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The F*cking Black Sheep: New Year's Evil (1980)

THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We’re hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!

NEW YEAR'S EVIL (1980)

DIRECTED BY EMMETT ALSTON

From CHRISTMAS EVIL to NEW YEAR’S EVIL…we’re celebrating the holidays right around here at AITH!

Only difference is, we now swap the meritorious for the perceived meretricious…as CHRISTMAS EVIL is, for whatever reason, largely held in higher regard in than its nasty NYE counterpart. It’s something I take personal umbrage with, as I not only believe that NEW YEARS EVIL is the slightly more joyous holiday horror flick of the two, but also extremely overlooked in the context of standalone slasher flicks of the early 80s. Indeed, NEW YEARS EVIL seemed to suffer the misfortune of getting lost in the ungodly spate of post-HALLOWEEN imitators and cheaply made slasher derivations that flooded the market at that time. The fact it was released only a few weeks after CHRISTMAS EVIL proves this point, surely inuring even the most fervent slasher heads of the era to the notion of holiday-themed slasher joints. By the time NEW YEARS EVIL hit theaters, moviegoers must have been tired of the perceived novelty such subset of horror flicks entailed - the date, loose plot, masked killer, etc. This is terribly unfortunate, as the film doesn’t so much adhere to cheap gimmickry and deep mimicry of its ilk; NEW YEAR’S EVIL actually hews to the structure of a good old fashioned ticking-clock thriller. Honestly, if ever there was a F*cking holiday-slasher Black Sheep, this is the one. Happy NEW YEAR’S EVIL y’all, let’s dissect why this discarded bastard ought to be shown more love below!

Per usual, it starts on the page. Directed by Emmett Alston (DEMONWARP) from a story he conceived with screenwriter Leonard Neubauer (BLACK SNAKE), one of the absolute best parts of NEW YEAR’S EVIL is its splendid premise. On New Year’s Eve in Hollywood in 1979, a punk-rock-shock-jock named Diane “Blaze” Sullivan (Roz Kelly) emcees a holiday telethon for Hollywood Hotline. Think Dick Clark’s American Bandstand only with late 70s glam-bands and leather clad rock-stars. Early in the show, Blaze receives a phone call from a voice-altered maniac named Evil (Kip Niven) threatening to kill someone every time the clock strikes midnight. As in, when New Year’s hits in all four major time zones, good old Evil promises to commit a new murder. What I love about this set up, aside from the obvious ticking clock scenario it presents and concomitant suspense its mounts throughout, is how the audience is made privy as to who the killer is right up front. We see the man’s identity before any of his victims do, especially our final girl Blaze. So the mystery is less about who the killer is than why he is killing in the first place. His motive is the mystery, not his identity, which is a brilliant slant on the slasher template that traces right back to Hitchcock. Further complicating matters is Blaze’s disturbed young son Derrick (Grant Cramer, star of KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE), who pops pills, wears pantyhose on his head and harbors some severe oedipal issues. Could it be Derrick who’s committing all these macabre murders as well? Could he be in cahoots with Evil?

Of course, a major plot twist is revealed in the third act of the film, which explains who Evil really is and why he is murdering people. We’ll avoid giving it a way for the few who’ve yet to see the film (it’s free on Youtube at the moment, btw), but rest assured, very few clues are given along the way to betray its deception. As the night presses on, Evil fulfills his promise of wickedly waylaying an innocent victim on the hour. First, the sick bastard accosts Blaze’s pal Yvonne (Alicia Dhanifu), chokes her in the shower before pulling out his trusty switchblade knife and gouging her across the throat. Next, Evil infiltrates his way into the local hospital, posing as the new Dr. Winter. He meets hot blonde nurse Jane (Taafee O’Connell), seduces his way into her blouse before ultimately impaling her buxom bosom with his switchblade as the clock strikes midnight. What I appreciate here is, despite the cutaway killing, Alston always shows us the grisly aftermath, here with Jane’s gory corpse stuffed into a cadaver slab.

The other thing I always dug about Evil’s murderous mores his how he diversifies his death blows. After picking up a pair of broads in a bar, one of the funniest scenes I’ve ever seen takes place immediately following in the car. Sally (Louisa Moritz) senses how high-strung Dick is and tells him he needs to begin transcendental meditation. She boasts how it’s helped her pal Lisa (Anita Crane) rid her nervous diarrhea (the look on Lisa’s face is priceless) and how, after passing the Zen phase, Sally has begun to write haikus. “Haikus?” Dick barks incredulously, seemingly so incensed that he swaddles a plastic bag around Sally’s dome and strangles her to death as the clock passes 12 in Chicago. Undone, he crams her body in the dumpster and waits for Lisa to exit the liquor store and discover the body on her own. Dick waits with his mouth agape and slaughters Lisa in short order. What’s great here is the gruesome reveal of their corpses. Two bumbling cops stumble on Sally’s bag-headed body propped up on a swing-set, then become startled when Lisa’s throat-gnashed corpse comes pouring down a slide. Shite’s gorgeous!

Three additional fatalities occur from there, totaling 7 in a speedy 85 minutes. For all you math majors, that’s an average of one death every 12 minutes, which is pretty solid for any slasher flick. One of which occurs during a drive-in scene, where Herschell Gordon Lewis’ BLOOD FEAST is improperly billed (the real film shown is THE RED QUEEN KILLS SEVEN TIMES), as Evil evades a pissed-off biker gang he affronted on Hollywood Boulevard. Evil impales one of the biker’s in the gut with his blade before making his way to the radio station where Blaze conducts her live telethon. From there, we’re further exposed to how complicated a character Evil actually is, which separates him from the lot of one-dimensional slashers. Once Evil’s relation to Blaze is revealed, we learn an awful lot about his motivations, itself a wrinkle in a genre that too often never cares to explicate a murderer’s reasons for killing.

Moreover, it isn’t until the very end that Evil attempts to shroud his identity with a Stan Laurel mask (a risible porn-stache was used earlier in the film, seen below), again differentiating him from the rest of post-Halloween slasher efforts. I even like how Evil is antagonized by the biker gang, shading the character with a fully rounded sense of humanity as the film unspools. He goes from the victimizer to the victimized in the drive-in scene, making for a fascinating dynamic as to who the audience should root for, if anyone. I love that nuanced distinction, just as I dig how it’s Evil motivations that remain even more mysterious than his identity. I like we know who the killer is while the characters do not. The complicated coloring of the killer culprit in NEW YEAR’S EVIL is among the many reasons why the film outperforms its F*cking Black Sheep status.

Last but not least, for a movie with such punk rock inspiration, we’d be remiss not to mention the music and lively rock-n-roll vibe the soundtrack imbues the film with. Two bands are prominently featured in the flick, neither of which you can find even a scintilla of information on in 2019. The first is a glam-band called Shadow, which performs the titular metal ditty “New Year’s Evil.” The other is the new-wave band Made in Japan, which cranks out some cooler post-punk tunes in their two or three song set-list. The music and the Hollywood Hotline set-piece rocks, and really goes a long way toward injecting the film with the anarchic energy of maddening mayhem.

In recounting all the ways that make NEW YEAR’S EVL a F*cking Black Sheep, we must start with the ingenious holiday premise of a sadistic psychopath slaughtering a fresh victim every time the new year strikes in a different time zone. And not just that, but telephonically harassing a potential victim in Blaze each time he does so. Shite’s wicked! Add to the fold a deeply complex killer character whose facial identity is laid bare while his penchant for murder kept shrouded, a man that plays both antagonist and antagonized, whose killer kinship is shockingly revealed in the final reel, and we have a slasher film that bucks convention in more ways than it clings to it. Throw in yet a kickass soundtrack full of late 70s shredders, a hilarious middle-section car-ride, and a drolly assorted death-stroke every dozen minutes or so, and frankly, it’s harder to understand why NEW YEAR’S EVIL was so summarily panned to begin with. Even amidst a sea of listless and uninspired slasher ersatzes left in HALLOWEEN’s wake, NEW YEAR’S EVIL rises above many to most!

STREAM NEW YEAR'S EVIL HERE

GET NEW YEAR'S EVIL ON BLU-RAY HERE

 

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