Well it's 2010; officially the future according to most of the post-apocalyptic films I watch. In fact, we've outlasted scores of cinematic omens and, while gas is absurdly expense, we have not yet entered Road Warrior territory. In reverence of the dawning of a near year, and while I was six different kinds of trashed on New Year's Eve, I pondered the plethora of holiday themed horror out there. Ultimately, after drunk-dialing an old girlfriend and vomiting with enough ferocity as to terrify Regan MacNeil, I decided to spend a year charting the holidays as only our beloved horror genre could deliver them. Each month I will examine one film with an appropriate temporal tie-in and strive to cast a bloody shadow over any semblance of merriment. Though a bit late, the first film of this new feature will be the obscure, but fantastic,New Year's Evil.
New Year's Evil revolves around a rocking party, of the same name, celebrating the passing of another year. The hostess is an aged new wave radio DJ who, inexplicably, has a massive youth culture following. The party features live feeds from New Year's parties in three additional timezones so they can watch the ball drop four times. As the dancing and the shrieking rock fills the penthouse ballroom, Diane the DJ (yes, that is her uber rock-n-roll name) begins to take calls. A madman with a robotic voice breaks through and announces that he will kill one person upon the stroke of each midnight; saving Diane herself for last. Is it a prank, or the onset of a nightmare no one will be able to forget?
I love the ever-living hell out of this film. It was made in the 80's so the requisite cheese is alive and well. I think my favorite laughable misstep is the background acting. The dance floor is composed of the decade's runoff who mosh wildly to every fast song, and stumble like befuddled zombies to the slow songs. I honestly believe some of the extras were misinformed and believed they were in a Romero film. There is also a scene where a "punk" is trying to get into the now quarantined New Year's Eve party and the cops are refusing him entry. His wet noodle toughness is so easily deflected by the rent-a-cops that it is not difficult to understand why the killer in the bushes is the foreground action. The voice box the killer uses is silly, but nowhere near as silly as the words he chooses to intimidate DJ Jazzy Diane. Just listen to the way he says the word, "murder", and you'll understand.
There is also a subplot about the DJ's son who is slowly going insane. He has these lines of dialogue that the actor completely thrown away but are thereby hilarious because they seem to have no context. But the advancing stages of his madness get weirder and weirder. Actually, that's giving the film too much credit. It isn't a gradual descent into madness, more like a choppy, left-field spasm into lunacy. At one point, and I wish I was making this up, he has a stocking on his head and is shoving bars through his ears. The audience I saw this with was in hysterics at this point.
But for all of its faults, there are some very impressive elements to New Year's Evil. It is surprisingly clever and does a decent job creating atmosphere. The music and slow reveals, the dark hallways and gleaming blades nicely counterbalance the goofy dancing and obnoxious victims. It also has subtle flashes of satire that are unexpected, but respectable. For example, there is a moment where the killer poses as an orderly at an asylum. The New Year's Evil party is in full swing on the television in the rec room and as the camera pans back from the screen, the patients' aimless, mindless shifting looks exactly like the dancing of the party-goers on TV. In the middle of a cheesy 80's horror film, we get a commentary on just how ridiculous a decade it truly was. Not only that, but there is a cool little twist to the ending that, looking back, may be painfully obvious on second viewing, but I enjoyed the extra effort displayed by the writers.
But ultimately there are two main reasons to watch this film: the kills and the theme song. The kills, again utilizing that better-than-average level of atmosphere, are immensely fun. The slow raising of the knife as disembodied voices on the radio bark out the seconds counting down to midnight really got my horror geek blood pumping. I also love the kill where it looks as if a dumpster eats a girl. The killer changing disguises between kills and having a different lure for each of his victims lent a certain real-world serial killer credibility to the character. Also, I defy you not to sing along with the rocking anthem. The first few lyrics are riotously unintelligible but when you get to the titular chorus, you will strain your voice in an attempt to match that blazing falsetto.
As slasher films go, this one is not the greatest but certainly stands out among most of the schlock perpetrated by this decade. I say that, but I will watch anything and everything the 1980's gave us. This movie truly rocks and is the perfect way to kick off this tidal wave of horror-themed holidays. Join us next month when we dive into everyone's favorite chalky candy-giving season: St. Valentine's Day.