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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Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 152 – Cloverfield Paradox & The Ritual
Last week Netflix shocked the world by not only releasing a new trailer for Cloverfield Paradox during the Superbowl, but announcing the film would be available to stream right after the game. In a move no one saw coming, Netflix shook the film industry to it’s very core. A few days later, Netflix quietly released horror festival darling: The Ritual.
Hold on to your Higgs Boson, because this week we’ve got a double header for ya, and we’re not talking about that “world’s largest gummy worm” in your mom’s nightstand. Why was one film marketed during the biggest sporting event of the year, and why was one quietly snuck in like a pinky in your pooper? Tune in a find out!
Meet me at the waterfront after the social for the Who Goes There Podcast episode 152!
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The Housemaid Review – Love Makes the Ghost Grow Stronger
Written and directed by Derek Nguyen
Vietnamese horror films are something of a rarity due largely to pressure from the country’s law enforcement agencies that have warned filmmakers to steer clear of the genre in recent years. The country’s exposure to the industry is limited, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a handful of filmmakers out there that are passionate and determined to get their art out into the world. IFC Midnight has stepped up to the plate to shepherd writer/director Derek Nguyen’s period ghost thriller The Housemaid in hopes of getting it in front of American horror fans.
Aside from a few moments that delve into soap opera territory, Nguyen’s film is full of well-crafted scares and some surprisingly memorable scenes that sneak up at just the right times. For history buffs there’s also a lot of material to sink your teeth into dealing with French Colonial rule and mistreatment of the Vietnamese during the 1950’s. Abuse that, if you’re not careful, could lead to a vengeful spirit seeking atonement.
Desperate and exhausted after walking for miles, an orphaned woman named Linh (Kate) seeks refuge and employment as a housemaid at a large rubber plantation in 1953 French Indochina. Once hired, she learns of the dark history surrounding the property and how her mere presence has awakened an accursed spirit that wanders the surrounding woods and dark corners of the estate. Injured in battle, French officer Sebastien Laurent (Richaud) returns to preside over the manor and, unexpectedly, begins a dangerous love affair with Linh that stirs up an even darker evil.
Told in flashbacks, the abuse of workers reveals a long history of mistreatment that enshrouds the surrounding land in darkness and despair, providing ripe ground for a sinister spirit that continues to grow stronger. Once it’s revealed that the ghost has a long history with Laurent before her death, the reasons she begins to kill become more and more obvious as the death toll piles up. Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle among Laurent, Linh, and the specter of Laurent’s dead wife.
Powered by desire to avenge tortured workers of the past and the anger fueled by seeing her husband in the embrace of a peasant girl, the apparition is frightening and eerily beautiful as she stalks her victims. One scene in particular showing her wielding an axe is the most indelible image to take away from the film, and other moments like it are what make The Housemaid a standout. The twisted sense of romance found in a suffering spirit scorned in death is the heart of the story even if the romance between the two living lovers winds up having more screen time.
The melodrama and underwhelming love scenes between Linh and Laurent are the least effective part of The Housemaid, revealing some of Nguyen’s limitations in providing dialogue and character moments that make us connect with these two characters as much as we do when the ghost is lurking around the frame. What does help to save the story is a well kept secret revealing a connection with the housemaid and the apparition.
Honestly, if this was an American genre film, the limitations seen in The Housemaid might cause more criticism, but seeing an emerging artist and his team out of Vietnam turn out a solid product like this leads me to highlight the good and champion the effort in hopes of encouraging more filmmakers to carry the flag. Ironically, the film is set for a U.S. remake in the near future.
The Housemaid hits select theaters, VOD, and digital platforms TODAY, February 16th.
Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle.
Scorched Earth Review – Gina Carano Making Motherf**kers Pay In The Apocalypse
Starring Gina Carano, John Hannah, Ryan Robbins
Written by Bobby Mort and Kevin Leeson
Directed by Peter Howitt
Let me preface this review by stating right off the bat that I’m a huge Gina Carano fan, and will pretty much accept her in any role that she’s put in (are you going to tell her no), regardless of the structure and plausibility behind it, and while that might make me a tad-bit biased in my opinions, just accept it as that and nothing more. Now that I’ve professed my cinematic devotion to the woman, let’s dive headlong into her latest film, Scorched Earth.
Directed by Peter Howitt, the backdrop is an apocalyptic world brought on by the imminent disaster known as global warming, and the air has become toxic to intake, generally leaving inhabitants yacking up blood and other viscous liquids after a prolonged exposure, unless you’re one of the privileged that possesses a filter lined with powdered silver. Filters of water and the precious metal are in high demand, and only true offenders in this world still drive automobiles, effectively speeding up the destruction of what’s left of the planet. Carano plays Atticus Gage, a seriously stoic and tough-as-nails bounty hunter who is responsible for taking these “criminals” down, and her travels lead her to a compound jam-packed with bounties that will have her collecting riches until the end of time…but aren’t we at the end of time already? Anyway, Gage’s main opponent here is a man by the name of Thomas Jackson (Robbins) – acting as the leader of sorts to these futuristic baddies, the situation of Gage just stepping in and taking him out becomes a bit complicated when…oh, I’m not going to pork this one up for you all – you’ve got to invest the time into it just as I did, and trust me when I tell you that the film is pretty entertaining to peep.
While Carano’s acting still needs some refining, let there be no ever-loving mistake that this woman knows how to beat the shit out of people, and for all intents and purposes this will be the thing that carries her through many a picture. There are much larger roles in the future for Gina, and she’ll more than likely take over as a very big player in the industry – hey, I’m a gambling man, and I’ve done pretty well with my powers of prognostication. With that being said, the thing that does hold this picture back is the plot itself- it’s a bit stale and not overly showy, and when I look for a villain to oppose the hero, I’m wanting someone with at least a shred of a magnetic iota, and I just couldn’t latch onto anything with Robbins’ performance – his character desperately needed an injection of “bad-assness” and it hurt in that particular instance.
In the end of it all, I’d recommend Scorched Earth to fans of directionless, slam-bang wasteland pics with a touch of unrestrained violence…plus, Gina Carano is in it, so you can’t go wrong. If you’re not a fan of any of the above, feel free to skate on along to another piece of barren territory.
Looking to get your butt kicked in the apocalypse with extreme prejudice? Drive on up, and allow me to introduce you to someone who’ll be more than happy to oblige.
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