Thursday, January 1, 2015

A Ghoul Versus New Year's Evil

"Happy 2015!  Let's ring in the new year with... oh, another slasher."

The best way to ring in 2015 is with an appropriately themed movie, but unfortunately I wasn't able to get my hands on a copy of the one I really wanted to review: Kathryn's Bigelow's INSANELY underrated sci-fi film Strange Days. Because some bastard movie studio hasn't felt it necessary to release on blu-ray yet, COUGH COUGH Fox COUGH COUGH, that leaves me stuck looking for another New Year's Eve film.

Let's see what our options are here... we have Love Actually 2: New Year's Eve, which is one of those EVER so delightful vignette-style movies about 300 different people falling in love with each other while at the same time making you PRAY it turns into a slasher movie at some point. Directed by Schmaltz Master himself Garry Marshall, the film did win numerous awards as the worst film of 2011, so that certainly makes it a contender for me to review. Then there's 1999's End of Days, an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie made when his career was rapidly on the decline. It's a truly awful movie, but then again it does feature a scene where Satan himself has a threesome with a mother and her DAUGHTER set to the docile tones of Limp Bizkit, so perhaps we'll save that one for another day.

Or how about another low budget 1980s slasher film made by and starring almost no one you've ever heard of? I mean, seeing as how that's fast becoming a tradition on this corner of the Intrawebs, I think that'd be a GREAT idea! Stepping up to the plate is 1980's New Year's Evil, which I just bet is going to be about a serial killer cutting up people on New Year's Eve. That's just a wild guess, though. I am pretty excited for this one though because it stars Roz Kelly, who is best known for playing the badass Pinky Tuscadero on the television show Happy Days. I am freaking IN LOVE with Pinky and have always been disappointed that Kelly never had a bigger run in Hollywood, so let's see how she did in one of her rare starring performances. Put on your finest party clothes, pop a bottle of bubbly, and get ready for A Ghoul Versus New Year's Evil!

We open with Diane “Blaze” Sullivan, who is kind of the Dick Clark of the punk scene, preparing to do a live New Year's Eve broadcast of her countdown show Hollywood Hotline. She briefly calls one of her coworkers, Yvonne, learning that her husband Richard won't be attending the night's festivities because he is already WELL on the way to getting his party on. Yvonne ends the call to finish getting ready... when she hears her bathtub faucet is dripping. Ah geez, are we doing this already?! We're not even two minutes in! We have Yvonne, a pretty black woman, all by her lonesome in a horror movie. WHAT COULD GO WRONG? Oh hi there, slasher hiding in the shower! I'm not sure, but that might be the quickest black death in a movie EVER.

This kicks us to the opening credits, which comprise of a a VERY nice looking shot of a group of hard partying punks driving down the nighttime streets of Los Angeles. This single scene looks like it had a higher budget than the entirety of Christmas Evil, which probably wouldn't surprise me if that was the case. I really liked the look of the punks here too, they looked very authentic thanks to some hardworking research from the wardrobe department. The quality established here goes downhill immediately though in the next scene where we get to meet Diane's teenage son Derek, who is an aspiring actor that has just landed a part on a TV show.

We quickly learn Diane is highly neglectful towards her son as she's much more interested in HER thing, barely listening to a word he's said. We get the sense Derek's entire life has been like this, and it's turned him into a creepy weirdo that will do anything for his beloved mother's attention. GOSH, I wonder if he's the killer? On a side note, Derek's actor is Grant Cramer, a name that should be recognizable if you're a fan of movies about aliens that look like clowns killing people. And really, who isn't? Doing some quick research about Cramer, I learned he's gone on to produce films more than starring in them, scoring hits with last year's Lone Survivor and the recently reviewed November Man.

Diane leaves Derek alone in her hotel room to kick off her show, where we see the punks from earlier worshiping her in the crowd. She fields phone calls of people voting what the song of the year should be, the scene changing to show a man calling her from a phone booth. He's using some kind of device to distort his voice, identifying himself as Evil. Actually, I'll let him tell you himself.

“Call me... Eeeev-uhl!”
“Evil? You bad, honey?”
“No, just... eeeev-uhl!”

So, I'm confused. Is he good? Diane asks if he has a vote, but he replies he's much more interested in killing someone close to her at midnight. The movie shows a brief reaction shot of Derek watching this unfold on the TV, but I'm still not ruling him out as part of whatever the hell's in store for us. Diane hangs up, ordering her assistant Ernie to beef up security in case Eeeev-uhl is for real. The next scene shows us Eeeev-uhl sneaking into a mental hospital, only to run into a nurse. Fortunately for him she's a 1980s Slutty Nurse, so he's EASILY able to seduce her before stabbing her to death. This is done just as the clock strikes midnight in Manhattan, because earlier the film set up we have the four different time zones in the United States going on.

He calls Diane to update her on the situation, letting her know he'll strike again in another hour when the clock hits midnight in the central time zone. We then cut to a complete and utter WHAT THE FUCK scene of Derek talking to himself in the mirror, cutting up his mother's stockings, biting them, and then putting them over his head. He mutters something to himself about a “mental disorder”, which yeah, I totally believe right now. Luckily for my sanity this is over soon, as we get another one of the NUMEROUS padding scenes of a band playing live music on Diane's show. After the song ends, Diane goes to the back where she learns from one of the cops about the dead nurse.

Back to Eeeev-uhl, who is now rocking a faux-moustache and a leisure suit, infiltrating a disco. He starts talking up a lovely lady at the bar, who JUST HAPPENS to be a 1980s Dumb Blonde. Damn, it is Eeeev-uhl's lucky night! Blonde, whom I don't think gets a name, is played by Louisa Moritz, an actress of many bit parts who is currently in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. She is one of the seemingly five thousand women stepping forward to claim Bill Cosby sexually assaulted them, and holy shit did I just bring things down. Back to the review, post haste!

Leisure Suit Eeeev-uhl gets Blonde to agree to leave the club with him so he can take her to a party featuring Erik Estrada, which, all things considered, is probably worth the risk. I mean come on, 1980s ERIK ESTRADA! The chance to meet him was definitely worth the risk of getting your throat sliced open. This is followed up with Band Padding Shot #73, where they're playing a song called “Dumb Blondes”. Hahah, subtle movie, real subtle.

She throws a slight wrench in his plans by insisting she bring her roommate Lisa along, but he plays along gracefully. This leads to a hilarious scene where the three are driving down the street, Dumb Blonde droning on FOREVER about herself while Eeeev-uhl has a look on his face that just screams “this elaborate murder plan of mine is NOT worth this shit!”. Lisa has to use the bathroom so they stop at a gas station, Eeeev-uhl pulling a plastic bag out and suffocating Blonde with it just as the clock hits midnight in Chicago. Lisa exits the station to find Eeeev-uhl's car gone, following a trail of Blonde's shoes to a dumpster where Eeeev-uhl jumps out and strangles her too. Didn't he tell Diane he was only going to kill people close to her, or did I imagine that?

Things skip ahead a bit to Diane already on the phone with Eeeev-uhl, learning of his latest kill. The cops head out to the station, following a trail of blood to the dumpster where they open it aaaaaaaaand a cat leaps out for a Cheap Jump Scare trope. BOOOOOOOO! That was already played out by 1980! They eventually find the bodies in the backyard of a nearby house, Blonde's body hanging from a swing set and Lisa's body drifting down a slide for an EXCELLENT jump scare that fully redeems the cat one. I am rather enjoying this movie so far, it has some fantastically macabre imagery and direction.

Eeeev-uhl finally has his first screw up though, as after changing into a priest's outfit he accidentally runs over a biker. The rest of his gang chases him into a drive-in theater, where he jacks the car of a teenage couple smoking weed and about to have sex. Damn kids NEVER learn in these freaking movies, do they?  Didn't they watch 1978's Halloween?!  Eeeev-uhl throws the guy out and takes off with the girl in the backseat, who begins to cry and plead for her life. This... isn't as funny as when he was driving with Blonde. Premarital Sex Girl finally jumps out of the car and runs for her life through a conveniently placed forest for Horror Movie Trope number 17, yet another that was older than the hills by the time this movie came out.

He eventually corners her but the police magically appear, forcing him to run before he can complete the next kill of his tableau. The clock strikes midnight in Colorado, but that's not enough to deter Eeeev-uhl who heads to the Hollywood Hotline party. Inside the police inform Diane of their latest security measures in a scene that's only memorable for Derek lurking in the background, the stocking still over his head. What, NO ONE notices this? They better have something special planned for him, or else his existence in this film is REALLY going to piss me off.

Exploiting the innate stupidity of Horror Movie Cops, Eeeev-uhl is able to knock one out and impersonate him to gain entrance to the party. The other cops find his body and conclude that the killer “might” be inside the building, assigning a guard to Diane at all times. MIGHT BE? Yeah, we have this extremely dangerous killer on the loose who has said multiple times he's going to kill Diane, so when they find a cop knocked out and stripped out his uniform that MIGHT BE a sign he's in the building? What did the police ever do to horror movie writers to deserve the shabby treatment they get in these things?

Diane and her escort return to her room so she can change, but the cop hears someone in the room so he draws his gun. It turns out to just be Derek, who is no longer wearing the stocking. He yells at his mother for always forgetting about him and storms off, probably to go smell her underwear or something. The cop waits outside the door while Diane begins to change, but there's Eeeev-uhl appearing out of thin air with a knife in his hand. He's also wearing a TERRIFYING Richard Nixon plastic mask, slowly stripping it off to reveal his face. Instead of freaking the fuck out, Diane chastises him for scaring her because he's... HER HUSBAND Richard! Dun dun duuu- wait. What?

Diane asks Richard to find their son and talk to him, hopefully on the topic of checking into that nice mental hospital we saw earlier in the movie. On his way out of the room, Diane's guard becomes suspicious of him since there's no way he could have got into the hotel with their blockade around it. Things get worse for Richard as the police find his car at the drive-in, discovering it's registered to his name. Really? He used his OWN CAR for his crimes? I know this is from an era before we had surveillance cameras every five feet, but there were still license plates back then. That shit can easily be checked, as we just saw.

But Richard seems to be on top of things, as he somehow manages to hack into the elevator Diane and the cop are riding to send it plummeting down, the impact knocking them both out. Richard drags the cop away into another room, waking up Diane so he can out himself as the killer. She asks the question we're all thinking, “Why?”. His response is about as disappointing as humanly possible, pretty much amounting to “blah blah blah I'm crazy and all women suck.”. Sigh. You were doing SO GOOD too, New Year's Evil.

He ends up chaining her underneath the elevator, planning on raising it all the way up to give her time to think about her crime of having a vagina, and then smashing her down to her death. The shot of her going up floor after floor is AMAZING.  T he director of this film, Emmett Alston, began his career as a cinematographer and DAMN does it show. As the descent to Diane's death begins, the cops show up to get in a shootout with Richard. One of the cops shoots the control panel he was hacking, causing the elevator to stop before Diane joins Amanda Peet at the bottom of the shaft.

Richard realizes he is outgunned and flees into the stairwell, the cops running after him. He makes it to the roof but has nowhere to go, so he does the sane thing and puts his Nixon mask back on before jumping off the ledge to his death. That's a tad anticlimactic of a slasher death if ever I saw one, and I totally have! Shock of shocks, Derek is among the first people to surround his father's body. He pockets the Nixon mask, a VERY grim look of determination now etched on his wacko face. We don't even get a chance to speculate what he's going to do, because the very next scene is Diane being loaded into an ambulance where we see he is the driver, the real medic dead on the floor.

There's a problem with this though, Derek is wearing the mask in FULL VIEW of the crowd, all of whom can CLEARLY be seen looking at him through the windshield. Not a single person thought this was a bit strange? I don't think medics even wear costumes on Halloween, let alone New Year's Eve. Ah well, guess that's Los Angeles for you. Derek looks maliciously into the camera and drives the ambulance off as a DJ on the radio announces it is now midnight in Hawaii.

Cue the credits.

Did this movie ever fall the fuck apart. Up until the reveal of who Eeeev-uhl really was, this was a pretty damn good movie. Nothing that's going to make you forget John Carpenter's Halloween anytime soon, but for being one of the endless slasher films that movie inspired, it was certainly head and shoulders above pretty much all of them. This looked like several million dollars went into it, all of the shots were great and featured some razor sharp editing. I am taking off points for the band scenes, but those almost entirely went away in the second half so we'll call it even.

The acting was all around solid, with Richard's actor, Kip Niven, definitely stealing the show. Even though he was a vile monster, he was a charismatic one, making his crimes all the more chilling. Roz Kelly was good, but sadly her character was given almost nothing to do besides talk on the phone and dance, so major missed opportunity there. Grant Cramer, making his film debut, gave the worst performance but that's something else you can probably blame on the script as his entire character made NO FUCKING SENSE. Seriously, what was with the stockings?!

The end is where this film dive bombed into Generic Slasher territory, with everything going off the rails thanks to the obsession to have a twist at the cost of everything else. Like I said in my last review, I have no problem with “crazy for the sake of crazy”, but leave it at that! Whenever you try to justify this behaviour is when the problems start compounding, and this film is no exception. The film even had a pass here, as a throwaway line said Richard spent some time in a sanitarium when he was younger. Why not just have him stay there, escape, and go on a killing spree? Why have him seemingly sane, planning out this overly elaborate murder plan right under his wife's nose when there was ZERO set up for it? That's the problem with almost all twists, something I've been bitching about for nearly a year now.

STILL, this is yet another 1980s slasher film I've give a recommendation to if you're a fan of the genre. Very, VERY few look this professional, the filmmakers were really trying here. This is honestly a film that if the fashions weren't so dated, it could easily pass for a film made this millennium. And hey, Roz Kelly fans could CERTAINLY do worse than a film where she plays the tough Queen of Punk.