New Year's Evil (1980)
"This New Year's, you're invited to a killer party"
During a New Year's Eve celebration, New Wave rock show host Diane gets a phone call saying that when New Year's strikes in each time zone in America, someone will be murdered - and she will be the last one. Though no one believes him at first, once the bodies begin to pile up the police realise that he’s the real deal and begin to search for him before time runs out and Diane becomes the next target.
One of the last of the holiday-themed horror films from the 80s that I hadn’t seen, New Year’s Evil is relatively routine, overly plodding and downright dull at times, lightened up by the odd moment of inspiration. I mean they managed to put horrors spins onto every other holiday of the year (take your pick from Friday the 13th, Halloween, any number of Christmas-themed horrors, April Fool’s Day, My Bloody Valentine, Prom Night, a couple of birthday slashers and of course, Mother’s Day) so why not New Year as well? After all, it’s one of the busiest nights of the year around the world and I’m sure that some people use it to create as much mischief or mayhem as possible whilst everyone is out partying and celebrating.
Tagged along in the slasher bracket because that was what was popular at the time, New Year’s Evil isn’t so much of a typical entry into that sub-genre. The body count is pretty low, there’s not a lot of stalking and we know who the killer is before the first third of the film is over, despite the pointless presence of some red herrings. If we’re shown who the killer is, what is the point in providing these seedy, weird characters and giving them a load of screen time? None of them further the plot in any shape. In fact the film makes the killer something of the prime focus of the film – we spend more time with him prowling around looking for his next victim than we do with some of the other characters. It’s a different approach to the norm – usually slashers introduce a bunch of characters to be the main focus of the film, give them some development and then have the killer come in and start taking them apart. Sometimes these characters work, sometimes they don’t depending on the script. But at least they’re the focus, and some of them will last all the way until the end, giving us a reason to emotionally invest in them. Here, the characters show up briefly for a few minutes of screen time before they’re killed off and the psycho moves on to the next non-character. There’s no one to root for – we can’t cheer on the killer (for obvious reasons) and there’s no point in pretending to care for any character that gets a handful of lines before dying.
On the flip side to this, having the killer as the focus of the film (and he’s not meant to be a sympathetic, tragic character either) gives us a rare chance to see some of the lengths that a determined psycho will go to in order to succeed. The killer would have been a better undercover agent than a murderer as he adopts a number of costumes and guises throughout the film in order to get close to, win the trust of, and then murder his victim. From a mild-mannered priest to a charismatic doctor, this killer loves dressing up. Since he does a lot of talking, we get to know the guy quite well within the running time and Kip Niven does a fair job of making him into a fully-rounded character. He’s a bit nutty and completely misogynist but at least there are attempts to flesh him out. Splashed on the back of the DVD cover is the killer wearing a strange mask which he does wear late in the film and comes off far more interesting and scary than anything he had come up with in the past. I guess this is how New Year's Evil was sold though – another masked killer on the rampage.
This would be all well and good if the film was any decent but New Year’s Evil is bland beyond belief. As I’ve said, the body count is pretty low and we’re mainly subjected to the killer’s attempts to carry out his next attack in between. This is interspersed with a number of awfully-dated scenes set in the music phone-in show which showcase a lot of terrible late 70s/early 80s fashion and music - the hairstyles and crazy clothes during the ‘mosh pit’ scenes are laughable, especially looking back over thirty years later. The soundtrack is awful too, with the title track being replayed a number of times during the film (as if the rock show only has one record to repeat). There are a few other New Wave tracks in there which help to pad out the running time far longer than it needs to be as the radio show’s in-house band perform live.
Though the body count is low and the kills are pretty bloodless when they come, they are at least more original than the usual methods of dispatch – how many times can you say you’ve seen someone handcuffed to the bottom of a lift (not quite a kill but near enough) or choked to death with a bag of marijuana? The problem the film has is that this killer doesn’t stalk people or wait in the shadows, he gets to know them first. I don’t watch horror films to see Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees have a cup of tea with their next victim before slicing their heads off. This approach kills off any attempts at suspense or tension or even scares.
The basic problem with New Year’s Evil is that it doesn’t really know how it wants to set itself out. By trying to be different with its focus on the killer, it loses everything that would have made the film at least a cheesy watch. If it wanted to be a slasher and sit right at home in the ‘Golden Age’ of the slasher, then it went about everything the wrong way. With 1980 and 1981 arguably being the two best years for slashers, you’re spoiled for choice and have no reason whatsoever to want to check out New Year’s Evil – unless you’re a slasher completist.
New Year's Evil
Director(s): Emmett Alston
Writer(s): Leonard Neubauer (screenplay), Emmett Alston (story)
Actor(s): Roz Kelly, Kip Niven, Chris Wallace, Grant Cramer, Louisa Moritz, Jed Mills, Taaffe O'Connell
Duration: 85 mins