After the phenomenal commercial success of 1980’s Friday the 13th, itself an opportunistic cash-in on the success of the 1978 template slasher innovator, Halloween, along came a sharpish Cannon Films, wanting a slice of the slasher pie.
The founders of Cannon, the Israeli cousins, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, were infamous for finding niches in the market for their low-to-mid-budget productions. They were the kings of 1980’s exploitation, and the slashers of the era were a prime example of exploiting a sellable product. It was a blatant milking of a hugely profitable business module, with countless entries in this horror sub-genre, falling off the cookie cutter year in year out in the early ‘80s, exploiting the monster successes of Halloween and Friday the 13th. The graphic depictions of attractive young people gruesomely dispatched, bountiful amounts of female nudity, were the main selling points aimed towards the ravenous teenaged crowds who were yearning for such geekshow entertainment on the weekends, and they lapped it all up with much glee.
However, Cannon release, New Year’s Evil, is an incompetent mess, failing to capitalize on what can make slashers such fun. It has an absurdly farfetched premise, executed in the dullest and most inept way possible on every conceivable level. It has a distinct lack of atmosphere, is devoid of mystery and suspense, it does not deliver on the creative kills, there is no bloodletting in sight in these set-pieces either, there is only one pair of boobs to be seen, and it features an immensely unlikable protagonist. While being the most uncreative horror sub-genre due to the simplicity of its structure, slashers can be made on a shoestring budget, and due to their exploitative nature, they can easily satisfy the simple tastes of its audience, making for an easily entertaining 90-minutes. This film completely misses the mark though.
It is the night of New Year’s Eve, 1980. Being held is a live televised new wave music countdown event in celebration, hosted by one of the musical movement’s iconic ladies, Blaze (real name, Diane Sullivan), and played by Roz Kelly, who is best known for guest starring as Fonzie’s short-lived girlfriend, Pinky Tuscadero, in three episodes of “Happy Days”. At this time, the post-punk movement of new wave was coming into its own as a genre of alternative music. Cannon were trying to cash-in on two major trends of the era, making for a disastrous hybrid of exploitative opportunism here. Diane is a self-obsessed and unlikable character, who shows little interest in her actor son, Derek, played by Grant Cramer. Fans of 1988’s Killer Klowns from Outer Space, will recognize Cramer as that film’s lead character, Mike Tobacco.
While on air taking calls from viewers, Diane receives a threatening phone call from a stranger (Kip Niven) disguising his voice with a voice processor. Sounding utterly ridiculous, he says his name is “Evil.” He tells her each time the clock strikes midnight in each of North America’s time zones, he will “punish” a “naughty girl” in those locations, and she will be the last “naughty girl” he will “punish”, and that he will kill somebody close to her as well. Each time he kills, he records the sounds of his victims dying, and then calls back the TV station, playing back the tapes down the phone to prove he is for real.
Although he dons a mask in the film’s climax, the killer’s face is revealed to us from the outset. While this it is a departure in the slasher sub-genre, from usually having the antagonist wearing a mask, or their face is off camera concealing their identity until they are revealed in the finale, there are no red herrings sprinkled throughout to add to a bigger picture in this psycho’s murderous quest that will eventually lead to Diane. It is made clear whom he is from references made to his character by Diane and Derek, as he is not present in their company for the whole of the first two acts. There is no mention of unseen characters they do not interact with either, other than just talking about the possibility that it could be a crazed fan, etc. Due to this incompetent writing, we can see the killer’s real identity coming a mile off.
He also goes though different disguises, as he searches for his prey before midnight in each American time zone. Being faster than a speeding bullet, the killer manages to make it through each time zone in time without the aid of a private jet, instead driving a car, in what would also be very busy New Year’s Eve traffic.
The killer’s motive is tied to Diane’s mistreatment of her family due to her celebrity lifestyle taking priority. This means nothing when I could not have cared less about the events unfolding leading up to this reveal. Diane is an immensely unlikable protagonist, due to the neglect of her family duties, so how are we supposed to care when we take the journey with her through her terrifying ordeal. Her plight seems justified because of her selfish ways, and we feel nothing for her except feeling that she brought all this upon herself, and to an extent, deserves what is happening to her.
To make the proceedings even more uninvolving are the set-pieces. These are lifeless, with little or no build up in tension to the payoff. It is all just uninspired, lacking any creativity whatsoever, and there is hardly any blood to be seen either. The latter there would not be so much of a problem, as of course some of the greatest slasher forerunners contain little of the red stuff – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Black Christmas (1974), and Halloween (1978). The sequences in these though were expertly crafted, excelling in suspense and tension, and as well atmosphere, something that is not found here in this flat TV film-esque style.
New Year’s Evil is one of the very worst early 80’s slashers. It is a bland affair with no redeeming qualities to make it even a fun time waster. There is nothing memorable here, except for the out of place scenes of new wave punks, laughably dancing like zombies to terrible bands that adds nothing to the plot whatsoever, and is simply there to empty the pockets of the teen crowds of the time. Boring crap.