New Year’s Evil (1980) d. Emmett Alston (USA)
During an L.A. New Year’s Eve new-wave/rock concert countdown, First Lady of Rock n’ Roll Diane “Blaze” Sullivan (Roz Kelly, best known as “Pinky Tuscadero” from TV’s Happy Days) gets a phone call saying that when midnight strikes in each time zone, someone will be murdered – and she will be the last one. The film then proceeds to split its running time between the nefarious, clock-conscious killer (Kip Niven) making good on his threats, ringing in to share the bloody tidings while growing ever-closer to his ultimate quarry, and Blaze’s ear-shredding telecast and interactions with her mopey, neglected son Derek (Grant Cramer).
Sadly, this offering from first-timer Alston isn't nearly as much fun as it sounds. Outside of Niven, the acting is your below-average low-budget thesping, with the whole thing padded out by lame musical numbers and improbable mosh pits, complete with slow dancing. (“Shadow” sings the agonizingly earworm-ready title track, among other tunes, with “Made in Japan” taking up the rest of the air-time.)
However, the scenes with Niven tracking down his victims actually manage to conjure a fair amount of suspense, especially an extended sequence where he kidnaps a young teenager (a pre-We Got it Made bombshell Teri Copley) out of a drive-in theater and has a run-in with a biker gang. It’s clear that the actor is having a ball putting on the various disguises (which are admittedly a little superfluous, considering anyone who has seen him gets bumped off) and doing away with various comely lasses.
Speaking of which, Taaffee O’Connell, who would reach cult icon status the following year as the cinema’s first and only “intergalactic space worm rape victim” in Galaxy of Terror, has a memorable role here as one of the killer’s first victims.
For its Blu-ray premiere, Shout! Factory has buffed and polished the film and it looks probably as good if not better than it did 35 years ago. For the extras, Bill Olsen and Alston share the mike for the audio commentary track, and like Olsen’s mishandling of Evilspeak’s commentary, he’s completely off-putting to both the listener and his co-pilot.
|Roz Kelly reacts to Olsen's commentary|
The volatile Code Red head honcho makes ridiculous observations, many of which are offensive and unprofessional, and his speech impediment is quite distracting to endure, all while giggling derisively at the film in question. (You can sense Alston becoming increasingly irritated as the track goes on.) I’m not sure whose idea it was to give him the gig or if this was a previously recorded track for a potential Code Red release, but really, he’s among the worst moderators I’ve had the misfortune to endure. Or not, as the case may be; I could only make it through 30 minutes before turning it off out of embarrassment for Alston.
|AC at the 29:00 mark|
Far more pleasant is Aine Leicht’s “Call Me Eeevil” making-of segment, which serves up a bevy of 35th anniversary interviews with Niven, Sullivan, O’Connell, and director of photography Thomas Ackerman. All of them share fond memories and have nothing but kind words for the project and their fearless leader, who managed to pull it all together on a $600,000 budget. Evil fans will be pleased to know that Leicht gives everyone plenty of airtime to share individual showcase stories (Cramer and the pantyhose, O’Connell and her kiss/kill hospital scene, and Niven and his vocal calisthenics in creating the manipulated voice – shown on camera as being affected by a tracheostomy speaking valve – completely on his own!) The 37 minutes just fly by. (A theatrical trailer tops off the package.)
New Year’s Evil is available now from Shout! Factory and can be ordered HERE
--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine