Recently, I wrote about Black Christmas, the 1974 horror flick that, in many ways, prefigured the ’80s slasher movie craze. It was another holiday-themed horror movie from 1978, John Carpenter’s Halloween, that cemented the type of knife movie many others would try to emulate. But it wasn’t just the masked killer stalking young women that filmmakers thought they needed to ape – they decided it was the holiday title as well. So, thereafter we got things like Friday the 13th, My Bloody Valentine, later April Fool’s Day, Bloody Birthday, and the return to Christmas with Silent Night, Deadly Night. But one of the weirder and more twisted entries in this strange cycle of holiday horror is also one of the earliest: 1980’s New Year’s Evil.
I mean, it’s right there in the name of the holiday. There was also a movie called Christmas Evil, just so you don’t think people would fail to capitalize on the OTHER famous holiday we use “Eve” for. But, without the Santa Claus image for Christmastime to pervert into something sinister, there isn’t much to visibly latch onto, so director Emmett Alston and writer Leonard Neubauer used the only other thing in the NYE catalog as a gimmick: the televised countdown show! However, it’s hard to recreate Times Square in New York for a low-budget horror movie, but it IS very easy to make Los Angeles look like it’s New Year’s Eve…because we generally do nothing.
The movie stars Roz Kelly, who was famous for playing Pinky Tuscadero, a love interest for Arthur Fonzerelli, on three episodes of Happy Days. That’s apparently all anyone needed to be famous in the ’70s. She plays Diane Sullivan, a punk and New Wave TV and radio personality who goes by the awesome name of “Blaze.” Blaze is hosting the Los Angeles get-ready-for-midnight show, Hollywood Hotline, which is evidently broadcast all over the country as counter-programming to Dick Clark. She’s very famous and doesn’t have a lot of time for her son, who looks way too old to be her son.
Using this as a backdrop, a caller begins calling into the live show wanting to speak to Blaze. The man uses a voice-distorting device and, calling himself “Eeeeee-viiiilllll,” claims that he’s going to kill a “Naughty Girl” as the clock strikes midnight in every time zone, and that Blaze will be the West Coast “Naughty Girl” to get killed. A lunatic, right? Well, true, but also a man of his word. At the stroke of 9 p.m. in Los Angeles, a nurse at an insane asylum is killed and the inmate escapes. He begins trying to find “morally lax” women that he can murder, and calls into the show with each successive body as he makes a bee-line for the TV station.
What sets this movie apart immediately is that we know who the killer is from the beginning, or rather, we see who the killer is. It’s the above handsome fella played by actor Kip Niven. Once he makes his initial phone call, we spend just as much of the film watching him drive around late-70s L.A. in an old beater, putting on frankly needless costumes (like a leisure suit and fake mustaches) to try to catch his next victim, as we do with Blaze in the studio. And throughout, while we’re watching Evil do all of these things, there are red herrings who the police and Blaze think might be after her, like a religious fanatic who objects to the kind of music she promotes and an obsessive admirer. But, like, we know these aren’t the killer… he’s on the poster for poop’s sake!
You spend most of the movie wondering if the movie is celebrating the punk and New Wave movements, with their insane hairstyles and Back to the Future part II-esque wardrobe choices, or if it’s genuinely making fun of them. There are certainly a lot of local-scene bands who show up to perform on the TV show as the story unfolds. Maybe it’s just watching it now in what is almost the year 2016 that any kind of earnest portrayal of these bands and fashion trends seems absurd and laughable, but I truly couldn’t tell what side of the aisle the filmmakers landed on. Bourgeois disco folks get murdered while punkers get into fights and start trouble. Maybe everyone’s to be ridiculed.
The movie does boast some decent gore and fairly disturbing cat-and-mouse stalking scenes. One of the more silly/memorable moments comes when a young woman opens a dumpster lid only to see Evil flick on a Zippo lighter revealing his sinister grin and fake mustache. She doesn’t have a good time after that. There’s also the film’s rather impressive finale in which Blaze is strung up in an elevator shaft and she’s mere seconds away from being killed. And I will say that the reveal of Evil’s true identity is a pretty interesting one when you realize he may not be just some nut after all.
New Year’s Evil isn’t really anyone’s idea of a perfect slasher movie. It’s quite sleazy but not in the fun ’80s way; it’s too early for that. Instead we get some nasty late-70s misogyny mixed with a music trend that, like disco, went the way of the dodo for the most part. Still, it makes the most of the city of Los Angeles and that’s a lot of fun if you know the geography, since real locations were used. And there’s a few good gore moments. Ultimately, I’d say it’s the best horror movie to take place on New Year’s Eve, second only to that Garry Marshall movie from a couple of years ago.
Images: Cannon Distribution
Kyle Anderson is the Weekend Editor as well as a film and TV critic for Nerdist.com. He does this weekly Schlock & Awe column which you can peruse right here. And give him suggestions for further movies on Twitter!