New Year’s Evil (Emmett Alston,1980)

by Douglas Buck February 23, 2020 4 minutes (905 words)

“Is it a voice you recognize?”
“No… it’s inhuman. Evil.”
“That does not set him apart in this town. There’s enough evil floating around here to fill Death Valley.”

Los Angeles vee-jay Blaze (Roz Kelly, with I guess just enough bloom remaining on a fast fading rose after her brief tv stint as Fonzie’s tough talking girlfriend “Pinky” Tuscadero in Happy Days for the producers to think she still had some face recognition, irrespective of the distracting ‘New Yawk’ accent), hosting a New Year’s Eve rock show, finds herself contending with a nutcase caller (Kip Niven) killing a random person each hour as New Year’s hits each time zone… with the capper being the local psychologist the cops have called in having concluded (somehow, with dead certainty, no less) that Blaze is his intended last victim for the final, LA send-off of the night.

Straight from the heart of that grotty American slasher period New Year’s Evil comes, with those once golden Jews Golan and Globus of Cannon Films taking a swing this time. As formulaic as these films often were (with their psychologically-tormented male protagonists, their mother fixations and humiliated childhoods, bloody body counts on a specific holiday and reactionary views of sexuality), perhaps it’s just the nostalgic connection of their heyday coinciding with the boiling fiasco of my own early teen years that I somehow inevitably find them perversely intriguing, even when as overall blandly executed as “Evil” is.

Along with the golden era of the slasher, it was the fascinating time of lurid 80’s exploitation fare like Gary Sherman’s Vice Squad, where – as a way to stand apart and offer something different from the Hollywood studio fare — the more gritty and grotesque the view of the LA streets, the better, and, with our relatively uninspired killer Evil trolling those very streets for his next time-allotted kill, “Evil” manages to muster up some evocative views of the seedy landscape.

The acting and directing are wooden and the continuous return to the playing of the mediocre rock band (and the strangely somnambulistic celebrants on the dance floor – leading me to question every time we cut to them, who was directing these people?) that eats up the already short 80 plus minute screen time, ends up providing a lot of time to tune out (though, I have to admit, I did ultimately start finding the relatively crappy ‘metal’ song New Year’s Evil kinda catchy by the end… proving the rule, I guess, that nothing works like repetition)…

With the killer’s identity revealed right from the start (well… mostly… they do hold back one twist about him, and it’s a doozy – a preposterous one, but a doozy nonetheless) there is no ‘whodunnit’ component to keep us interested, rendering most of the scenes between Roz and the cops mostly listless, though we do wonder how Roz’s pretty boy, complete weirdo son Derek (Grant Cramer), unaccountably wearing a tuxedo, starved for affection, who keeps doing things like feverishly putting neglectful mommy’s stockings over his head when no one is around, is gonna somehow fit into it all by the end (and you can be sure he will).

New Year’s Evil isn’t a good film, by any stretch. Even the murder scenes are pretty underwhelming (it isn’t Joseph Zito directing, that’s for sure). And yet…

Like so many a slasher, even the dull ones, checking out New Year’s Evil (just a few days before the actual New Year’s, no less) provided an intriguing portal (through a slightly scratchy 35mm print, no less), a lurid peek at a strange time and place just on the outskirts of Hollywood movies. There are moments, such as the inebriated, slightly desperate middle-aged club girl coming out of the liquor store (after a very odd, dour exchange of Happy New Year’s with the black clerk who registers as more a local than a film extra), finding the car she was in now gone from the alley, then being led, one dropped shoe at a time, to the back dumpster where her violently murdered friend has been dumped for dead by Evil, in which Evil gloatingly awaits with lighter in hand to pull her in, that somehow come alive, almost despite themselves, imbued with this weird sense of scuzzy, oddball life.

It’s sordid, low-rent world where talent may not be king (or anywhere nearby), but there’s at least, on display, an attempt, sometimes even a lazy one, at good ol’, honest perversity. That counts for something in my book. The film doesn’t even have to be particularly good (case in point, New Year’s Evil), but it’s the unapologetic milieu of bad taste, without bothering with any of the canned moralizing from Hollywood, that somehow speaks closer to… something truthful.

Little side note, the dead party friend Sally is played by familiar big-boobed, high-pitched voiced Louisa Moritz, a Cannon and television regular whose familiarity led me to a little internet search after watching the film… only to discover, to my surprise, a far more savvy life lived than her ditzy roles would have anyone believe; born in Cuba, unable to speak English when she first arrived in America, she eventually graduated as a top-of-her-class lawyer and on to become a successful Beverly Hills hotel owner. Who woulda thunk it.

New Year’s Evil (Emmett Alston,1980)

Douglas Buck. Filmmaker. Full-time cinephile. Part-time electrical engineer. You can also follow Buck on “Buck a Review,” his film column of smart, snappy, at times irreverent reviews.

Buck A Review   horror   slasher film   stalker film