Directed By: Emmett Alston
Starring: Roz Kelly, Kip Niven, Chris Wallace
Tag line: "This New Year's, you're invited to a killer party..."
Trivia: Director Emmett Alston has a Hitchcock style cameo as a bearded camera operator
The seed that John Carpenter planted in 1978 with his horror classic Halloween blossomed in full in 1980, and thanks to movies like Friday the 13th, Prom Night, Terror Train, Maniac and Mother’s Day the slasher subgenre finally came into its own.
The Golan / Globus era at Cannon Films was also just getting started in 1980; having taken control of the company in '79, the infamous duo was still a few years away from making waves in the industry (Enter the Ninja, one of their biggest hits, wasn’t released until 1981, while The Last American Virgin lit up the Box Office in 1982).
New Year’s Evil, a 1980 horror flick produced by Cannon, probably won’t make anyone’s “best slashers of all-time” list, but it can’t be dismissed outright, either.
It’s New Year’s Eve, and Hollywood personality Diane Sullivan (Roz Kelly), who goes by the stage name “Blaze”, is hosting a live musical show that will ring in the New Year in style. But the frivolity is cut short when a caller, identifying himself only as “Evil” (Kip Niven), announces that he plans to kill someone each time the clock strikes midnight in one of country’s four time zones. Taking the caller at his word, Blaze and her manager (Jed Mills) panic and contact the Los Angeles Police Department, who send Lt. Ed Clayton (Chris Wallace) to investigate the threat.
Lt. Clayton tells Blaze not to worry, and that the caller was probably a crackpot looking for attention. He changes his attitude quickly, however, when a report comes in that, at the exact stroke of midnight on the East Coast, a nurse (Jennie Anderson) was stabbed to death at a nearby psychiatric hospital. With time ticking away, Lt. Clayton and the entire police force hit the streets, hoping to prevent the next murder and knowing full well that, in all likelihood, Blaze herself will be killer’s final target.
With most of the early kills occurring off-screen, and featuring very little gore (we don’t see blood until the second murder, and even then it’s only a smattering), New Year’s Evil might prove frustrating for die-hard slasher fans. As a thriller, though, the film is a bit more successful (a late sequence involving an elevator will have you on the edge of your seat); and it presents a different sort of mystery than what we’re used to seeing (we see the murderer’s face almost immediately, but have no idea who he is).
I also liked how the movie toyed with the killer’s modus operandi; at one point, while stalking a potential victim, he has an unfortunate run-in with a biker gang that threatens to disrupt his schedule. As for the big reveal at the end, it was effective (if not a total surprise), and some of the music featured throughout the film wasn’t half bad (I especially enjoyed the title song performed by Shadow).
Both Cannon and the slasher subgenre would produce better movies in the days to come, but as an early entry for both, New Year’s Evil is decent enough to at least warrant some attention.