out of the norm, is that there is no real suspense as to who the killer actually is, we do get a brief moment where we think the killer could be Blaze’s neglected teenage son Derek (Grant Cramer), who pops pills and pulls a pair of his mother’s red nylons over his face, but then in the next few seconds we get a clear look at the real killer (Kip Niven), but hey, suspense is overrated, who wants a mystery anyway?
Watching New Year’s Evil with modern eyes one could best compare it to an episode of C.S.I.: Crime Scene Investigation, with the serial killer du jour targeting young women on a popular holiday, and I will say that movie surprised me quite a bit by depicting the police as competent in their jobs, with their intervention actually saving one of the killer’s targets – go figure – but fans of slasher films may find themselves a little disappointed when it comes to the kills themselves as they are neither inventive nor executed all that well. What really works is Kip Niven’s portrayal of a misogynist asshat who takes his feelings of emasculation out on the women of Los Angeles, it’s a very chilling performance and helped even more by the script not making him some kind of brilliant mastermind – at one point he literally runs into a motorcycle gang and has to flee for his life – but where the film does drop the ball is in the characterization of Blaze, who is simply a Rock Star/Bad Mother and that’s about it, and actress Roz Kelly isn’t given much else to work with here as she doesn’t do much more than whimper and answer the phone when “Evil” calls.
• The first victim is an African American woman because the “Black Character Dies First” is a trope that must not be ignored.
• I hope you like this movie’s theme song, which is performed by Seattle rock band Shadow because you hear it a lot.
• That Blaze’s New Year’s Eve show consists of only two bands illustrates that either Blaze or Golan and Globus didn’t have enough of a budget to provide a decent show, most likely both.
• Killing a person at midnight in each time zone is an okay gimmick but I’d have been more impressed if the killer had performed them on location in those time zones, a little cross-global mayhem if you will, rather than all of them being in the Los Angeles area.
• The murderer also fails to kill anyone at midnight Mountain Time, a major break in his M.O. but one can’t expect too much from this sad sack of a killer.
• I’ll give the film credit for having the killer put a mask on “At the end of the movie” but as different as this was he could have at least picked a less lame mask.
The film does try to make the identity of the killer seem like some kind of cool “twist” but for this to have worked we would have had to know more about Blaze, as it stands, we really don’t care all that much for Blaze or her weirdo family, so any third act reveals kind of falls flat, as did the stinger ending which was so clunkily handled that it’s quite laughable, and if they intended this to lead to a sequel even more so. That all said, there is a bit of charm to New Year’s Evil and cinematographer Thomas Ackerman really knew how to shoot L.A. and both Kip Niven and Grant Cramer elevated what was basically a pretty silly script into something quite compelling with their nicely unhinged performances. This may not be a top-tier slasher film but it’s far from the bottom of the barrel and is worth checking out.
New Year's Evil (1980)
Movie Rank - 6/10
There may not be much of mystery surrounding the plot of New Year’s Evil, or much in the ways of scares or interesting kills, but the acting is top-notch and while the script leans a little on the silly side the overall end result was still entertaining enough to recommend to fans of the genre.