Happy New Year! NEW YEAR'S EVIL (1980) Review
Wednesday, January 1, 2014 at 01:32AM
James Oxyer

 

After ushering in the New Year last year with the travesty that was Bloody New Year, I knew I couldn’t make the same mistake twice. So this year we’re going to be exploring a film I had only seen once before a long time ago, and now I’m dusting it off. It’s a slasher set on New Year’s released the same year as another New Year slasher, Terror Train. Can it even compare to that classic, or will New York not be the only thing that drops the ball for the new year?

NEW YEAR’S EVIL (1980) Review

Diane “Blaze” Sullivan is the hottest punk-rock icon on the scene, so it makes sense that she’s the one hosting a New Year’s Eve extravaganza featuring non-stop live new wave bands all the way to midnight. It’s also a hotline for people to call in and vote for their favorite song of the year, but that’s not what one person is using it for...this person is using it for...EVIL. Making a bone-chilling promise on air to murder someone every time the clock strikes midnight in each US time zone, then following up on it, Blaze is the clearly the target, and Evil is saving her for last. Even the police can’t seem to catch this fiendish maniac as he slashes his way through California, but if they can’t, who can put an end to the madness before the PST clock hits midnight and Blaze hits the floor...dead?

If I can give props to Bloody New Year for one thing, it’s that there was a lot to talk about when I reviewed it. Sure, it was a terrible movie, but it was fun to write about. When I first watched New Year’s Evil all those years ago, all I remembered was being bored by it, so I was dreading having to churn out a review of it if there was nothing to talk about. Well, after watching it again, not only did I find a new appreciation for it, but there is actually a lot to talk about here! So without further ado, let’s start with the basics: some background. New Year’s Evil was one of Cannon Films’ (known for amazing Chuck Norris action movies, ninja movies, Electric Boogaloo movies, etc.) first forays into the horror genre; a genre which they wouldn’t really find success in until the late eighties with movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 and Lifeforce. This probably wasn’t the box office sensation Cannon was looking for (just based on its status today), which surprises me. This was right at the start of the slasher movie boom, and if I was a horror junkie at the time, you can bet your sweet buns I was first in line opening night to see a movie called New Year’s Evil!

Now, I’m not saying that New Year’s Evil should be taken seriously, because if you do, you’re in for a bumpy ride. What makes this flick noteworthy is, like in most slasher movies, the little things. The minute details that those that don’t adore this subgenre will totally overlook. Sure, it does have some half-decent suspense, and I’ll admit it, I jumped at the first big scare. The acting isn’t terrible either, even with half the cast looking bored (especially the cop in charge of the investigation). One knock against the film is that most of the kills aren’t very memorable. It’s all switchblade fun time, and the only really awesome death is a girl getting asphyxiated with a huge plastic bag of kush! It’s blood-lite too, and there’s zero nudity. With all of this, it’s easy to see why this one isn’t often praised as a classic of the genre. The music in it is...so-so. The film opens with one of the greatest title songs I’ve heard, and then it gets played again not ten minutes later! It gets played again over the end credits, but in between, none of the music numbers are particularly memorable. There is a fun one called “Dumb Blondes” that coincides with the killer picking up two (you guessed it) dumb blondes.

I’m not going to call New Year’s Evil “so-bad-it’s-good” either, but man is it hard not to! The really awesome part about it is that it’s stuck in a weird (and radical) culture overlap where a lot of the styles and fads popular in the eighties are rearing their heads, but seventies fashion and music choices also find their ways into the mix. That’s right; if you’re looking for a scene with a mob of punks “dancing” (oh boy is that a sight; especially the slow-dancing!) to punk rock immediately followed by a scene in a bar featuring disco music and the hottest fashions of 1977, you’ve found the right movie! Then there’s our killer, who uses a voice disguiser that makes him sound like Harvey Fierstein having a stroke and brings about the third link to Terror Train (after New Year’s and 1980): a killer who’s a master of disguise. We see his face the whole time (aside from at the end where he dons a ridiculous mask), but over the course of the movie he poses as a mental hospital attendant, a priest, and even glues a fake mustache to his lip! Even though New Year’s Evil desperately wants you to take it seriously, there is a very-much welcomed moment of comic relief when the killer picks up a girl at a bar, only to have her invite her roommate to come with them, leading to a very annoyed killer dealing with a gregarious bimbo and classic dialogue like this:

Dumb Blonde: “Zen...oh boy, that was some sort of spiritual trip. Now, I’m writing ‘high-kuss’!”

Killer: “Haikus?”

Dumb Blonde: “That’s Japanese poetry!”

That’s just a small portion of the dialogue, and reading it just doesn’t do it justice.

Everything isn’t peachy in New Year’s Evil either. For one thing, the “final girl” is absolutely awful. I would even say that Blaze is about as unlikable as the killer; she’s a terrible mother (just watch how she treats Grant Cramer, her son), she does nothing to even attempt to stop the killer at the end, and she only shows concern for her well being and her all-important show. Having such a weak final girl does nothing to lessen the accusations against the movie that it’s misogynistic. The centerpiece deaths are all women, and even the killer’s motive is purely anti-female. Although to be perfectly honest, I was having too much fun with the movie to get bogged down by a few details that can really be applied to several other slashers (especially in 1980). Although there is a scene with a girl begging for her life in a car that brings all the good times to a screeching halt and is just unpleasant to watch.

Contrary to popular opinion, I believe that New Year’s Evil is the best New Year’s-themed horror flick to watch every year, even more so than Terror Train. Terror Train is a better movie in all regards, but this movie is one fine blast of a party movie! I was chuckling the whole time at the parade of dated fashions, new wave music, absurd killer, and the bonkers plot details! A random biker gang hunting the killer, a mentally unstable son messing with pantyhoses, and an elevator finale that’s at least pretty original. The kills and final girl, two essential ingredients in a slasher, are both disappointing, which are a setback, plus a pretty obvious twist if you're looking for it. Regardless, I’d say this is worth owning on home video. It has been released on a DVD-R by MGM, it is on Netflix, and it pops up on TCM occasionally in the wee hours of the morning, plus it’s available to watch on YouTube! Really, if there’s any movie you don’t have an excuse for not watching, it’s this one. It’s not the best, for annual New Year’s viewings...it’s a scream.

The Verdict: I’m a sucker for movies with kick-ass theme songs. I’m a sucker for ultra-cheesy early eighties slashers. I’m a sucker for goofy serial killer shenanigans. I’m a sucker for New Year’s Evil. It has its fair share of problems, but if you’re a sucker too, it’s essential. You can call it trash, you can call it a treasure, you can call it totally reprehensible...just remember to call it...EEEEEVVIIIIIIIILLLLLLLLLL!

Score: 7/10

And don't forget to jam to this sweet number!

 

Article originally appeared on obscurecinema101 (http://www.obscurecinema101.com/).
See website for complete article licensing information.