Starring Roz Kelly, Grant Cramer, Kip Niven
Directed by Emmett Alston
Distributed by The Scream Factory
While Joe Six Pack might wait until Halloween to bust out the scary stuff, horror fans only have one time of year they watch fright films: all the time. Not that it ever gets old, but a sporadic way to break up the monotony is through holiday horrors. Odds are pretty good that if a film is set on a major holiday it’ll be getting a yearly viewing from most diehards… even if it’s terrible. This explains how Uncle Sam (1996) winds up in my player every July 4th. Thankfully, New Year’s Evil (1980) is not terrible, even if it is a fairly run-of-the-mill slasher. The film comes across slightly smarter than expected because it incorporates the normal festivities of New Year’s Eve into the plot, turning moments typically of celebration into fear. It also gets another bonus point for a third act reveal that is unexpected (if not a tad cliché) assuming you haven’t checked the cast list on IMDb and ruined it for yourself – which is exactly what I did.
It’s New Year’s Eve! And all the cool kids are celebrating at a taping of Hollywood Hotline, a punk rock & new wave show hosted by Diane “Blaze” Sullivan (Roz Kelly). The show is hosting a late-night countdown, with bands playing on stage and a dozen people standing by to take phone call requests. Diane gets a call from a “fan” who calls himself “Evil” and states that he will murder someone each time the clock strikes midnight in a different time zone, with her to be the final victim. Diane’s security team puts the building on lockdown and keeps her and her son, Derek (Grant Cramer), secured. Meanwhile, victims begin to arrive one per hour as the first stroke of midnight brings with it a nurse’s death. Evil records his crimes and call the show after the deed is done, playing back his promises. It isn’t long before the trail of bodies leads directly to Diane’s dressing room.
This was a fun movie, even for a first time viewer like me who has seen a hundred slashers. Is it original? Absolutely not, but it is very entertaining in a “14-year-old staying up late to watch USA’s “Up All Night” kind of way”. Having the killer strike at midnight works perfectly as a plot device, and it seems like such a natural choice to play up the film’s holiday ties. Perhaps one of the best aspects to the production is the decision to reveal the killer early on. I always find this a creepier approach than the boilerplate “hide in the shadows for 85 minutes” killers in the majority of slasher films. This guy is fairly debonair, too; think of Ted Bundy and you’re on the right track. Even better, he’s got a streak of John “Hannibal” Smith (leader of The A-Team (1983-1987), as played by George Peppard) in him because he shows up at each victim’s location wearing extremely convincing outfits. His third act skirmish with a biker gang (!) is so preposterous and deliciously B-grade cinema. Don’t forget, folks, this is a Cannon Films production – always expect the outrageous and then some.
If there’s one thing to remember the film by, however, it’s the title song; a damn catchy one, too. New Year’s Evil, as performed by Roxanne Seeman and Eduardo del Barrio, spent four days blaring the opening lines in my head before I could get it out. It plays on the Blu-ray’s menu, it opens the film and it may be used one other time; I’m not sure. It’s one of those infectious tunes that are impossible to shake. With all these vinyl companies putting out obscure soundtracks these days, someone please get this on a 7”.
New Year’s Evil is a perfectly decent slasher movie while also being highly enjoyable to watch for the sheer ridiculousness of it all – making it the ideal choice to pop on with a group of wasted friends on its namesake holiday. Or, perhaps, by yourself, Smirnoff Ice in hand, lamenting another year gone by with no social life to show for it. Either way you’re destined for Fun City.
This is the Blu-ray debut for New Year’s Evil, having previously been issued on a burn-on-demand DVD from MGM. The film’s 1.78:1 1080p image appears to have been faithfully reproduced, for better or worse. This is not a good looking film by any means, but it’s about as cleaned up as it needs to be. The print sourced from MGM is in good shape, with the only real anomaly showing up in the form of a yellow vertical line appearing 1/3 of the way across the screen for three shots. It’s a very minor defect. Line work in the shadows tends to fade into a murky mess, and black levels get pretty noisy when it’s really dark. That’s all the bad stuff. On a positive note, closeups reveal nice little details in faces and clothing textures. Colors are nicely saturated. Other than some grain spikes during night scenes, the majority of the appearance is very filmic.
The English DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track has exactly one issue with it, a high-pitched ringing that occurs for around ten seconds at approximately 30 minutes into the movie. That aside, this is a typically competent audible offering from Scream Factory. Dialogue is balanced and discernible, songs have a moderate presence and sound effects are given good weight. There could be a bit more oomph to the sourced music, especially that theme song, but this gets the job done just fine. Subtitles are included in English.
The film’s audio commentary features writer & director Emmett Alston, and it’s a bit on the dry side. Code Red’s Bill Olsen is on hand to moderate the proceedings, which delve into typical production speak about location shooting, budgetary concerns, how Alston got hooked up with Cannon, etc. It’s a subdued affair that even serious fans of the film may find boring.
“The Making of New Year’s Evil” is a behind-the-scenes piece that runs for nearly 40 minutes. This is yet another in a series of winning behind-the-scenes pieces from Scream Factory, featuring interviews with many cast & crew members who offer up all sorts of interesting anecdotes and reminisce fondly on their time making the movie. Stick around through the brief credits for a fun scene at the end.
The film’s theatrical trailer is included in HD.
- Brand new HD transfer of the film
- Audio commentary with director Emmett Alston
- The Making of New Year’s Evil documentary featuring new interviews with actors Kip Niven, Grant Cramer, and Taaffe O’Connell and director of photography Thomas Ackerman
- Original theatrical trailer
Desolation Review: Campers + Lunatic = Simplicity, But Not Always a Better Product
Starring Jaimi Page, Alyshia Ochse, Toby Nichols
Directed by Sam Patton
I’m usually all in when it comes to a psycho in the woods flick, but there was just something about Sam Patton’s Desolation that seemed a bit distant for me…distance…desolation – I’m sure there’s a connection in there somewhere. Either that or I’m suffering from a minor case of sleep-deprivation. Either way, make sure you’ve got your backpack stuffed, cause we’re hitting the timber-lands for this one.
The film focuses on mother and son tandem Abby and Sam, and the tragic notion that Abby’s love and father to her son, has passed away. The absence has been a crippling one, and Abby’s idea of closure is to take her adolescent offspring to the woods where her husband used to love to run and scatter his ashes as a memorial tribute. Abby invites her best friend Jenn along as emotional support, and together all three are planning on making this trip a fitting and dedicatory experience…until the mystery man shows up. Looking like a member of the Ted Kaczynski clan (The Unabomber himself), this creepy fellow seems content to simply watch the threesome, and when he ultimately decides to close the distance, it’ll be a jaunt in the forest that this close-knit group will never forget.
So there you have it – doesn’t beg a long, descriptive, bled-out dissertation – Patton tosses all of his cards on the table in plain view for the audience to scan at their leisure. While the tension is palpable at times, it’s the equivalent of watching someone stumble towards the edge of a cliff, and NEVER tumble over…for a long time – you literally watch them do the drunken two-step near the lip for what seems like an eternity. What I’m getting at is that the movie has the bells and whistles to give white-knucklers something to get amped about, yet it never all seems to come into complete focus, or allow itself to spread out in such a way that you can feel satisfied after the credits roll. If I may harp on the performance-aspect for a few, it basically broke down this way for me: both Abby and Jenn’s characters were well-displayed, making you feel as if you really were watching long-time besties at play. Sam’s character was a bit tough to swallow, as he was the sadder-than-sad kid due to his father’s absence, but JEEZ this kid was a friggin malcontented little jerk – all I can say is “role well-played, young man.”
As we get to our leading transient, kook, outsider – whatever you want to call him: he simply shaved down into a hum-drum personality – no sizzle here, folks. Truly a disappointment for someone who was hoping for an enigmatic nutbag to terrorize our not-so-merry band of backpackers – oh well, Santa isn’t always listening, I guess. Simplicity has its place and time when displaying the picture-perfect lunatic, and before everyone gets a wild hair across their ass because of what I’m saying, all this is was the wish to have THIS PARTICULAR psycho be a bit more colorful – I can still appreciate face-biters like Hannibal Lecter and those of the restrained lunacy set. Overall, Desolation is one of those films that had all the pieces meticulously set in place, like a house of cards…until that drunk friend stumbled into the table, sending everything crumbling down. A one-timer if you can’t find anything else readily available to watch.
Looking for a little direction way out in the woods? Look elsewhere, because this guide doesn’t have a whole lot to offer.
Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political
Starring Noa Maiman, Aki Avni, Yafit Shalev, Iftach Ophir, Michael Ironside
Directed by Eitan Gafny
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
Slashers are a subgenre of horror that are often looked down upon. After all, what can a movie about a killer slaughtering multiple people have to say about, well…anything. Those of us in the community know full well that this is nonsense and that any kind of horror movie can be a jabbing (no pun intended) commentary on society, culture, politics, art, etc… And that’s precisely what Eitan Gafny aims to do with Children of the Fall, one of the few Israeli slashers ever created.
Set on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, the film follows Rachel (Maiman), a young American woman who comes to Israel to join a kibbutz after suffering some serious personal tragedies. Her goal to make aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) is however hampered by some rather unpleasant encounters with local IDF soldiers and members of the kibbutz. Pushing through, she makes friends with others in the commune and her Zionistic views are only strengthened, although they do not go untested. Once Yom Kippur, one of the holiest holidays in Jewish culture, begins, a killer begins picking off the kibbutz workers one by one in violent and gruesome ways.
Let’s start with what Children of the Fall gets right, okay? As slashers go, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are wonderfully expansive shots that make use of the size and diversity of the kibbutz. The film opens with a beautiful shot of a cow stable, barn, water towers, and miscellaneous outbuildings, all set against a dark and stormy night. The lighting of this scene, and throughout the film, is also very good. I found myself darting my eyes across the screen multiple times throughout the film thinking I’d seen something lurking in the shadows.
The kills, while unoriginal, are very satisfying. Each death is meaty, bloody, and doesn’t feel rushed. In fact, the camera has no problems lingering during each kill, allowing us to appreciate the practical FX and copious amounts of blood used. And if you believe that a slasher needs to have nudity, you won’t be disappointed.
The acting is middle of the road. Maiman is serviceable as Rachel but the real star of the film is Aki Avni as “Yaron”. His range of emotion is fantastic, from warm and welcoming to Rachel when she arrives to emoting grief and pain during his Yom Kippur announcement where we learn that he was a child in a concentration camp. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable as fodder for the killer.
So where does Children of the Fall stray? Let’s start with the most obvious part: the runtime. Clocking in at nearly two hours, that’s about 30 minutes too much. The film could easily have gone through some hefty editing without affecting the final product. Instead, we have a movie that feels elongated when unnecessary.
Additionally, the societal and political commentary is very in-your-face but the film can’t seem to make up its mind as to what it’s trying to get across. Natalia, a Belarussian kibbutz worker, raises the concept of Israeli racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, her hostility unabashedly pouring out in the midst of IDF soldiers, locals, other kibbutz members, and more. Is there validity to what she’s saying? Undoubtedly. But there is also validity to Rachel’s retorts, which include calling this woman out on her own vitriolic views. This back-and-forth mentality frustratingly prevails throughout the film, as though Gafny was unwilling to just commit.
The dialogue is also quite painful at times, although I attribute this to difficulties with translating from Hebrew to English. Even the best English speakers in Israel don’t get everything perfect and the little quirks here and there, while charming, are quite detracting. Also, why is this movie trying to tell me that Robert Smith of The Cure is a character here? While amusing, it makes absolutely no sense nor does it fit in Smith’s own timeline.
Had this film gone through a couple rounds of editing, I feel like we’d have gotten something really great. Eitan Gafny is definitely someone that we need to be watching very closely.
While Children of the Fall has a lot going for it, it has just as much working against it. Overly long, you’ll get a really great slasher that is bogged down by uneven social and political commentary.
Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama
Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein
Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.
The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.
Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.
The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.
While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.
All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.
Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.
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