Sometimes, I disappoint myself. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. I CONSTANTLY disappoint myself. However, in this specific instance, I am disappointed in myself for never hearing about what should be revered as a holiday genre classic. It is a fun, fast paced, 80s cheese fest which I think any fan of horror, particularly early 80s goober horror, should see. I’m talking about 1980’s New Year’s Evil.
Let’s start with the plot. A radio DJ named Blaze is hosting a New Year’s Eve party that spans all 4 American time zones, with live check ins from New York, Chicago, and Aspen, before celebrating the New Year live in LA. At the start of the party, Blaze receives a call from a man calling himself “Evil”, claiming he will commit a murder at each midnight. As the last midnight approaches, and the bodies keep piling up, the action converges on the hotel where Blaze is hosting the party. Who is this “Evil”, and will the police stop him before it’s too late for Blaze?There is a lot to love about this movie. Firstly, the music in it is awesome. One of the obvious perks of setting your movie in an early 80s punk/new wave concert is that you get an awesome early 80s punk/new wave soundtrack. You also get adorable early 80s movie punk stereotypes, which is another bonus. I guess it takes place on New Years Day either 1980 or 1981, but it’s really so timeless that it could easily take place in 1982. Pretty much just one of those three years. I guess it’s the opposite of timeless and I’m a liar.
Also, the characters are all pretty entertaining in either the “totally believable person dealing with serious shit” way, or the “this person is ridiculous to a totally amazing degree” way. The former is probably best represented by Blaze (Roz Kelly). Kelly is probably best known as Pinky Tuscadero from Happy Days. I never really watched that show, as it fell in that nebulous historical era of “stuff that happened before I was born”, but I had heard the name Pinky Tuscadero before. So, naturally I was surprised to learn that she was only in 3 episodes. It seems kind of odd that a character who only appeared in 3 episodes of a TV show managed to find its way into the pop culture zeitgeist. But anyway, Kelly is a decent enough actress, and she does well here as the story’s lead. Blaze is career minded, without being a bitch about it (more on that later), pretty strong willed and resourceful, and has a sexuality that never veers into trashy or needy territories. She is actually one of the better “Final Girls” in 80s horror.
Then, you have the cartoon characters. Blaze’s son Derek, played by Grant Cramer (no, not the SAME Grant Cramer from Santa Claws, thank God) is extremely hard to explain. He makes his entrance wearing tuxedo tails over blue jeans, and sporting a perpetually confused vacant stare. It is alluded to that he may have some mental disorders, but it is never outright stated, which honestly left me scratching my head at a few of the scenes. It would make sense if he was being set up as a potential suspect for “Evil”, but we’re shown Evil’s face right off the bat, so we know that Derek is not the killer. I guess it does serve to foreshadow the random twist ending. He is a perplexing, but extremely entertaining character.
Which brings us to Evil himself, played by Kip Nevin. Like I said earlier, we see his face right away, and the whodunit aspect of the movie is more of a “who is he, and how does he fit in the plot?” than a “which character is the killer?” scenario. But it’s fairly obvious who he is after the first couple scenes. It makes the reveal in the 3rd act a bit weak, but it’s forgivable since the murder mystery element of this movie is secondary at best. Anyway, Evil uses one of those Mick Mars voice box dealies to disguise his voice over the phone. A funny side effect of this is that it gives him the same speech patterns as a petulant two year old. Also, he commits his murders using awesome pick up lines and crazy costumes. He is really dedicated to the character work aspects of his craft. He is also a woman hater with severe mommy issues who chops the breasts off his victims, which would confuse the tone of this movie if it wasn’t just mentioned once in a throwaway line by a background character.
Like most 80s horror, there is an undercurrent of misogyny, though. As I mentioned earlier, the Blaze character is fairly well rounded, but she is portrayed as a bad wife and mother because she has a job that is important to her. This is apparent in one scene in particular where she is getting ready for the concert party, what is likely the biggest night of her professional life. Her son walks in, and is excited that he landed a part in a TV show. Blaze is understandably preoccupied, and asks if he can tell her all about it after the show. This seems like an extremely reasonable request, but she gets portrayed as a neglectful parent, and that just rubbed me the wrong way here. In addition to this, every other female character in the movie seems to fall somewhere on the fucktoy-murder victim venn diagram. I guess this is somewhat forgivable since the killer’s motivation doors involve an irrational hatred of women.
In the end, this is by no means a perfect film, but there is a lot in it to like. The four midnight murders plot actually creates a pretty unique plot structure, and behind it is a backdrop of early 80s new wave cheese. The performances are generally pretty good, and the story is engaging and fast moving. Aside from a few dangling or muddled plot points and it’s overall poor treatment of female characters, the script is better than it has to be in a movie like this. Overall, there is enough good in this to make the bad at least somewhat palpable. It’s a movie that I plan on making a part of every horror holiday season going forward.