Wednesday, September 4, 2013

New Year’s Evil (The Cannon Group, 1980)

Screenwriter Leonard Neubauer (Russ Meyer’s Black Snake) and director/cinematographer Emmet Alston (Three-Day Weekend, Demonwarp) helmed this prime piece of punksploitation for the Golan-Globus colossal Cannon company in 1980. Set on New Year’s Eve around a countdown of the year’s hottest New Wave Rock via the Hollywood Hotline special, New Year’s Evil, hosted by the fast-talkin’ rich girl Diane “Blaze” Sullivan (Roz Kelley - Happy Days’ Pinky Tuscadero, Full Moon High), makin’ with the outrĂ© “punk” glamour, and showing her self-involved controller cards while preparing for the big gig backstage. Press agent and hubby are both MIA, the hus found to be getting tossed in Palm Springs, and the agent mums after announcement of a wardrobe change—never a good way to start a slasher flick (or, splendidly, depending on perspective). Naturally, the agent gets it, snared by a drippy water faucet trap and taken out Psycho-style, but all behind a curtain sans gore. First kill before the plot reveal and credits, a smashing way to set the scene. 

Pan to cruisin’ traffic and the theme “New Year’s Evil” by Shadow (one of the two bands who perform live in the film, this’un lite-NWoBHM punk/metal fun), with lyrics foreshadowing or echoing what’s gone down on screen—a continuing trend throughout the flick pointed out by my observant ladyfriend. We follow a car fulla punks in leathers, chains, facial piercings and one pullin’ a Dave Vanian pale-face. The “hell-raising” different class get the quick peder-van open-door flash en route to the New Year’s Evil bash—2 garbanzas down in the first 300 seconds, yowza! They come upon the venue and hassle the security cop with switchblade combs, effeminate voice and general hijinks, y’know like “punks” do.
     Backstage the all-business Blaze is greeted by her son Derek (Grant CramerHard Bodies, Killer Klowns from Outer Space) with fab news and flowers, but the selfish mama doesn’t heed her breed’s good news, by which he’s none too amused. We come to find Derek to be one disturbed and insecure individual and these happenings to be commonplace in their relationship, and she boogies down to the big, bright stage to announce the shindig. Shortly thereafter the mood gets tense when a voice-box disguised caller in a dim moonlit phone booth called ‘Evil’ announces he’ll make a return call at the stroke of New Year’s to broadcast an execution over the airwaves.
     Cut to Crawford Sanitarium under clouds of darkness as an all-night worker moves the rubbish on its way and a shadowy figure slides in the dim halls in the shuffle. Light rises and we transition to the loonies dancing in much the same manner as the live crowd broadcast over the tee-vee, perhaps a “statement” by the movie-makers (?), and nurse blondie slides out for a smoke, she looking like a fuck-flick extra. A dashing, beach boy-type appears as extra (with no alert of his upcoming arrival) orderly help and propositions a pre-shift celebratory champagne toast to the tart, to which she protests little. Mood music is played, dancing goes down and a round of tonsil hockey moves swiftly horizontal on an examination table. The record button on a mobile tape machine is pressed and he kills as the hour strikes when much mania masks the screams, replete with a clever jump-cut—the victim later to be found as closet candy by a co-worker.
     Back at the studios Lieutenant Clayton makes the scene and plays the “you’re asking for it” card by condemning the audience and elaborating on how it’ll be a hard push to pinpoint a crazy out of the crowd in attendance (more sly slices by the writers???). When Evil calls in as promised he lays out it'll be 12AM in each time zone with more kills to come, and he’s not bluffin’, as corpse discovery enters. An interesting move knocking the suspense down a bit is the killer’s face in plain sight (Kip Niven – Magnum Force, Earthquake) only a third of the way in, but forces conspire throughout to make you consider cahoots.
     Next move is affixing a swingin’ soup-strainer to become a mustachioed, leisure suit’ed sleeze to hit a disco where he (Evil, natch) comes upon the 2nd piece o’ Class-A prototypical B-movie bimbo frame, Sally (Louisa Moritz – Death Race 2000, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Cannonball!), a New Age obsessed character into TM (transcendental meditation), TA (transactional analysis), Zen and the whole bag. After luring her out to hop with the jet-set they begin to make their way ‘fore he finds her more grounded roomie Lisa is also along for the ride. This hangs him up, so he’s a little perturbed, and stops at a liquor store for some mood enchancers, sending Lisa in for some top-shelf charm. While she’s inside Sally gets the sack, and hiding afterward he tags Lisa and makes it a two-fer. Shortly thereafter we’re back at the studios as the band Made in Japan (Teenage Head’esque punk rock’n’roll) charge into a tune called, appropriately, "Dumb Blondes."
     Donning clerical gear, Christ-collar and the whole shebang to masquerade as man of God, Mr Evil comes up on a pack of bikers, culminating in a fender bender and run-down. Dodging into the now deceased Van Nuys Drive-In while splashes of gore and commentary from a double-bill trailer of Blood Feast (1972 – aka Night of a Thousand Cats) and Joel M Reed’s Blood Bath (1976) transmit over the outdoor screens, with the aural tag lines also oddly appropriate to the scene’s going ons—another clever but deliberate subtlety. He tangles with one of the beard-and-denim boys who gets the stick (but we’re not sure if he’s a goner) before ejecting the male half of a youthful fondle-fest—prime bullstuff with only two half-garbanzas and a areola peak equaling one total melon—for cover and dashing out with numero 3 blonde bomber. Perhaps in a fit of frustration he pulls off into a parking strip and is accosted by some drunks when blondie makes a jump and he gives chase through a spare forest which (oddly) leads to a sports field. Evil creeps around hunting for flesh, but law shouts drive him out and his mark is missed.
     A new character graces the screen backstage as fans of exploitation and sleaze get a diatribe from Dr Reed (John Alderman - David F. Friedman's Trader Hornee, Pink Angels, Black Godfather, Cleopatra Jones, Cannonball!) running down the whole gamut of killer motivation as a wise figure is bound to do in such situations, with a focus on the fact some breast bashing hints to a mother fixation. The “Father” arrives on the sly, peeping from a distance and susses the clampdown and that he’ll have to make alternate entrance with midnight fast approaching, dashing through the car park and beckoning assistance from a man of the law who gets bricked and disrobed for a quick cover. Once inside he slides into street clothes while the strains of “Bonzai,” by Made in Japan pipe about, fitting for entering the eye of the action on a veritable suicide mission.

Under watchful eye Blaze is now blood-hounded by a uniformed man, but as they make their way back down to stage, there’s a jam-up with the elevator orchestrated by the Evil one, who pulls the stick outta the circuit board before it goes ground-floor kablooey. The uniform gets the knock and Blaze gets an earful of his motivators before strapping her into the under-side of the elevator for death’s ride. The fuzz make chase,  with Evil retreating to the roof in a Acromegalic’esque Rondo Hatton-type mask. Cornered by the heat and with no choices left he tips on the edge and recites Hamlet (“To die, to sleep…”) before the jump-and-drop straight down to the hard ground. But… the mask moves on making wonder if a second character was in cahoots all along, and the beat goes on as the driver to the ambulance isn’t the face expected…
     Can’t cough up the crux who’s and what’s its, all motion heretofore was no big surprise, but you gotta see the coda with your own eyes. Overall New Year’s Evil is a well-shot and well-paced film with more depth than appears on the surface and a personal fave-rave. For those with a nose for this kinda damage it can be partook in full on YouTube, streamed via Netflix, or grab yourself a made-to-order, legit copy from the Warner Archive Collection. Ya better dig it, ya hear!

 Nuff respect to Joe Bob Briggs, who surely wouldn't begrudge a man a garbanza "grab".