Not that long ago the video store was a mundane and sometimes obnoxious part of life; driving over to some lonesome strip mall with your friends or family to comb through the all-too-often disorganized shelves of your local shop, argue over a selection, and then be stuck with it, for good or ill. Yet, it was also sublime. And for those who lived during the true video boom, video stores also equate to another bygone commodity: VHS. When JVC’s Video Home System won the early-80’s format war, the motion picture market changed forever. The genre and B-movies that had previously filled drive-ins across the country now often went straight to VHS. Then DVD took the world by storm in the late-90’s. It was a brave new world, and sadly, many films never made the leap, trapped now on a dead format. These often aren’t “good” films, but goddammit, they were what made video stores great. For we here at CHUD are the kind of people who tended to skip over the main stream titles, our eyes settling on some bizarre, tantalizing cover for a film we’d never even heard of, entranced. These films are what VHS was all about.

Some people are still keeping the VHS flame burning. People like my buddy Michael Monterastelli, whose Facebook page Collecting VHS is a glorious showcase for the lost charms of VHS box artwork. His passion for VHS is such that I thought it would be fun to talk him into sharing his vast collection with us. My only rule for him? The movies can’t be available on DVD.

Take it away, Mike!

Title: New Year’s Evil
Genre: Holiday Slasher
Year: 1980
Tagline: A celebration of the macabre.
Released by: Paragon Video Productions
Director: Emmett Alston

click to embiggen

Plot: While hosting a nationally televised New Year’s Eve punk rock party, famous new wave icon Dianne “Blaze” Sullivan (Roz Kelly – Fonzie’s girlfriend Pinky Tuscadero from Happy Days) receives a phone call from someone calling himself Evil. He announces on live television that when New Year’s Eve strikes in each time zone, a young woman will be murdered and that “Blaze” herself will be the one to die last!

The police are alerted and security is heightened in the studio as the psychotic killer makes good on his promise and the bodies begin dropping as each time zone hits the midnight hour. Who could be doing this? A crazed fan, a religious cook, or could it be someone even closer to her?

Thoughts: When it comes to horror movies, the slasher genre is one of my absolute favorites. There’s a pure simplicity and fascinating subtext to these film that I find really refreshing and honest. And my favorite sub-genre of course is the holiday themed slasher. Films like Black Christmas, Halloween, My Bloody Valentine, April Fool’s Day, and so many others always have that special tweak to them due mainly in part to their setting, which is something that we the audience can immediately connect with. Imagine Halloween if it took place on any old day and was just called Masked Killer. Not as much fun, huh?

And what holiday is as much about fun and celebration as New Year’s Eve is? It’s the perfect setting for an evening full of maniacal madness in New Year’s Evil, a really weird and sleazy little film from one of the greatest peak moments in the slasher genre – the early eighties. There was something special about the slashers that were released in ’79, ’80, ‘81 and ’82. First off, there were a LOT of them. Hundreds were produced during this period. It was an influx due to the enormous success of 1978’s Halloween, which showed every small time producer in the world that you could turn a HUGE profit just by making a low budget movie about a guy in a mask killing teenagers with a knife. Most of them were very repetitive, but New Year’s Evil is refreshingly not one of them. This is one slasher that thinks outside of the box.

Roz (Fonzie’s girlfriend Pinky Tuscadero from Happy Days) Kelly is a punk diva named Dianne “Blaze” Sullivan, who’s hosting a nationally televised New Year’s Eve countdown show called “Hollywood Hotline” featuring punk dancers and bands. She’s under a lot of stress because her pill popping son is acting nuts and a mysterious stranger calling himself Evil (or as he pronounces it, Eee-viill), who uses a voice processor so he can’t be recognized, calls in to the show and announces that he’s going to kill a “naughty” woman at the strike of midnight in all four time zones and that she is his final target. Now that’s an original slasher premise!

Unlike a lot of slashers that don’t reveal the killer’s identity and usually go for the traditional mask over the face routine, this movie shows us the killer’s mug right off the bat and he’s surprisingly not a deformed monster or a freaky-looking weirdo, but is actually quite handsome and reminiscent of a young Bruce Jenner.

He’s also a master of disguise. In one of his first kills he dresses like a doctor and seduces a nurse in a sanitarium with champagne, before killing her with a switchblade. Then he poses as a “connected” hipster in a disco and persuades two young ladies to accompany him to a party at Erik Estrada’s house, which they of course accept (who wouldn’t?) and are subsequently murdered. Next he’s dressed like a priest and (in one of the greatest plot diversions ever) he accidentally hits a biker with his car and the whole motorcycle gang chases him into a drive-in movie theatre where he steals another car that has a topless girl smoking pot in it. Later in the final act he gains access to the building the show is being telecast in by posing as a policeman and then dons a very creepy looking Stan Laurel mask along with a jogging suit. The guy’s like a homicidal Fletch.

We finally discover that the maniac is actually Roz’s husband (Kip Niven) and the reason he’s doing all of this is because he thinks his celebrity wife is too self-centered and takes he and their son for granted, so he hangs her underneath an elevator car with chains so he can drop her to her death. Well, I guess that’s one way to deal with your marriage problems. It’s a bit extreme, very James Bond villainish I’ll admit, but the point is made. In the end, the killer commits suicide by leaping off the roof after delivering an amazing monologue to the cops and Roz (Fonzie’s girlfriend Pinky Tuscadero from Happy Days) Kelly is finally safe… or is she?

This slasher also falls into the psycho-sexual-thriller category as well. I’d put it alongside others of its ilk, like Maniac, Don’t Go In The House, Headless Eyes, Visiting Hours, The Love Butcher, etc. They’re always about a crazed, straight male who’s got a real “axe” to grind with the whole feminist movement. The difference between these types of films and the others is: in most slashers the story is told from the perspective of the victims and survivors, but in these movies the psycho is the star and it’s all told from their point of view.

New Year’s Evil is a fun, neon drenched, highly original little 80’s slasher with an interesting premise, some nice kills and an awesome “twist” ending that hints at a possible sequel, which sadly never came to be. There’s also an amazing New Year’s Evil theme song performed by a punk-metal group called Shadow. If anyone knows where I can download a copy of this song, please let me know. It seriously rocks!

When I re-watched this film for my review I noticed something I’d never seen before at the very end of the credits. A title card popped up that read: “Coming next year, more holiday horror with Be My Valentine… Or Else.” Not being at all familiar with that film, I immediately went over to IMDB and found out that it was released under the title Hospital Massacre in ’82, it starred Playboy playmate Barbi Benton, it indeed takes place around Valentine’s Day, and just like New Year’s Evil it was produced by the legendary Golan and Globus for Cannon. It also goes by the titles, Ward 13 and X-Ray (released on DVD overseas under this title). It’s very rare, never released on DVD in the U.S. and I’ve never seen it before, but I’m going to try and find a VHS copy of it to review.

Happy New Year, everyone! See you in 2012!

Attention Los Angelenos you can see New Year’s Evil on the big screen this Friday (December 30) at The Cinefamily theater!

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