THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"NEW YEAR'S EVIL"
In the late '70s and early '80s, a lot of holidays had their own horror movies. Halloween (Halloween), Christmas (Silent Night, Deadly Night), and Valentine's Day (My Bloody Valentine) are just some of the examples. Other notable days, such as Friday the 13th and April Fool's Day, also inspired fright flicks. Some of these ideas were clever, others kind of lame. New Year's Eve might not seem like the most logical holiday for horror, but the premise of 1980's New Year's Evil, on Blu-Ray from Scream Factory, actually managed a pretty decent concept. The film is badly dated and often silly, yet still retains some genuine interest thanks to smart integration with January 1st.
Kip Niven plays Richard Sullivan, a psychopath who vows to kill one innocent person whenever a time zone rings in the New Year. His final victim is intended to be Diane (Roz Kelly, a.k.a. Pinky Tuscadero from Happy Days), the host of a televised Los Angeles New Wave music show. She's broadcasting live and initially dismisses his phone threats as nonsense. Then people start dying. Meanwhile, Diane's son Derek (Grant Cramer) struggles to get her attention, becoming despondent when her show and career take precedent over his needs. It's no spoiler to say that Sullivan eventually makes his way to the studio for a bloody showdown that impacts everyone.
As a movie, New Year's Evil is no great shakes. It might have been scary in 1980, when slasher flicks were still new. Seen today, though, it's more than a bit cheesy. The acting is fairly stiff, the writing clunky, and the direction flat. There are also some unintentionally funny scenes, such as when Derek swallows a handful of pills but you can still see them in the actor's mouth after he's supposedly swallowed.
That said, there's no denying that the premise is cool (and probably ripe for a remake). New Year's Evil attempts to mimic the anticipatory vibe of January 1st while simultaneously flipping it on its ear. Instead of anticipating the promise of a new start, it assembles a story in which everyone anticipates the dread of impending doom. This is a far more creative idea than most of the other slasher movies of the era could come up with. Director Emmett Alston also devises a legitimately great climactic scene in which a character is strung up on the underside of an elevator and rocketed up the shaft.
Beyond those things, there's additionally some peripheral fun to be had if you grew up in the 1980s. New Year's Evil provides an amusingly kitschy look back at the time period. Diane's TV program showcases some of the New Wave fashions and music of the era, and it now seems downright quaint that Sullivan carries around a gigantic boom box to record the death screams of his victims.
Again, New Year's Evil really is not a very good movie. But as a time capsule? Well, I'd be lying if I said it wasn't entirely watchable on that count.
Scream Factory's Blu-Ray comes with a few special features, starting off with a rather sparse audio commentary from Emmett Alston.
Much better is “Call Me Eeevil: The Making of New Year's Evil”, a 37-minute retrospective documentary. Kip Niven, Grant Cramer, actress Taaffee O'Connell (who plays a victim), and cinematographer Thomas Ackerman - who later went on to shoot Beetlejuice and Anchorman, among others - all appear to share memories of making this low-budget film. (Roz Kelly, who largely disappeared from the public eye after some well-publicized legal problems, is nowhere to be found.) These folks clearly retain a lot of affection for this oddball little slasher. Perhaps the most amusing anecdote is Niven's explanation of how his character's signature voice was achieved when a prop failed to work correctly. This is a fun look back at New Year's Evil from the people who made it.
The original theatrical trailer is also included on the Blu-Ray. For more information on this title, please visit the Scream Factory website.
New Year's Evil is rated R for language and violence. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.
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