NEW YEAR'S EVIL (1980)
Label: Scream Factory
Region Code: A
Duration: 90 Minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo
Video: HD widescreen (1.78:1)
Director: Emmett Alston
Cast: Chris Wallace, Roz Kelly, Kip Niven, Grant Cramer, Louisa Moritz
On New Year's Eve in 1980 L.A. TV host Diane "Blaze" Sullivan is hosting the televised punk rock rock music show the Hollywood Hotline when she receives a creepy telephone call from someone calling himself Evil, who disguises his voice with a weird vocal effect. The creep tells her of his plan to commit murder at midnight in each of the US time zones beginning with Eastern Standard Time. Unnerved by the call she alerts the police who do not take the threat seriously until Evil's first victim is found at a local asylum, the body count rises with each passing hour leading up to midnight in L.A..
New Year's Evil is an early slasher entry and one has quite a cult following despite not being easy to come by for a few years until now with a brand new Blu-ray release from Scream Factory. Most '80s slashers I had the benefit of viewing at a young age and with the baggage of nostalgia usually increasing my level of enjoyment, this one however I did not view until the early 2000s, which might hurt it a little bit, but not much because I do seriously enjoy this weird little slasher.
As the film begins we are treated to scenes of stereotypical '80s movie punk rockers cruising down Sunset Strip in a convertible on their way to the Hollywood Hotline New Year's Eve shows, these fierce leader of the group is armed with the one of those dreaded switchblade combs, so you better watch out! At the club they come up against a wooden security officer who demands yo see their tickets... tickets... tickets... it's just one of many weird little scene peppered throughout this mostly goreless whodunit that make it such a charmer.
The hostess of the Hollywood Hotline is an oddly aging punk rock hostess named Blaze played by Roz Kelly who some of the older readers might know as Pinky Tuscadero, Fonzie's girlfriend from the TV show Happy Days. She's not the most convincing punk rocker we've seen committed to celluloid, more along the lines of Rhonda Shear from USA' Network's Up All Night after a week long bender, not a pretty sight. The entire punk schtick is about as convincing as that infamous punk episode of TV's Quincy. Not that it matters because the punk element is not carried through in any meaningful way, it's just a backdrop to the happenings in the film. Blaze takes music requests live on air as numerous punk and new wave bands performs songs, including the irresistible tune "New Year's Evil" performed by the band Shadow, who appear no less than three times throughout the film, the music performances and montages of punkers dancing is yet another feather in the cap of what at it's core is not a great slasher film.
While the murders may not be blood soaked or bountiful at least you don't have to wait long for the first one, it happens almost at the start and has a nice creepy set-up in the bathroom. We don't see the identity of the killer during this first scene but, against slasher type, we do see the face of the culprit for the duration of the film. while we know what he looks like we do not know how he figures into the larger story or what his motivations are, until the finale. I thought it was pretty obvious who the who was in this whodunit which dampens the impact of the revelation at the end, but it didn't ruin it for me, the murderer (Kip Neven) is pretty great, loved his performance and how over-the-top he could be at times, at once a charmer and a nut.
Obvious though I thought the identity of the killer was the film does attempt to throw us off the scent, but since we have seen the face of the killer there can be no suspense, and when it is revealed how petty his motives are it is laughable. Enter Blaze's oddball son Derek (Grant Cramer), a sad, frustrated, pill-popping weirdo who enjoys wearing mom's nylons over his face and acting strange. It's no wonder why the kid is a demented attention starved but, his mom is a self-obsessed bitch with little concern for anyone other than herself. In any other slasher film she would have been murdered and we would cheered afterward!
Looking back at the year this was made the slasher formula had not quite been perfected, and maybe that may be why the film is sorely lacking in the gore department. Many of the deaths happen just of screen but at least the set-up for each of the murders are quite a bit of fun. We are denied the tradition of a masked killer for most of the film, preferring to stalk his prey in various guises then pouncing on them. At one point disguising himself as an orderly at an asylum where he hooks up with sweet dim witted honey (Taafe O'Connell from Galaxy of Terror) in record time before slashing her throat while making out, recording the sounds of her death on a boombox and replaying the murder live on-air, which he does again and again following each of the following murderers.
He further goes on to disguise himself as a Hollywood business manager at a bar where the charmer again picks up a lonely lady (Louisa Moritz from The Last American Virgin) and her annoyed friend whom it is revealed is suffering from nervous diarrhea (WTF!) before they end up as victims of his murderous new year's resolution.
My biggest beef with the film is that there's a serious lack of blood and little to no suspense, but on the positive side there's plenty of '80s goofiness on display and the killer is a pretty interesting who does don a mask for the free-wheeling finale. Each of the set ups for each death are pretty good, but the payoff is disappointing, so just now that going into this one.
Blu-ray: New Year's Evil debuts ob Blu-ray from shout! Factory horror imprint Scream Factory with an AVC encode and framed in 1080p high-definition widescreen (1.78:1) from a decent source, the print used for the master is very clean with only the occasional instance of vertical lines and print damage. The film grain is managed nicely and we have a decent amount of depth and clarity, colors are crisp and the shadow detail is much better than expected.
The DTS-HD Master Audio Mono 2.0 does a serviceable exporting the audio, dialogue, score and effects are nicely balanced and the various punk and new wave performances sound great, the band shadow's tune "New Year's Evil" has never sounded better than on this disc. Optional English subtitles are provided.
Onto the extras we have a 37-minute making of featurette with interviews from actors Kip Niven, Grant Cramer and Taaffe O'Connell and director of photography Thomas Ackerman which is quite good, especially from actor Kip Neven who portrayed the killer in the film, he fondly recalls landing what was his first lead role. Also interviewed is actress Taafe O'Connell who was the second murder victim in the film, the blond nurse at the asylum, and she seems like a fun nut of a woman, and offers an unintentional PSA about disastrous lip augmentation, holy cow. Chris Wallace who portrayed the lunatic son in the film recounts the memorable audition process and how his method acting wowed the producers of the film and they cast him right there and then.
There's also an audio Commentary with director Emmett Alston moderated by Bill Olsen of Code Red DVD. While I love Code red DVD I find that Olsen's nutty antics often overshadow his efforts as a cult movie film distributor. The guy offers up a barrage of rants on his Facebook page that are truly entertaining, less entertaining is the way he opens and closes his online store like a hot dog vendor with out a corner to sell from, one day it's open and then it's closed, the guy just makes it damn hard to buy his stuff, and then complains that sales are low only to turn around and bitch some more when he has too many orders to deal with, love ya Bill! The commentary is not great, Bill goes off on tangents and Alston seems a bit lost and flustered by questions that seem out of his purview as a cinematographer on the film, but Bill sounds like he's having a blast. The last extra on the disc is a theatrical trailer for the film. There's also a sleeve of reversible artwork
- Audio Commentary with director Emmett Alston moderated by Bill Olsen of Code Red DVD
- The Making of New Year's Evil featuring new interviews with actors Kip Niven, Grant Cramer and Taaffe O'Connell and director of photography Thomas Ackerman (37 Mins)
- Theatrical Trailer (2 Mins)
Verdict: Okay, I admit that this is not a great slasher film but I do find New Year's Evil to be a fun entry with a goofy charm about it. There are the makings of an awesome movie here but the elements just never come together just right. It must be doing something right though because I never fail to ring in the New Year without a viewing of this film, a goofy slasher entry and I am quite pleased to have it on Blu-ray and widely available for the horror loving masses.