New Year’s Evil (1980)
Directed by: Emmett Alston
Starring: Roz Kelly, Kip Niven, Chris Wallace, Grant Cramer, Louisa Moritz, Taaffe O’Connell, Teri Copley, Alicia Dhanifu
1/2 (out of 4)
In the turn-of-the-decade slasher New Year’s Evil, Diane Sullivan, also known as Blaze (played by Roz Kelly, also known as Pinky Tuscadero!), is like, this totally cool DJ/Queen-of-Rock gal, a middle-aged TV darling picked to help rock-in the New Year (1981) live from Los Angeles. Helping her out is a group of new-wave bands – “Shadow” and “Made in Japan” (the Japanese economic miracle becoming obvious by the end of the 1970s). Taking phone calls, Blaze receives a rather disturbing one from a man (“Call me… EEEVIL”) using a “voice processor” who says he will murder somebody every hour on the hour, beginning with midnight Eastern Standard Time and ending with midnight Pacific Standard Time. Brighter than the usual horror movie character, Blaze calls the police immediately. True to his word, the weird prank caller disguises himself as a sanitarium orderly, seduces a blond nurse after about 10 minutes (Taaffe O’Connell, who was raped by a worm in Galaxy of Terror!), and then stabs her to death as the ball drops down in Times Square (Dick Clark’s Rockin New Years Eve is never shown in the movie, of course, but you’ll wish it was). In the meantime, Blaze’s disturbed son Derek (Grant Cramer) is hiding out in his room, taking pills and sometimes putting a stocking over his head for kicks. Where’s daddy in all of this? Well, he’s a no-show – probably getting drunk somewhere in Palm Springs.
It isn’t too difficult to put the pieces together in this by-the-numbers slasher, which is fairly predictable and offers no particularly stylish touches or scary scenes to speak of. It does, however, have a lot of fun gimmicks. The first and most obvious one is the constant musical interludes, featuring performances by “new-wave” bands – the main song being called “New Year’s Evil”, written by Roxanne Seeman and performed by Shadow (think bad 70s rock). Actually, I rather enjoyed the music (don’t tell anybody), but I wouldn’t exactly refer to it as “new wave”. I’m not sure I would even call it “post-punk” – it’s more along the lines of Spinal Tap, but I digress. As Ebert and one other reviewer pointed out, New Year’s Evil is almost quaint, coming at a time before movies became self-aware (thanks to Wes Craven). There’s also the interesting decision to reveal the killer’s face right away. Unlike Friday the 13th (which this movie wants to be like – listen to the sound effects), the film doesn’t hide him; in fact, it establishes the killer as a rather charming sociopath (played by Kip Niven, once married to Linda Lavin). The problem, of course, is we have no idea how he relates to the heroine or her son (well, ok, we can guess, but still). The gimmick involving a murder for every time zone is interesting, but in the end it doesn’t make much sense; when the murderer’s background story is revealed, it’s just not enough to account for his behavior.
I like how the killer starts running into problems as the night goes on. His second victim wants her friend to tag along (he seduces her at a disco and drops the old “I’m going to a party at Erik Estrada’s house!” line). Then he has a run-in with a biker gang who chases him around the Van Nuys Drive-In (playing a double feature of Blood Feast and Blood Bath). He’ll eventually end up at Blaze’s show, where their relationship is finally revealed, but it’s all rather ho-hum. The killer’s explanation is rather ridiculous, as he rails against the female sex and announces that he’s “fed up”. Then there’s the odd use of a Stan Laurel mask for reasons probably only known to the creators – oh, wait for the moment when our killer breaks out into Shakespeare (prelude to a suicide action or indicative of how Hollywood drives people mad? You decide, viewers!). Then there’s this weird bit with a psychologist (John Alderman, the exploitation/hardcore/softcore actor who sounds like a radio announcer here, delivering the funniest lines in the film); it’s like getting Casey Kasem to read an audio book of a bad murder novel. I don’t think they really thought this film through, but I am assuming that Golan and Globus didn’t really care – they just wanted to cash in on the slasher film craze going on at the time.
New Year’s Evil is more interesting for the history surrounding its cast than the flick itself. Roz Kelly got herself into trouble in 1998 when, after becoming pissed off at an early morning car alarm, went outside and shot up her neighbor’s apartment. The sight of the Van Nuys Drive-In makes me want to watch Van Nuys Blvd instead (or maybe Blood Feast). Grant Cramer and Kato Kaelin were good buddies. And it’s interesting to read the history behind the band Shadow (they toured high schools back in the 70s). The movie works a little bit as a time capsule of L.A. back in the day, but fails to follow through on its potential. The self-absorption of Hollywood entertainers could have been given more attention, or perhaps a more detailed deconstruction of the particular psychoses of Blaze’s family. Not to be. Still, this is the best horror movie about New Year’s Eve featuring Pinky Tuscadero ever made. Bonus: watch for a semi-topless Teri Copley before she was born again.
- Bill Gordon
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