Back in the 1990s, I appeared on a radio show to promote one of the low budget film projects that I was working on at that time. The host asked me if I had seen any good movies lately. For some reason, this question threw me. It’s always a little tricky to think of a good answer to an unexpected question when you’re put on the spot during a live interview. However, I watch at least one movie a day, so surely it should have been easy for me to rattle off a list of seven or ten titles just from the past week. But perhaps it was the inclusion of the word “good” that made me hesitate, and see nothing but visions of dust and tumbleweeds where the memory of my recently watched pile of movies should have been.
The last thing anyone wants on the radio is dead air, so I immediately started to answer the question with some sort of awkward stammering about how it all depended upon a person’s definition of “good”. Thankfully, as I was speaking, one recently watched movie came back to me.
“I just saw New Year’s Evil,” I told him.
The host looked puzzled. “New Year’s Evil…?”
“It’s not a recent movie,” I explained. “It’s an old slasher film from the ’80s. Made after Halloween, so they named it after a holiday – or at least a day in the calendar. Like Friday the 13th or My Bloody Valentine.”
“I haven’t seen it,” the host admitted, “but I know which movie you’re talking about.” He was roughly my age, and a huge fan of ’80s movies, so it wasn’t surprising that he would have heard of it.
“As you know, I’m a fan of slasher films,” I continued, “but I had never seen this one either. Maybe because the books all said it was bad.”
“And was it?” he asked me.
“I actually liked it,” I said, and I’m not sure which one of us was more surprised by that answer.
Truth be told, my expectations for New Year’s Evil (1980) had been pretty low. My most trusted review book, Terror On Tape by James O’Neill, gave the movie one and a half stars and called it “A less than great throwback to those bygone days when no holiday was safe from the makers of mad slasher movies… With bad music, little blood, and a predictable twist ending…” In Video Trash and Treasures, L.A. Morse says “I think there are more music/dance interludes than bodies in this one, which probably says it all…”. I actively avoided watching this movie for the better part of two decades. It was only when I found an old VHS tape in a bargain bin that I decided it was time to finally see what it was all about.
I certainly did not expect to discuss this movie on a live radio show about FIlm.
It was true that I had enjoyed New Year’s Evil much more than I had expected to – perhaps largely due to the very low expectations that I had developed over the years. Most reviewers criticized the film for it’s extensive use of rock band performance footage – and often called the music bad. I actually enjoyed that aspect of the film. It’s about a big New Years Eve rock show. They call it a “punk rock” show, but the music seems to be more straight up hard rock or classic rock. We do see bands performing several times throughout the movie.
I have a particular fondness for movies about rock bands. This Is Spinal Tap (1984) is a favourite of mine from way back – and it is, in way, about “bad music”, although my friends and I all bought the soundtrack and loved it. I am also a huge fan of the heavy metal horror films like Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare (1987), Black Roses (1988) and Rocktober Blood (1984). New Year’s Evil is not really like those movies. It’s not a story about the band(s), or in which the members of the bands are characters. In fact, the bands in New Year’s Evil are actually real bands. This makes it, in some ways, closer to movies like The Prowler (1981) which features a band performing on stage. But New Year’s Evil features so much music – and a flamboyant rockstar-like celebrity host played by Roz Kelly (who some might remember as Pinky Tuscadero on Happy Days (1974-84)) – that it takes on a bit of that rock band horror movie feel. And call me crazy, but I like the music featured in the film – you can hear the theme song by Shadow on YouTube.
So, I wasn’t lying to the radio host when I said that I had liked New Year’s Evil, but I think it was a fairly mild like after that first viewing. Over the years, however, I started to watch New Year’s Evil on New Years Eve (go figure), and I found my appreciation of the film growing stronger with each viewing. Kind of like a song or album that you hear once and think is okay, but after you hear it a few more times you start to really get into it. Those are some of favourite songs/albums. After wearing out my VHS tape, I upgraded to the Scream Factory Blu-ray and I couldn’t be happier. The film has never looked (and sounded) better, and it’s nice to have a few extras to enhance the experience.
One more rock and roll reason to love New Year’s Evil (at least for me), is the fact that Nurse Robbie, whom our psychopathic killer encounters at a mental institution, is played by Jennie Franks. She has a few acting credits over a ten year period, and was apparently also a photographer and playwright. I had never noticed this before, but she also has quite a few songwriting credits on the IMDb – and they are all for one song: Aqualung by Jethro Tull. Those who know me, know that I am a huge fan of Jethro Tull, and Aqualung is one of my all time favourite albums, and songs. When I saw Jennie Franks’ soundtrack credits on the IMDb, my brain couldn’t quite comprehend them – until I remembered that Aqualung is one of the only songs in Jethro Tull’s vast catalogue that wasn’t written solely by Ian Anderson. And I had noticed, years ago, that the co-writer of Aqualung was a woman… Jennie Anderson, in fact; Ian’s first wife. Now I discover, much to my surprise, that Jennie Franks, the actress who plays the nurse who (SPOILER ALERT) gets murdered in New Year’s Evil, used to be called Jennie Anderson, and is, in fact, the very same Jennie Anderson who co-wrote one of my all time favourite songs!
What are the odds of that?
I actually always liked Jennie Franks’ portrayal of Nurse Robbie in this movie, but I had no idea who she was until this year. I suspect that all future viewings of New Year’s Evil will only be enhanced by this exciting new discovery…
Director Emmett Alston only made eight films during his relatively brief career, and by the looks of them they might all be #NotQuiteClassicCinema of one type of another. Alston seemed to be particularly partial to ninjas, having made three films about them. A year before New Year’s Evil was released, Alston made his directorial debut with something called Three-Way Weekend (1979). It’s described on the IMDb as “Two bisexual girls go camping in the woods and are followed around by a perverted guy in a gorilla mask and a man in uniform with a whip who thinks everyone’s a communist…”. If ever a film heralded the arrival of a cinematic genius it’s got to be this one. Needless to say, I’m putting it on my must-find-a-copy-and-watch list.
For me, New Year’s Evil (1980) will always be a welcome addition to any #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn – especially if that Friday also happens to be New Years Eve, or New Year’s Day. And looking at my new 2021 calendar, I think I know what I’ll be doing next December 31…