Ring in 2024 with ‘New Year’s Evil’

New Year's Evil

The undeniable ripple effect of John Carpenter’s Halloween is still being felt today over 45 years later. Holiday horror and the slasher genre as we know it simply wouldn’t exist without it. Dark Night of the Scarecrow, Night of the Demons, The Crow, and countless other October-set classics branched out of Halloween‘s twisted roots. The copious amount of notable knockoffs soon proved too many to be contained within one single holiday, leading to other slashers spilling out over the Christmas season as well. To date, there have been well over a hundred Christmas horror movies, far outweighing the current total of murderous tales taking place on All Hallow’s Eve.

Besides Blood Rage and Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving, nothing particularly horrific tends to happen on Turkey Day. That goes for New Year’s Eve as well, it turns out. As it currently stands, Terror Train is the clear contender as the most recognized NYE shocker. But as this year grinds to a halt, it’s time to ring in the new year with Emmett Alston‘s 1980 New Wave slasher New Year’s Evil.

Released in December of 1980, New Year’s Evil was Golan and Globus’s rather obvious attempt to cash in on the new slasher craze sweeping across the nation. As the founders of the illustrious Cannon Films, the now infamous film producers took advantage of a catchy title attached to a holiday date that hadn’t been fully exploited yet. Almost by accident, they managed to stitch together a weirdly engaging madcap murder mystery seething with 80s punk rock revelry.

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The nascent mainstream slasher industry was just getting started when New Year’s Evil hit, giving it an instant jolt. Taking a cue from the marketing ploy of Friday the 13th, the title and the poster had already sold the movie to a certain extent before one ticket had been purchased. Looking back now, the tropes of the genre make Alston’s film seem derivative. But at the end of 1980, this was still all fairly new territory. Honestly, the premise of New Year’s Evil is actually quite ingenious, even by today’s standards.

An anonymous would-be killer calls into a popular new wave pop DJ’s live broadcast on New Year’s Eve threatening to murder someone before the stroke of midnight. The disguised voice on the other end of the payphone also makes it clear that he’ll choose a victim in each time zone until he picks one final casualty residing in Los Angeles where the live countdown is taking place. Does everyone listening seem to care? Not really. They just want to party all night.

One obvious deviation from the slasher norm is the fact that New Year’s Evil has absolutely no problem revealing who the killer is from the outset. Played with his particular brand of bo-hunk soap opera sleaze, actor Kip Niven plays the New Year’s slayer Richard Sullivan. Making good on his promise, Sullivan (nicknamed “Evil”), takes out his first victim right when the clock strikes midnight in Chicago. As the time continues to tick down, the targets seem completely random at first. There’s a clear misogynistic streak, however, that hints at a pattern. As the movie plays out, there’s more and more focus on the aging rock ‘n’ roll radio host beaming out over the radio.

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At the time, 37-year-old Roz Kelly—who plays DJ Blaze in New Year’s Evil—was best known as Fonzie’s girlfriend Pinky Tuscadero on Happy Days. Here, she winds up being the final target of Sullivan’s wrath, and the two characters definitely have a sordid, sultry history together. What makes Blaze stand out so much from other slasher starlets is the fact that she’s older, wiser, and generally just doesn’t give a fuck. She’s a survivor, molded out of the grittiness of the Sunset Strip. Just as the final girl was becoming horror’s latest formula and Jamie Lee Curtis was in the midst of being labeled as a Scream Queen, Blaze was decidedly more punk rock.

When Terror Train hit theaters just two months before New Year’s Evil in October of 1980, Jamie Lee Curtis was on one of horror’s greatest movie streaks. Halloween, The Fog, and Prom Night came in quick succession, solidifying Curtis as a legitimate box office draw. And she definitely didn’t stay inside that box for long, to her credit. That string of success is one of the reasons why Terror Train doesn’t really feel like it’s set on New Year’s Eve at all.

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The holiday is merely a backdrop where the burgeoning prank-gone-wrong horror setup can be employed once again. Teens on a train are immediately compelling because they’re all trapped in a bloody boxcar with a masked killer. Stripped of that setting and the holiday itself, Terror Train is really just Prom Night all over again with a dash of Murder on the Orient Express thrown in for good measure. Much like Prom Night, all of the teens in Terror Train also still seem like kids who are still firmly planted in the late 1970s.

New Year’s Evil, on the other hand, uses New Year’s Eve as the driving plot device. The inevitable ball drop works as a ticking bomb. It’s also one of the first slashers that genuinely feels like it’s taking place in what becomes known as the definitive idea of the 1980s. The energy of the L.A. punk scene is swirling and slam-dancing throughout the entire film. The neon-clad punkers pogoing at DJ Blaze’s concert extravaganza are endlessly entertaining. (One overweight attendee with his arms wrapped up in bubble wrath sheaths is a personal favorite, not to be missed). The title song “New Year’s Evil” by the band Shadow is so annoyingly catchy that it’s even starting to wind up on some current NYE party playlists.

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Going against convention, New Year’s Evil also provides a better twist. David Copperfield, sadly, is not the killer in Terror Train. During the third act of New Year’s Evil, it turns out there are actually two psychopaths, Richard Sullivan and his son (who does raise suspicions early on with his tendency to wear pantyhose on his head). Again, that may seem predictable now, but that kind of reveal wasn’t the norm back in 1980. In the final minutes of New Year’s Evil when the killer decides to finally put on a disguise, the Stan Laurel mask he wears is also a lot creepier than the Groucho Marx mask in Terror Train, although it’s definitely not as iconic.

Without a doubt, Terror Train is the most watched out of the two and it’s, undoubtedly, an early ’80s slash-ic. Because of that, it’s lost some of its inherent re-watchability. As the lesser known of both NYE slashers, New Year’s Evil deserves a little more respect and attention for its unlikely staying power, even if what sets it apart might’ve been entirely unintentional.



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