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New Year’s Evil

by Alex Kirschenbaum Dec 31, 2021

To ring in the new year, select members of the Trailers From Hell team celebrated by watching the holiday’s signature slasher picture, the rock ‘n’ roll serial killer thriller New Year’s Evil (1980).

New Year’s Evil is a nasty little slice of fiction. The set-up: Hollywood TV punk rock host with the most Diane “Blaze” Sullivan (Roz Kelly) finds herself the subject of a series of sinister phone calls in the midst of a televised New Year’s Eve concert extravaganza she’s presenting. The caller (Kip Niven) speaks through a voice modulator and uses pay phones, identifying himself only as “Evil.”

“Evil” informs Blaze that he has already begun killing a series of women, some of whom are connected to her, at the stroke of midnight across several time zones. He has already handled Eastern Standard Time by the time he rings her, and recorded the murder for good measure. Blaze is instantly on high alert, though the head LAPD man on the scene, Lieutenant Ed Clayton (Chris Wallace, but not that one), assumes a crank caller is to blame. Meanwhile, Blaze’s unstable young adult son, Derek (Grant Cramer) lingers around the periphery of the set.

We know better, having already witnessed two of the killer’s brutal slayings by the time Clayton arrives backstage at Blaze’s showcase. This creep means business, and he informs Blazes on one of their chats that once he finishes the rest of his homicidal errands, he’s coming for Blaze to ring in a final, fatal New Year’s Eve celebration.

NYE may not be particularly original per se, having liberally borrowed slaughter set pieces and character elements from the original Halloween (1978), Psycho (1960), and Black Christmas (1974). But hey, if you’re going to borrow, borrow from the best. “Evil” continues his killings relatively unabated, donning a variety of simple disguises as he goes about terrorizing West Hollywood.

The flick does have some originality on its side. Blaze, who curates a soundtrack of excellent punk, new wave and even heavy metal during her live broadcast, presages the MTV format by a whole year here.

Though the movie is primarily concerned with grisly violence and suspenseful jump scares, it still manages to retain a sense of humor about itself, as evinced by the way it handles a sequence in the psychiatric institute that used to house our killer in a past life.

We won’t spoil the true identity of “Evil” here. If we divulged his character’s name, you might put two and two together. New Year’s Evil is a fun, fast-paced romp that mashes up several great elements into a creepy, Hollywood-ified whodunnit. Yes, the movie shows us our killer character’s face from the start of the action, but the story keeps us guessing about how he ties into Blaze’s life right until the deeply uncomfortable third act reveal.

Directed by Emmett Alston and written by Alston and Leonard Neubauer, the film was produced by The Cannon Group, generally not the mark of quality, but here we are served a clever, nasty little serial killer story with a festive angle. Niven cuts an effectively intimidating, sinister presence. Kelly is utterly convincing as the confident-if-vulnerable TV personality.