Released in December of 1980 (hey, where’s the 30th anniversary Criterion Blu-ray?), New Year’s Evil is one of the few “holiday slashers” produced by the legendary Golan and Globus (aka Cannon), but I think that works to its benefit. While all of the other slasher movies of the time were working directly from Halloween
’s template – a maskedkiller, usually some sort of “15/20/etc years earlier” prologue, and a group of college- aged kids getting picked off one by one leaving only Jamie Lee Curtis (who starred inthe only other New Year’s based slasher I know of, Terror Train
) alive, New Year’s Evil goes in the opposite direction: it focuses mainly on the killer.
Kip Niven plays Richard, our intrepid psycho who has taken it upon himself to celebrate New Year’s in the oddest way possible – driving around Los Angeles and killing someone every time the clock strikes midnight in each time zone. For a bit I thought the movie was actually going to be some sort of commentary on the pointlessness of the holiday (especially for LA residents, who are 3 hours behind Times Square, the sort of “center” of the day’s celebration), but nah, it’s just about this dude killing people.
It was pretty novel at the time to spend most of the movie with the villain instead of his victims. There’s a heroine, of course (Roz Kelly as a “VJ”), and a few folks close to her like her creepy son (Killer Klowns
’ Grant Cramer!) and security guard, but I’d estimate 70% of the movie is spent with Niven as he drives around and meets up with random women. His first is a nurse (he is dressed up like a new orderly), who breaks the horror movie record for screwing around with a guy she just met – the jist of their 90 second introduction is “Nice to meet you, happy New Year’s, I have this champagne, let’s go drink it!” followed by making out. Then as the patients (presumably celebrating three hours early so they can get to bed) blow their whistles and cheer, he stabs her to death.
Then he moves on to his intended “Central Coast” victim, a ditzy blond he meets in a club. Now he’s dressed in typical swinger’s attire; see, he’s sort of like Fletch, wearing simple “disguises” to fit in, instead of the usual slasher who tries to conceal his appearance. Except Fletch rarely stabbed people to death and then called a lame radio show to tell the host about it. But then the movie gets kind of odd, as he drives the girl - and a friend who tags along, much to his chagrin - to a party (at Erik Estrada’s house!) and is forced to endure her hippie psycho-babble and information about her friend’s nervous diarrhea. You almost feel bad for the guy as he gets more and more frustrated, trying to figure out a way to get rid of her friend for a few minutes so he can kill this moron. And he finally does, at a lonely gas station in a deserted part of town that we are told is Ventura and Laurel Canyon, which is about as far from lonely in the area as you can possibly get.
Then he starts getting sloppy, accidentally hitting a biker with his car while heading toward the Van Nuys drive-in for his Mountain Time kill. I should mention his route through Los Angeles makes little sense and would require Jack Bauer’s ability to navigate LA traffic, given the movie’s 3-4 hour narrative timeframe – the drive-in is in the complete pposite direction from his last kill than from the Sunset strip, where Kelly is hosting her show and thus where he obviously intends to go for the big finale. Anyway, the bikers chase him to the drive-in, and he kills one, forcing him to panic, steal a patron’s car (hilariously, when he pulls the driver out, he yells “Where are the fucking keys?” – where else would they be at a drive-in?), until he finally ends up at the Sunset Strip studio, now dressed as a guy ready to hit the gym for whatever reason.
From here the movie starts to resemble a traditional slasher, with some chase scenes, the heroine trapped in a confined spot, etc. But it includes not one but two twists: one decent but not too surprising, the other out of nowhere and thus pretty amazing. One key difference, however – Michael Myers, Harry Warden, etc – those guys never quoted Hamlet before their “death” at the end of the film, as Niven does here. So it’s got that going for it.
Even more entertaining than its impromptu literary lessons, however, is its amazing soundtrack, led by the theme song, which plays 3-4 times during the film (including twice in the first ten minutes). “Tell me will it be/Sweet New Year’s Eve/Or do I feel/A New Year’s EVIL!!!!” goes the chorus, as well as any audience member who finds the song as amazing as I do. The rest of the songs are a mix of punky new-wave tracks from the period, nothing you’ll recognize (most seem to have been written for the film), with the exception of “Auld Lang Syne”, of course. Apparently, Cannon actually released a soundtrack album, but I can’t find any real information about it online. I would buy it in an instant.
It’s a bummer (for lack of a better word) that the Alamo is opting for Creepshow
this week instead of New Year’s Evil, because it is a blast to watch with a crowd, and would be fun given that the day is just around the corner (whereas Creepshow
is relevant 52 weeks out of the year!). The killer’s often ludicrous actions are a hoot, of course, and there are a number of just plain awkward moments in the movie, such as when the extras at the rock show just sort of stumble around bumping into each other as they ‘dance’ to a song that clearly wasn’t the one we are hearing on the soundtrack. Cramer’s fairly Oedipal attitude toward his mother is also good for a few laughs, especially when he puts her panty hose on his head while angry that she’s ignoring him. And, again, our killer ensnares a victim by telling her he’s taking her to a party at Erik Estrada’s house. I cannot stress that enough.
Hopefully some of the nation’s (world’s?) revival houses are showing it this week; I know there is a print in existence since it played at our New Beverly Cinema in 2009. If not, you have other options. The film is available on Netflix Instant, one of many titles that are on there via MGM despite not having a legitimate DVD release. The transfer is full frame and not very good, but it’s better than nothing. It’s also better than the DVD I purchased at a convention, which is attributed to “Crazy Mexican DVD” and taken from a VHS with tracking problems (and is more washed out than the Netflix version). On the other hand, it has a menu that loops the theme song (yes!) and a few trailers for slasher films from the era and some of the original artwork – hell, some Criterion DVDs don’t even offer that much. Also, at the very end of the film, there’s a little “teaser” graphic for Be My Valentine… Or Else!, which Cannon says is another holiday horror coming soon (no such film exists), which is not present on Netflix’s copy. Not bad for a fan made thing.
As I mentioned, the only other slasher film focused on New Year’s (that I know of/recall) is Terror Train, which is most definitely NOT a good crowd movie due to the fact that it’s painfully slow, largely humorless (intentional or not, save for anything involving David Copperfield), and due to the setting, not particularly interesting visually either – it seems like 50% of the movie is just shots of the train chugging along. I find it kind of odd that the holiday has been so under-represented in slasher films, because it actually allows for an easy “in” to several slasher movie traditions – promiscuity and casual sex, people drinking excessively, friends gathering together at houses (as opposed to say, everyone breaking into a mall or something), etc. Christmas and Thanksgiving tend to be more family based affairs, and Valentine’s Day is traditionally celebrated with your “one and only”, not a bunch of friends. So it’s a bit of a shame that this is the best option – it’s a fun movie, but only in the right frame of mind; you won’t see anyone really complaining if a remake was announced. Especially for a film that doesn’t even have any concrete theatrical release information available – the IMDB just says “December” and has no box office info; the film isn’t even listed on Boxofficemojo. Was this thing even released theatrically? If so, it made less than Prom Night
, which is embarrassing (not a fan of that one).
So enjoy this oddity if you can as you celebrate the new year, and if you know of any other New Year’s themed horror flicks (there’s also Bloody New Year, which is a bad The Evil Dead
ripoff from what I understand), feel free to mention them below. Have fun at your various parties, and if you see a priest, or orderly, or gym enthusiast – well, he’s probably just a priest, orderly, or gym enthusiast. But just in case - don’t follow him to Erik Estrada’s house.
Every day of the year Brian Collins watches a horror movie. What does that do to a man? Find out in his regular reviews at Horror Movie A Day.