Diane “Blaze” Sullivan, the host of a nationally televised punk-rock show on New Year’s Eve, is receiving calls from a mysterious killer who tells her of his plans to off someone at midnight in each of America’s major time zones… and she will be the last.
Starring Roz Kelly (who played Pinky Tuscadero on Happy Days), Kip Niven (Magnum Force), Grant Cramer (Killer Klowns From Outer Space), Louisa Moritz (Death Race 2000), Taaffe O’Connell (Galaxy Of Terror) and Teri Copley (We Got It Made), New Year’s Evil injects an “intimate and refreshing viewpoint into what was once a tired old scenario” (Andre Dumas, The Horror Digest)…and then takes you on a non-stop thrill ride of unmitigated terror!
New Year’s Evil 6.25
eyelights: the setting. the basic gimmick.
“I’m going to commit murder at midnight. I’m going to kill someone you know. Someone close to you.”
It’s New Year’s Eve and Blaze is hosting a music call-in and countdown show on the Sunset Strip when a man calls in from a phone booth warning her he’s going to murder someone at midnight. Since the show is being broadcast in four time zones, it’s unclear where and when he’ll strike.
…again, that is, since he’s already killed Blaze’s assistant, Yvonne, before the opening credits.
And so begins 1980’s ‘New Year Evil’, a gimmicky low-budget slasher film from first-time director Emmett Alston. Starring Kip Niven and Roz Kelly, what makes the 85-minute picture more interesting than its peers is that it follows two stories at once: that of Blaze and that of the killer.
The killer, who refers to himself as “Eevil” when he calls in on Blaze’s show, is the focus of ‘New Year’s Evil’; the whole point is watching him set and then spring his traps. Clearly, the filmmakers expected to titillate audiences with the promise of gratuitous sex and violence.
Meanwhile, Blaze’s story is mostly just a distraction, a way to change the channel, so to speak. She and the police are concerned she’s in danger, but these bits will mostly appeal to fans of new wave music of the era, as it spends a lot of time watching punks rocking it out on and off stage.
Personally, I found the punk rock setting cool, if discrepant; I like that the whole thing revolves around a concert. However, the characters we follow have nothing to do with the punk scene (aside for Blaze/Diane, a former rocker), and this makes for an unusual contrast.
Right from the start, the film confuses things by running the opening credits with a bunch of punks coming down Sunset Strip (à la ‘American Graffiti’) to the sound of punk band Shadow. You think they’ll be the main characters, but they’re actually throwaways we’ll never see again.
Then it proceeds to counting down from one murder to the next. Sadly, the staging of the kills is amateurish to say the least:
- For starters, it’s clear that something is going on when Yvonne is looking around her hotel room, thinking someone’s there. You’re basically waiting for the killer to pounce; there’s no real suspense.
- The first time we see the killer, he breaks into a mental facility and pretends to be staff. He convinces a nurse to go party with him before his “shift”. Big mistake. The nurse, who is partying with this total stranger, is obviously going to die; again, we’re just waiting for him to strike.
- His second victim, a dumb blonde girl he picked up in a bar at a NYE festivity, is coaxed into smelling pot from a plastic bag. Obviously he’s going suffocate her. Duh. Big surprise.
- The blonde’s friend comes out of the store only to find the blonde’s shoe in the car’s place. It leads her to another shoe, and then the blonde’s dress, which the killer purposely left hanging out of a garbage bin he’s hiding in. So that he can kill her too. Surprise, he’s inside the bin waiting for her!
Um… the scene is even less suspenseful when you consider that she could easily have run away – he would have had to climb out to catch her. And yet she’s no match for his eeeevil.
- The two young women are later found propped up in grotesque but pointless and unlikely ways in a nearby playground – clearly gratuitous stuff for the bloodthirsty ones in the audience.
- Later, Blaze is obviously tracked down. But not killed: she is chained to an elevator and dragged up and down underneath. The fact that her death was drawn out like this, instead of just killing her, immediately made it clear that she was going to survive. So, again, there was little suspense: we merely wait to find out how she would get out of it, and how the killer will get caught. Ho hum.
B-t-w, along the way up the elevator shaft, she finds Yvonne’s head propped up in there. Who knows how the killer put it there, or how she could possibly see it in that light or at the speed she’s moving (conveniently, it was a still shot, as though the elevator had stopped moving at that point. Ha!).
It’s unclear why he didn’t just kill her.
Interestingly, the killer’s story is more fleshed out, with side-stories of him being chased by a gang, and him stealing a car with a girl in it (um… and failing to kill this newly-minted witness, leaving her to be saved by the police). He really is played out as though he were the primary character here.
The killer talks in a strange voice, meant to simulate a voice box – but so weakly that it’s risible. He doesn’t conceal his appearance much, aside for a bad mustache at one point (as he takes on different roles), so we know who he is from the start – just not his relation to the other characters.
Niven hams it up a little bit as “Eevil”, which made me wonder whether he took the part seriously or whether the director mussed it up. Beyond this, however, most of the performances were par for the course for this grade of picture. Roz Kelly, for instance, is okay but unstellar as Blaze.
Blaze’s relationship with Derek, her son, is uncomfortably oepidal even though she is so self-absorbed that he’s a total cast away. He’s just weird, fake, and he’s played up in a disjointed fashion as though he could be the killer, even though we know that he isn’t. It’s a weird approach.
Ultimately, this is meant to to pay off in the last few moments of the picture, but the ending is so ridiculously nonsensical that it simply doesn’t work.
In fact, the whole third act really doesn’t make sense, because the killer is able to enter the TV studio without being seen and he’s given far too much free reign over the place. Granted, he’s set up his whole plan ahead of time, but he’s far too tech-savvy for a mere actor.
This leaves us incredulous at a point when the picture is supposed to grab us by the throat. It doesn’t.
The music was a standout, but mostly for the omnipresent punk/new wave stuff. The score by W. Michael Lewis and Laurin Rinder tries to recreate the iconic ‘Friday the 13th‘ breathing/vocal sounds for effect, but it feels derivative and the rest of the music isn’t especially original either.
Even the punk/new wave stuff isn’t especially good, and the best one, Shadow’s theme song, is repeated many time throughout. Hilariously, at one point Shadow is playing a slow blues jam to the punk crowd, who don’t seem to know what to do with it; it’s too discrepant. But it’s slightly funny.
Ultimately, ‘New Year’s Evil’ is a slasher film very much in line with the genre at the time: low budget and not particularly well-constructed. Having said this, it has an original setting and its gimmick makes it stand out from its peers. Fans of the genre might find it satisfying in some way.
Others, however, should probably look elsewhere for their New Year’s Eve thrills.
Date of viewing: December 21, 2015