The thing I hate most about conventional Horror films: practically anyone with a camera and a cast can make one, no matter the budget.
And therein lies Horror’s dirty little secret: all too often, storytellers and studios prefer to stick to an almost Fascistic formulaic approach to what scares audiences. If it’s been done before and made money, then look for it to be done again even if that means settling for just a bit less. But if we dress it up with a bit more blood, maybe it’ll make more? Because they can be made fast and cheap, the potential for profit remains very good, and this is precisely why it’s demonstrably easy to get almost any slasher-based thriller and chiller into some studio pipeline somewhere: the evidence shows that folks will plunk down a few dollars for such vicarious delights year-round.
Still, back when exploitation features were really just crawling out of the grave, these filmmakers did strive to assign some gimmick to them. For example, Killer A likes to conduct his business with a drill while Killer B prefers the ice pick. When that trend dried out, Killer C only slashes girls who reside in sorority houses while Killer D prefers hacking and slashing his way through American suburbs. When interest in various locales subsided, then those drawing first blood decided it was time to stake a claim to the holidays, so things like Bloody Christmas, Friday the 13th, and more were born … so it’s only natural that somewhere some psychotic stuck out New Year’s Eve, right?
New Year’s Evil (1980) probably didn’t leave much impression with audiences of its era. Like so many other flicks, it’s largely derivative, hosting a cast of regular types who all ‘kick the bucket’ well within the formula for slasher films. But it’s continued to build a bit of a cult following for any number of reasons, and I’ll try to provide enough reason for you to check it out after the break …
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
“On a totally punked-out New Year’s Eve, TV hostess Diane ‘Blaze’ Sullivan counts down the hours to midnight. But as her show progresses, every hour, on the hour, a savage maniac slashes up a new female victim. As the trail of mutilated bodies spreads throughout the city, it becomes apparent that the psychopath’s ultimate target is Blaze herself. Desperate to stop the bloody rampage, the police frantically seal off the ongoing televised festivities. But the killer is quicker than they suspected – and he's also the last one anyone suspects.”
Conventional Horror like slasher features just have never been my cup of tea.
The biggest complaint I have with them is that they’re generally constructed with an easily deduced formula, one that practically requires that the characters themselves remain bland and nondescript because it’s really only the manner of their deaths that matter. Occasionally, something novel or different slips through, but all too often storytellers who dabble in this subset do so because they think they’re bringing just enough originality to the premise to elevate their project above others. That’s really not the case with director Emmett Alston’s New Year’s Evil. (To clarify, he’s also credited with the film’s original story, though he passed screenwriting duties to his writing partner, Leonard Neubauer.)
Without divulging too many spoilers for those who read here, this Evil relies on a not-so-anonymous slasher whose central motivation remains a mystery throughout much of the picture. Detectives (and smart viewers) will obviously suspect that his intent ties somehow to the film’s female lead, Diane Sullivan (Roz Kelly), and they’ll be vindicated in the final reel when the script does dish a modestly impressive twist that probably should have been reserved for an otherwise better project. It’s best to conclude that our killer has enough justification to shed as much blood as he does, and – dare I point out? – he even manages to squeeze in the possibility of a sequel, though none ever came to pass.
But as I said, what matters here are the deaths. In that respect, Evil never paid enough attention to making the body count all that momentous. As grim endings go, these are fairly benign, and I suspect that accounts for why the picture never accomplished more from the days of yore. Or is that gore?
So while not being all that original (crazy people are gonna go even crazier), Evil manages to dabble in areas other slasher films never quite touched. There’s an anti-establishment vibe to it that works quite well. The lovely Sullivan is trying to ‘have it all’ – a product of the 70’s Feminist Revolution – but can’t quite do that without looking the part of a sex kitten on television. And broken families of privilege will always pay the highest price before the curtain falls on their sordid interpersonal failures.
Five … four … three … two … one … Happy New Year!
New Year’s Evil (1980) was produced by The Cannon Group. DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being coordinated by Kino Lorber. As for the technical specifications? Though I’m no video expert, I found the sights and sounds of this brand-new 2K Master quite good from start-to-finish. As for the special features? The slipcase is adorned with newly commissioned artwork from Vince Evans. There’s a nice 40-minute ‘making of’ documentary that isn’t in-depth by any measure but contains a collection of fond memories of cast and crew. Lastly, there’s an audio commentary with Director Alston that’s hosted by Bill Olsen; as this one goes, it’s a bit of a disappointment as Olsen keeps cracking jokes to fill the silence left by the director’s lack of any substantive responses. I shut it off after about 45 minutes as it was kinda painful listening.
(Mildly) recommended. Again, folks ‘round these parts know that I’m not all that big on what I’d call ‘conventional Horror’ (i.e. slasher films), but I’ll occasionally take one in just for giggles … and I like to keep on my toes. New Year’s Evil is imperfect in a lot of ways, but it’s also representative of how traditional picks of this type were made in the 1980’s – with an almost workmanlike commitment to formula no matter whether the studios wanted something a bit different or not. (Truth: they didn’t want anything different.) Performances are acceptable – at best, there’s no barn-burning work here – and maybe be prepared for a few unplanned laughs as well. Reasonably bloody but fairly tame overall.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Kino Lorber provided me with a complimentary Blu-ray of New Year’s Evil (1980) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.