Black Christmas and Halloween didn’t just kick off the slasher subgenre – they turned filmmakers on to holiday-themed horror movies. Following on the heels of Halloween, Friday the 13th, My Bloody Valentine, April Fool’s Day, Graduation Day, and Uncle Sam all capitalized on the calendar. Despite the extent to which it’s celebrated, New Year’s Eve hasn’t received quite as much attention. Arguably, the Jamie Lee Curtis slasher, Terror Train, is the most well known – and best – example of a New Year’s-themed slasher movie. But for anyone who grew up in the 1980s and wandered the aisles of early video stores, you probably remember the VHS cover art for New Year’s Evil. As familiar as the promotional art may have been, New Year’s Evil is pretty obscure as far as 80s slashers go.
It’s New Year’s Eve and popular ‘New Wave’ DJ Diane Sullivan, or ‘Blaze’, is hosting a late-night dance party in a Los Angeles Club. But early in the evening a crazed psychopath calls into the live broadcast promising to kill one woman at midnight in each time zone ending with Blaze herself. True to his word, the caller – who calls himself ‘Evil’ – takes on victim for each passing of the year.
New Year’s Evil Missing Most of the Thrills We Associate With 80s Slashers
Anyone who’s watched a lot of early 80s slashers will recognize the aesthetics that define New Year’s Evil. Thought it’s not as cheap looking as some Grindhouse thrillers from the same era it’s clearly a low-budget slasher. Where New Year’s Evil most noticeably departs from a Friday the 13th or My Bloody Valentine is its narrative structure. Released at the tail-end of 1980, this slasher has a handful of slasher tropes but it’s not as rote of a slasher movie as a Terror Train or Prom Night. In particular, director Emmett Alston and writer Leonard Neubauer largely forego the ‘whodunnit’ of slasher movies. There’s also no ‘and then there were none’ approach to the pretty limited body count.
Instead, New Year’s Evil spends quite a bit of time with its killer to underwhelming results. Some scenes feel like complete diversions from the story, including a random chase with bikers. Alston isn’t even trying to make a psychological study of a killer like Maniac or The Driller Killer. In addition, Alston and Neubauer’s approach sucks out the potential for any sort of suspense. It doesn’t help that the kills lack imagination and are largely repetitive. On the plus side, New Year’s Evil is rarely boring – Alston keeps the story moving along. And there’s a couple of lively scenes including a finale that wouldn’t be out of place in one of The Cannon Group’s B-action movies.
New Year’s Evil Spends Too Much Time With Its Bland Killer
Arguably, New Year’s Evil gained what little reputation it boasts from what was reported as its ‘punk rock’ soundtrack. Unlike some other 80s B-horror movies, the music here isn’t quite as generic, but it hardly qualifies as punk rock. This is pretty far removed from what you’ll hear in Return of the Living Dead. Rather New Year’s Evil mimics what it thinks punk looks and sound like with the end result mostly sounding like glam metal. Throw in some slowed down blues and a bit of new wave and it’s not nearly as punk as slasher history claims.
Unlike some other 80s B-horror movies, the music here isn’t quite as generic, but it hardly qualifies as punk rock.
As for its cast, New Year’s Evil stars absolutely no one you’ll recognize. Roz Kelly – whose biggest credit was a small role in Happy Days – barely factors into a movie that should revolve around her character. Despite being the slasher’s ‘sort of’ Final Girl, Kelly has almost nothing to do as the movie largely focuses on its killer. It’s an odd story choice that leaves Kelly’s ‘Blaze’ sidelined and unsympathetic. Kip Niven’s killer is only marginally more interesting. Aside from the laughable altered voice he uses, Niven’s killer only stands out for two reasons. He has an interesting mask that only pops up in the final scenes of the movies. And the killer’s motives interestingly predict current cultural concerns with incel culture.
New Year’s Evil a Minor Entry in 80s Slashers
Maybe the best thing about New Year’s Evil is its VHS cover art. Otherwise this is pretty much an unremarkable early 80s slasher movie. Though it’s not quite bottom-of-the-barrel, there’s little to no suspense, no jump scares. and the kills barely register. Too much time is also spent with the killer – the effect is to kill any possible mystery. Moreover, the narrative choice reduces audience identification with the Final Girl who barely factors into the movie. On the plus side, New Year’s Evil is never boring and the climax is actually pretty well done. But most horror fans can skip this one.