From The Parallax Review Vaults: New Year’s Evil (1980)

The following review originally was written for The Parallax Review, a film review site of which I was the co-founder and managing editor. I have decided to collect the writings I did for The Parallax Review and preserve them here. I will be posting a few of these older pieces every week. My review of New Year’s Evil was for the “Cannon Corner” column of The Parallax Review.

by Matt Wedge, Managing Editor

From 1979-1993, the Cannon Group — headed by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus — released a string of surprisingly successful low-budget films. They made stars of Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme, they lured bigger stars like Sylvester Stallone and Charles Bronson into their company, and they glommed onto huge franchise properties like Masters of the Universe, Superman, and Spider-Man. Despite the financial success of the films, the company almost always ran at a loss, and Cannon’s insistence on the lowest possible budget yielded bizarre but uniquely charming films. The goal of Cannon Corner is to pay homage to these films.

In an effort to cash in on the sudden slasher craze ushered in by Friday the 13th, the Golan-Globus team hurried this haphazard film into production. Not content with just doing a straight-up slasher film, director Emmett Alston also included a plot about an American Bandstand-style TV show that featured nothing but New Wave music. Going for the double-fad cash-in was undoubtedly a mistake. The results are as inept and artless as can be expected. Disappointingly, they are not inept in an entertaining manner. New Year’s Evil ends up being one of the most lifeless, dull films that the Cannon Group ever stamped their name on.

Diane “Blaze” Sullivan (Roz Kelly) is the “sultry” host of the New Wave TV show Hollywood Hotline. Obsessed with getting big ratings for her New Year’s Eve special, she has all but ignored her family in preparation. When a psychopath (Kip Niven) referring to himself as “Evil” (sample line of dialogue: “This is EEEE-Vil!”) calls in to Diane’s live special, promising to kill a different person at midnight in each time zone across America before finally coming after her, the police spring into action by being largely inept. As Evil slashes his way through a throng of disposable supporting characters, Diane foolishly continues to host her special, angering her emotionally unstable teenage son Derek (Grant Cramer).

This is a film that is an utter failure across every level. The story is sapped of any suspense by immediately revealing the killer’s face. The only question that remains is what his motives are and who will live to see the final credits. If you’ve ever seen a bad horror film from the late ’70s/early ’80s, the answers to those two questions are easy to figure out within the first fifteen minutes of running time. The acting is bad, but not in a deliciously awful way — merely competent enough to avoid unintentional laughter as the characters spout banal dialogue that is instantly forgettable — no cheesy, overwrought exclamations anywhere on display. The worst flaw is in the lack of blood or creative kills. The only reason people watch slasher films is to see the interesting ways that makeup effects artists destroy the human body. Here, people are lazily stabbed with a switchblade just out of view of the camera. It’s interesting that a producing pair so well-known for their abilities to understand what an audience desired from different exploitation genres would so completely misunderstand what the slasher crowd wants and demands.

The attempt to latch on to the New Wave music fad does not work any better. The film pads its running time with anemic performances by generic bands. The kids dancing to these performances shuffle lazily like tired zombies, sucking the last little bit of potential energy from the film.

The only “fun” to be mined from the proceedings is to take note of just how much things have changed in the thirty years since the film was released. The filmmakers get away with things that today would find special interest groups protesting outside of theaters playing the film. It’s breezily misogynistic with Evil targeting only women. It then takes this misogyny even further by explaining his motive is to punish career-driven women because they are amoral. The film only provides Diane as an example of a career-woman and she is indeed kind of a horrible human being. There is a scene in an insane asylum that is played for laughs as the zombie-like patients shuffle-dance to Diane’s TV special. This wouldn’t seem so bad, except for the shots of the nurses and orderlies laughing at the patients while mocking them. But even these bouts of bad taste fail to entertain beyond the obvious reaction that the scenes are so cluelessly offensive.

New Year’s Evil is a rare misfire in the Cannon oeuvre that fails to entertain on even an “it’s so bad, it’s good” level. This one is for Golan-Globus completists only.

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