Tuesday, 1 January 2013

New Year's Evil (1980)

After the phenomenal commercial success of ‘Friday the 13th’ (1980) itself an opportunistic cash-in on the success of the slasher sub-genre’s template innovator ‘Halloween’ (1978) along came a very sharpish Cannon Films in the same year of 1980 wanting a slice of the flesh.

The owners of the production company/distributors the Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus were infamous for finding the niches in the market of low to mid budget productions. They even required the rights to existing properties from other studios to turn into franchises with most famously the Death Wish series (see Death Wish II (1982) - A Quintessential Piece of Exploitative Revenge). Cannon were the kings of exploitation in the 1980s and the slashers of the era were a prime example of exploiting a sellable product. This was not just with their content with geek show displays of graphic depictions of attractive young people being gruesomely dispatched and bountiful amounts of female nudity that were the main selling point aimed towards the ravenous crowds of teenagers who were yearning for such entertainment on the weekends and who lapped it all up with much glee. It was also with the blatant milking of this hugely profitable business module with countless entries in the sub-genre falling off the cookie cutter year in year out in the early 80s exploiting the huge monster successes of ‘Halloween’ and ‘Friday the 13th’.

I might be sounding cynical but amongst all the dross that was churned out there was the odd diamond in the rough to be found here that were genuinely fine pieces of horror filmmaking and bright shining examples of the slasher sub-genre done right. These included Maniac (1980), ‘My Bloody Valentine’ (1981), ‘The Burning’ (1981), Nightmares in a Damaged Brain (1981), The Prowler (1981), Madman (1982), The Slumber Party Massacre (1982) etc. 1980’s ‘New Year’s Evil’... was not one of these.

More often than not Cannon Films would hit the mark in delivering an entertaining time no matter the genres they would become best known for - action and science fiction. Whether the quality of the films was good or not most of their output was at least going to be a passable piece of entertainment in a so bad it is good kind of way. Take ‘Death Wish 3’ (1985) for example, as it is either one of the worst movies ever made or one of the biggest guilty pleasures of all time. Horror is a genre that can be made on the cheap very easily and will remain consistently popular no matter how low the depths it might sink. Like most of the genre’s offerings in the 1990s with the slew of God-awful ‘Scream’ clones. It is strange then that Cannon a production company that was so well adept at pinpointing those as before mentioned “niches in the market” when it came to producing cheap to modest budgeted b-movie fare that made for entertaining good times in popular genres like action and sci-fi could not achieve the same level of success with horror.

Looking over the list of Golan Globus era Cannon productions their catering for the genre was minimal. The most notable is one of the better sequels of the big four slasher franchises being Tobe Hooper’s very own follow-up to his landmark masterpiece with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986). Aside from this, there was not much else other than the second slasher they produced the little seen ‘Hospital Massacre’ (1982) and John McNaughton’s ‘The Borrower’ (1991). Even the second title there was a fusion with one of Cannon Films’ most popular genre outputs sci-fi. Their first attempt at making a film for the slasher sub-genre during its ripening into popular consciousness in the early 80s a style of horror that is some of the most cost effective they failed miserably not being able to capitalize on the craze and corner the market.

‘New Year’s Evil’ has an absurdly farfetched premise executed in the dullest most inept way possible on every conceivable level. It is completely devoid of mystery and suspense, has a distinct lack of atmosphere and has an unlikable protagonist. It does not even deliver on the creative kills with no gushing of bloodletting in sight and there is just one pair of boobs to be seen. The slasher sub-genre while being one of the most uncreative styles of horror due to their simplicity can be made on a shoestring budget and can easily satisfy the simple tastes of its audience making for an easily entertaining 90-minutes being the most exploitative of any sub-genre of the horror movie. How then could Cannon the chief purveyors of 80’s exploitation get this one so wrong?

It is the night of New Year’s Eve 1980 and a live televised New Wave music countdown event celebration is being held hosted by one of the musical movement’s iconic ladies Blaze real name Diane Sullivan played by Roz Kelly (best known for guest starring as Fonzie’s short lived girlfriend Pinky Tuscadero in three episodes of ‘Happy Days’). The post-punk movement of New Wave was coming into its own as a genre of alternative music and was the scene that was exploding at this time. Therefore, Cannon Films were trying to cash-in on two major trends of the era making for a disastrous hybrid of exploitative opportunism. Diane is a self-obsessed unlikable character who shows little interest in her actor son Derek played by Grant Cramer (fans of 1988’s ‘Killer Klowns from Outer Space’ will recognize Cramer as that film’s lead character Mike Tobacco).

While on air taking calls from viewers, Diane receives a threatening phone call from a stranger (Kip Niven) disguising his voice with a voice processor. Sounding fucking ridiculous, he says his name is “Evil”. He tells her that each time the clock strikes midnight, he will “punish” (obviously meaning murder) a “naughty girl” in each of North America’s time zones and she will be the last “naughty girl” he will “punish” and that he will kill somebody close to her. Being faster than a speeding bullet, he manages to achieve this without the aid of a private jet and does so instead by car. Each time he kills, he records the sounds of his victims dying and then calls back the TV station playing the tapes back down the phone to prove he is for real.

Although he dons a mask at the end, the killer’s face is revealed to the audience from the outset. While this it is a departure in the slasher sub-genre from usually having the antagonist wearing a mask when the murderer is shown in full view, or their face is off camera concealing their identity until who they are is revealed in the climax seeing his face here really puts to death any mystery the film could have had. This is more so because though that there are no red herrings sprinkled throughout to add to a bigger picture in this psycho’s quest in killing these “naughty girls” that will eventually lead to his last big kill of Diane. As it is made abundantly clear whom he actually is from references made to his character by Diane and Derek as he is not present in their company for the whole of the first two acts. This is coupled with no other mention of other unseen characters they do not interact with other than just talking about the possibility that it could be a crazed fan etc. This is not a spoiler, as due to this incompetent writing you will see the killer’s real identity coming a mile off. He also goes though different disguises as he searches for his prey before midnight in each American time zone even though he only has a car and seems to make it through in time in what would be very busy New Year’s Eve traffic.

The murderers’ motive is tied to Diane’s mistreatment of her family due to her celebrity lifestyle taking priority. This means nothing when I could not have cared less about the events unfolding leading up to this reveal. Diane is an immensely unlikable protagonist due to the neglect of her family duties so how are we supposed to care about her when we take the journey with her through her terrifying ordeal. Her plight seems justified because of her selfish ways and we feel nothing for her except that she brought all this upon herself and to extent deserves what is happening to her. To make the proceedings even more uninvolving is the kill scenes. These set-pieces are lifeless with little or no build up in tension to the payoff which is just as uninteresting and uninspired lacking any creativity whatsoever with hardly any blood to be seen. The latter there would not be a problem as of course some of the greatest slashers ever made contain little of the red stuff such as ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (1974), ‘Black Christmas’ (1974), ‘Halloween’ (1978) etc. The murders though in these movies were expertly crafted and they excelled in suspense and as well atmosphere something that is not found here in this flat TV filmmaking style.

‘New Year’s Evil’ is one of the very worst early 80’s slashers. It is a bland affair with no redeeming qualities to make it even a fun time waster. There is nothing memorable here except the out of place scenes of New Wave punks laughably dancing like zombies to terrible bands that adds nothing substantial to the plot and is simply there to empty the pockets of the teen crowds of the time. Utter boring rubbish.

* out of ****

Dave J. Wilson

©2013 Cinematic Shocks, Dave J. Wilson - All work is the property of the credited author and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.

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