Saturday Nightmares: New Year's Evil (1980)
As soon as I saw the Cannon Group logo at the beginning of New Year’s Evil, I got excited. In the 80s, nobody produced trash better than Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus and, if their later slasher effort, Hospital Massacre, was any indication, this holiday horror flick would be worth celebrating.
The problem, though, is that while these guys got really good at producing sleazy action films where innocent people were fair game, some poor woman was always raped for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and a hero always exacted outrageous (and satisfying revenge), they never quite found the same success in the horror genre. It’s odd considering exploitation is an intrinsic characteristic of horror, but New Year’s Evil is a fairly tame effort.
It’s also equipped with a baffling premise: a deranged madman places a phone call to a popular radio DJ, identifying himself as ‘Evil’. His plan: to kill a victim in every time zone in the United States at the stroke of midnight, cutting a swath from New York to LA. Our resident lunatic is somehow able to make the journey across the county in three hours, including stop offs in Chicago and Colorado so to secure those critical kills in Central and Mountain time.
New Year’s Evil touts one of the more diabolical villains in the genre: not only has he discovered the fastest coast to coast shortcut, but his Terror Train-esque, chameleon-like ability to slip into a number of disguises (nurse, priest, yuppie scum) makes him a worthy opponent. He even ties a woman to the bottom on an elevator with the hopes of crushing her. I’m sure if there was a fifth time zone in the country, he would’ve hog-tied a victim to a set of train tracks while twirling his moustache.
What could’ve been a creepy premise is blown almost instantly. The killer’s taunting phone call (where he sounds more like a tracheotomy patient than an imposing presence) sets the wrong tone and the unintentional humor only escalates from there: like when he accidentally runs afoul of a biker gang and winds up being chased across town as a result. In fact, the killer’s spree becomes a virtual comedy of errors as he’s foiled at various times by third-wheel roommates, drunken partygoers and clueless police. The writers might’ve been under the impression that they were creating suspense in throwing up a barrage of obstacles between our killer and his prey, but we don’t spend any time with the victims so it’s almost impossible to care about them. Beyond that, Emmett Alston’s direction falls flat where it should pack a punch.
It’s not a total loss, though. Sure it’s impossible to take the killer seriously, but that doesn’t mean he’s not fun to watch – especially the bit where he attempts to escape the bikers by citing himself as a man of God, just before plunging a switchblade into one of their stomachs! If our leading lady (Roz Kelly) is a bit of a bore, her red herring son (Grant Cramer of Hardbodies and Killer Klowns) is absolutely amazing. He spends the film alternating between popping pills while gripping his head in pain and wearing a woman’s stalking on his head and brandishing a switchblade. Yes, it’s an incoherent subplot, but it’s also completely delightful.
The biggest disappointment comes from the movie’s refusal to justify its gimmick. One of the most enjoyable aspects of films like this is the killer’s motivation reveal. And because New Year’s Evil brings one of the most ridiculous premises to the table, I couldn’t wait to find out why our killer had planned such an intricate (er, convoluted) murder spree. Unfortunately, by the time we get around to learning why, the film never tells us. I’ll credit the writers with delivering a decent twist at the start of the third act, but we’re never told why his revenge needed to unfold across all four time zones.
See it for the scene where a woman is strangled in a bag of pot, or for when our killer successfully picks up a would-be victim by inviting her to a party at Erik Estrada’s house. This isn’t worth your time if you’re looking for a horror film to deliver in scares or suspense, but as a late night horror fix, it’s ideal. What New Year’s Evil lacks in scares it makes up for in pure entertainment. And really, that’s all you can ask for.
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