While we may never know why MGM chose to bestow Cannon turkey NEW YEAR’S EVIL with a new high definition master, but now they’ve given fans (and the curious) the opportunity to ring in the new year any time they want with this recent manufactured-on-demand DVD release.
Blaze “The First Lady of Rock and Roll” aka Diane (Roz Kelly, THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT) – hostess of the Hollywood Hotline call-in show – is hoping to compete with the major network New Year’s Eve shows with “New Year’s Evil” showcasing live performances of the New Wave bands Shadow and Made in Japan with fans in time zones across the country. As midnight nears on the east coast, Diane gets a call from a man identifying himself solely as “Evil” (Kip Niven, DAMNATION ALLEY) who tells her that his New Year’s resolution is to commit murder at midnight and the victim will be someone close to her. Diane is aloof on the air, but demands her manager Ernie (Jed Mills, KISS DADDY GOODBYE) get her police protection since she believes that her missing assistant Yvonne (Alicia Dhanifu, producer of Jamaa Fanaka’s PENITENTIARY) – killed in the pre-credits teaser, of course – is or will be the target (it’s telling that she does not show similar concern for her aspiring actor grown son Derek [Grant Cramer, HARDBODIES], but he’s preoccupied with piercing his ear and wearing her red stockings over his head). Lt. Clayton (Chris Wallace, DON’T ANSWER THE PHONE) is skeptical at first – given the freaky milieu surrounding Diane – until “Evil” calls back after midnight with a tape recording of his first killing and the location of his victim for her to tell the cops. “Evil” dons various disguises and prowls the streets of Los Angeles for victims; and PSYCHO coda-esque police shrink Dr. Reed (John Alderman, PORK CHOP HILL) surmises that the mother-obsessed killer (based on the mutilation done to the breasts of the victims) plans to commit a murder as midnight comes around in each time zone with Diane as the last victim. Clayton knows that they have a limited window time in which to catch the killer, so he seals off access to the show (although belligerent late arrivals provide plenty of distraction for the on-duty cops). He urges Diane to keep him on the line as long as possible each time he calls. It turns out the killer himself may not be able to make his own schedule when accidentally rouses the ire of some rough bikers.
NEW YEAR’S EVIL was the second of three slashers produced by Cannon (if you don’t count the pre-Golan-Globus Cannon release SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT and SAVAGE WEEKEND) bookended with SCHIZOID (with Klaus Kinski and Marianna Hill) and X-RAY/HOSPITAL MASSACRE (with Barbi Benton). I have not managed to see SCHIZOID yet, but at least the dopey HOSPITAL MASSACRE had gore, some suspense, a scantily-clad Benton and an atmospheric location; NEW YEAR’S EVIL simply has none of that. Although there are some bloody wounds, most of the killings take place offscreen and the only nudity we get is a flasher during the opening credits. The fairly bland settings, back alleys, and LA streets are more suited to a crime film than a slasher; and, with a bit more emphasis on the investigation and less on the narcissistic heroine, this film might have sat more comfortably with some of the 1980s studio slashers-masquerading-as-mainstream-thrillers-or-action-films like TIGHTROPE and THE HERO AND THE TERROR. Deprived of the lurid money shots of the slasher genre, what we have here could play on TV fairly intact if not for some language. The film probably failed to endear itself to New Wave audiences with its likening the thrashing dancers to the drugged up inmates of the institutional setting for one of the murder set-pieces. Nearing forty and decked out in punk make-up, a dog collar, red stockings, and a vinyl dress, the character of Diane isn’t particularly likable – and she may completely lose viewer sympathy when she utters the line “I’m not gonna quit, that’s what [the killer] wants!” – and Kelly can’t reconcile the terrorized heroine side of her character with the self-involved fame seeker that annoys us for most of the film. It doesn’t help that the script seems to share the killer’s view (and another character’s) of Diane, who only shows believable vulnerability when directly threatened by the killer during the climax. Kelly worked mainly in television during the mid-1970s – being particularly memorable as Pinky Tuscadero in a short stint on HAPPY DAYS – and would only make one more movie after this: the horror comedy FULL MOON HIGH. After doing voice work on the animated AMERICAN POP and another short string of TV guest shots, her career ended abruptly in 1983, and her personal life has apparently been quite troubled since then.
Although his run-in with the bikers probably threw his plans awry, one can only assume that the killer must be hopelessly insane since he plans to get away with his killing spree when one takes into account his choice of one of the killing locations, some of his not-so-concealing disguises, the automobile he initially drives, and his inability to remain inconspicuous. TV actor Niven goes all out to make this character his Scorpio with some menacing mannerisms and quirky line readings (that are fairly unoriginal now with so many killer characters turning to wit once they’ve been revealed in other thrillers), but he can never live down the hilarious, stilted, vocally-processed line readings of his first scene (“I’m going to commit… MURDER… AT… MID-NIGHT!”). Cramer – son of actress Terry Moore (DEATH DIMENSION) – also seems willing to embarrass himself in order to make something big of his acting debut; but his suspicious behavior is all-for-naught (despite the film’s big third act revelation). After the sex comedy HARDBODIES, Cramer appeared as a regular on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS for two years (he returned for a short time in the 1990s as a different character). His claim to fame is probably the lead in the Chiodo brothers’ KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE (Cramer is apparently set to star in the film’s recently announced 3-D sequel). Taaffe O’Connell (who got attacked by a giant maggot in New World’s GALAXY OF TERROR the following year), Louisa Moritz (DEATH RACE 2000) and Playboy model Teri Copley (TRANSYLVANIA TWIST) are among the Evil’s victims. Moritz earns her death by pouring on the bubbly blonde bimbo act and recommending the understandably tense killer try some yoga and transcendental meditation. Jon Greene – who plays Clayton’s sergeant – was seemingly typecast as cops with similar roles in DON’T ANSWER THE PHONE, SCHIZOID, MANIAC COP and RELENTLESS.
Director Emmett Alston started out as a cinematographer. Besides COUNTRY BLUE and the live action footage for the adult animated feature ONCE UPON A GIRL, Alston also shot the very obscure and metaphysical horror film MOONCHILD. Alston also served as production manager on VAMPIRE HOOKERS and directed THREE WAY WEEKEND before NEW YEAR’S EVIL. He did the second unit for Cannon’s ENTER THE NINJA and later directed NINE DEATHS OF THE NINJA for Crown Pictures, DEMONWARP for Vidmark, TIGERSHARK for Manson International, and the family film 3 LITTLE NINJAS AND THE LOST TREASURE (he also scripted the DELIVERENCE-esque HUNTER’S BLOOD). Besides executive producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, producer Christopher Pearce was also a Cannon regular (up until the end in the early 1990s). The film was the first executive producing credit for Billy Fine, who later gave us CHAINED HEAT and PENITENTIARY II (Fine was also originally hired to direct SAVAGE STREETS and JUNGLE WARRIORS, but was replaced on both). Co-producer Mark Rosen – who has a cameo as a New Year’s drunk – had some interesting genre credits before this with THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION, ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES, MEATCLEAVER MASSACRE, THE CLONUS HORROR, ALLIGATOR and SCHIZOID. He later produced HELL NIGHT and THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER before collaborating with Fine again on CHAINED HEAT.
Cinematographer “Edward Thomas” is actually Thomas Ackerman (BEETLEJUICE) and this was his first feature credit (although he had shot some documentaries and served as camera operator on some earlier films and TV projects. Editor Dick Brummer started out working for Russ Meyer (including editing his “Vixens” films) and would also cut SCHIZOID for Cannon. Successful disco composing/producing team W. Michael Lewis and Laurin Rinder would later score ENTER THE NINJA and REVENGE OF THE NINJA for Cannon (both had also appeared onscreen in small roles in BLOOD BEACH), but their suspense music here isn’t anything special. Neither had anything to do with the more prominent songs including Shadow’s theme Queen-esque theme song “New Year’s Evil” or Made in Japan’s “Dumb Blondes”. A special thanks is given in the closing credits to Bill Gazzarri (dubbed “The Godfather of Rock and Roll”) who opened the nightclub Gazzarri’s on the Sunset Strip in 1967. The “pay to play” club served as a launching pad for several rock acts. A soundtrack album on Cannon Records is mentioned in the closing credits, but I don’t think it was actually released (a promotional single of the theme song was distributed and can be found digitized over at YouTube).
NEW YEAR’S EVIL was one of the handful of Cannon titles that was released on VHS by Paragon in the early 1980s (along with SILENT NIGHT BLOODY NIGHT, SAVAGE WEEKEND, BEAST IN THE CELLAR, JAWS OF DEATH, CRUCIBLE OF TERROR, BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW, DRACULA’S LAST RITES, ALIEN CONTAMINATION, and some other non-genre Cannon titles like their big budget stinker THE APPLE). Cannon later reissued it on VHS on their own Cannon Video label (distributed by Warner Home Video who had signed an agreement to distribute Cannon’s post-1987 output on VHS under their own name). MGM’s single-layer, progressive, anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen encoding of the HD master (also available from various streaming services like Netflix) probably looks as good as the film can. It’s not a visually dazzling film, but the transfer is spotless and I’m guessing the gel lighting and smoke in the Hollywood Hotline scenes must not have looked too hot in the early 1980s analog video. Bad 1980s pop music or not, it’s a pity Cannon did not spring for a Dolby Stereo mix for this one, but the Dolby Digital 2.0 track gets the job done with the original mono mix. The sole extra is the film’s theatrical trailer (1:45), but we should be glad for that alone since many of their MOD discs do not even include that. (Eric Cotenas)
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