New Year’s Evil (Emmet Alston, 1980) After Black Christmas created the slasher genre and Halloween turned it into a phenomenon, every lazy producer kicking around Hollywood figured out that a small fortune could be made by picking a holiday and killing off some pretty actors in elaborate ways as part of the celebration. When someone came up with the title New Year’s Evil in a cocaine haze in the Cannon offices, it’s safe to say that champagne bottles were popped. They jumped on the trend fast too (as was the Cannon way), sneaking New Year’s Evil into theaters just months after Friday The 13th cemented a spree of rip-offs into subgenre status. While it would be nice to dub the film as an unsung classic lost amidst a sea of early holiday slashers ripe for rediscovery (like say My Bloody Valentine), that’s sadly just not the case. It’s more of a historical curiosity for horror fans than anything else, but it is still a damn entertaining and unintentionally funny trip down slash n’ kill memory lane well worth a look for genre obsessives now that it’s making a Blu-ray debut thanks to the fine folks at Shout Factory.
The film centers on an all-punk New Year’s Eve party hosted by a local queen of the scene. You might assume that this character would be some sort of young demented punk godess like Linnea Quigley of Return Of The Living Dead and Night Of The Demons fame. You, however, would be way off. Nope, she’s played by middle aged Roz Kelly, aka The Fonz’s girlfriend from Happy Days. It’s but the first of a series of hilariously wrong decisions that defines the undeniably flawed and fun New Year’s Evil. So, before menopause kicks in, Roz must host a “rocking” punk New Year’s party with a sparsely populated crowd awkwardly bumping into each other as the band plays the goofy New Year’s Evil theme song incessantly (seriously, it plays over the opening credits then on stage immediately after). She receives a phone call from a killer with a distorted electronic voice who promises to kill someone close to her every hour leading up to the ball drop. It’s not all a big mystery building up to the reveal of the killer though. We see its Kip Niven immediately, then watch him bump off day players in a series of increasingly ridiculous costumes as he works his way closer to Roz. The slasher conventions were still being invented I s’pose.
The film was made by a collection of regular Cannon company filmmakers, who don’t exactly have any classics to their name unless you use ironic quotation marks. However, the movie is still fairly slickly produced by the bargain basement Cannon standards. Not that you’ll find yourself terrified of course. Beyond the fact that this is a fairly gore-free production, it’s a movie that’s best appreciated for camp value. Kip Niven’s collection of overacting ticks masquerading as a performance is not a threating killer. However, watching him put on a disco medallion and fake mustache to awkwardly seduce a New Years drunk before smothering her with a bag full of weed certainly has it’s charms. The movie is essentially a collection of wtf moments from the ludicrous punk outfits that Roz embarrassingly slinked into to a finale that somehow incorporates a Shakespearian monologue and a silly rubber mask. This is one of those movies that you’ve got to see to believe and it will provide laughs (some even deliberate) from start to finish. It’s a goof, but a thoroughly enjoyable one.
It might not exactly be a visual stunner in conception or design, but New Year’s Evil is probably one of the best restorations that Shout has kicked out to date. The movie looks really good, too good even. Likely better than it looked in theaters with all of the garish costumes and neon 80s lighting popping right off the screen. Sure, it serves as a constant reminder of how cheap this movie is, but that’s part of the fun of consuming campy crap, right? The special feature section kicks off with a surprisingly detailed 37-minute documentary about the film’s production. Featuring cinematographer Thomas Ackerman (who went on to shoot the likes of Beetlejuice and Anchorman) and a handful of cast members, this is a wonderfully entertaining little recounting of the overambitious 18-day shoot for a miniscule $600,000 featuring plenty of stories of sneaky cheap filmmaking and working with the weirdoes at Cannon from a collection of enthusiastic participants who are pleasantly surprised that anyone still cares about their movie. Oddly, co-writer/director Emmett Alston doesn’t appear in the doc, but that’s just because he gets an audio commentary track to toss off his memories of the experience between a few awkward silences. Things wrap up with a theatrical trailer in quite an impressive Blu-ray for a movie that no one could have predicted would get such treatment. But, that’s what Shout Factory specializes in these days and they have delivered the goods again here. New Year’s Evil should please any cheese-loving horror fan, provided that expectations are in check. Thankfully, with that title alone, it shouldn’t be a problem