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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

New Year's Evil  (1980)

Reviewed for by Dustin Putman

The Film
2.5 Stars
(Release Date: February 24, 2015) – Riding the wave of post-"Halloween" holiday slasher films, "New Year's Evil" delivers terror and grisly ends to unsuspecting targets at the precise moment when most people are preparing for fresh starts and new beginnings. The psychopathic culprit (Kip Niven) calls himself Evil, dialing up Diane Sullivan (Roz Kelly), the host of punk-rock New Year's call-in show "Hollywood Hotline," to tell her of his plan to take a life at the stroke of midnight in each U.S. time zone. When the 12 a.m. hour dawns on the west coast, she will be next on his hit list. As the body count rises, Diane teams up with the police in an attempt to lure the killer into a trap. Outsmarting this madman, however, won't be as easy as she thinks.

Directed by Emmett Alston, "New Year's Evil" finds a novel approach to its killing spree as each victim moves toward a cruel fate while the country prepares to ring in the new year. With the only major teen character being Diane's neglected aspiring-actor son, Derek (Grant Cramer), here is a slasher flick predominately about adults—a change of pace from the norm. The characters are astutely observed in Leonard Neubauer's script, from Diane, who has little time to pay attention to a son crying out for help; to the seductive Evil, who adopts different disguises for each murder; to a nurse (Taaffe O'Connell) and a bubbly partygoer (a scene-stealing Louisa Moritz) who meet the killer's gaze. Meanwhile, the pierced, mohawked, dead-eyed live studio audience at "Hollywood Hotline" hilariously participate in a zombie-like mosh pit as New-Wave bands play their most non-dance-worthy hits. The sole exception: an insatiably catchy up-tempo rock number cozily called "New Year's Evil," performed by punk group Shadow. This song won't be leaving the viewer's mind any time soon, just as the film's darkly lurid ending leaves things on a memorably unsettling—and fittingly seasonal—cyclical note.

Blu-ray Picture/Sound

Seeing "New Year's Evil" in 1080p is akin to watching it anew. With the exception of a few brief shots where an age-related line can be spotted running down the frame, this is a shockingly clean presentation that checks the boxes on everything one hopes for and expects from a decades-old catalogue title. The grain field is seamless, even and natural. Black levels are inky, with none of the faded gray hues to which movies from this era fall victim. The print is strikingly clean, with very few instances of dirt in evidence. Image detail is notably boosted and clarity is crisp. This is a filmic transfer that is as good as anyone could possibly have hoped for. The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio is not quite as impressive as the picture quality, but nonetheless gets the job done. While dialogue is always clear and the mix overall is solid, there are a couple minor stabilization issues during the film's many music performances where the sound's dynamics waver. Some listeners may not notice, but it jumped out to me on multiple occasions. Otherwise, a very nice job all around.

Blu-ray Features
  • Audio Commentary with writer-director Emmett Alston
  • "Call Me Eeevil...: The Making of New Year's Evil" (37:16, HD) - featuring interviews with actors Kip Niven, Grant Cramer and Taaffe O'Connell, and director of photography Thomas Ackerman
  • Theatrical Trailer (1:46, HD)
Bottom Line
"New Year's Evil" isn't high art—and, on the featurette in the special features, the actors interviewed admit as much—yet there is something irresistibly fun and darkly charming about this early-'80s slasher pic. The film didn't receive a proper commercial DVD release until MGM put it out as a manufactured-on-demand title in 2012, but fans can toss that aside at once and revel in the glory of Scream Factory's Blu-ray release. For a movie that has never gotten its proper due, it is immensely gratifying that it has not only received an outstanding high-def upgrade, but has been handled with care and afforded a few high-quality, newly produced extras. For fans of this film or '80s horror in general, "New Year's Evil" comes highly recommended.

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© 2015 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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