Saturday, December 31, 2022

New Year's Evil (1980)

... aka: Dodici rintocchi di terrore (Twelve Bells of Terror)
... aka: Fin de año maldito (Cursed Year-End)
... aka: Heis-Morderen (The Elevator Killer)
... aka: Reveillon Maldito (Cursed New Year's Eve)
... aka: Rocknacht des Grauens (Rock Night of Horror)

Directed by:
Emmett Alston

Happy New Year's Eve, everyone! 

I'm pleased to report that, with this title (and less than three hours left to spare... whew!), I finally hit my 100 review quota for 2022. Hopefully next year, life permitting, I won't be cutting it quite as close. I'm not so happy to report that I'm a little under the weather this evening and won't be partaking in any strenuous NYE activities, unless you count sitting at home watching bad horror movies as a strenuous activity, and some of these movies are so bad that I actually sometimes do. 

Ah well, I suppose a low key movie night is as good as anything else this evening and there are some definite pluses here, too. First of all, no hangover. Second of all, I have time to whip out another review or two and be off to a good start in 2023 before heading back to work on Monday. And, finally, no having to dig my faux leather pants, spiked dog collar, chains and studded bracelets out of the back of the closet and then having to spend an hour teasing out my hair and putting on kabuki make-up just so I can go listen to some terrible pseudo-punk band performing two hours away from me.

Now how about that New Year's Evil? I'll give it this much, it perfectly establishes its tone right out of the gate as we watch a bunch of irritating, obnoxious, leather-clad, heavily-made-up "punkers" (actual descriptive term used in credits) drive around in a convertible screaming, sticking out their tongues, giving us the finger, spitting on passing cars and flicking their cigarette butts at people. Charming and congenial types, they are. The punks, excuse me, punkERS, arrive at a Sunset Strip club for a wild New Year's celebration, where Blaze (Roz Kelly), "the First Lady of Rock," will be hosting "New Year's Evil," a televised countdown of the year's "most popular new wave rock." As that's going on, a couple of bands you've never heard of before - Shadow (not to be confused with the funk-soul band of the same name who were active around the same time) and Made in Japan (not to be confused with the Australian indie rock band that didn't exist prior to 2009) - perform their music and viewers call in to the "Hollywood Hotline" to vote for the top song of the year.

Blaze (real name: Diane Sullivan) and her agent, Ernie Moffett (Jed Mills), are hoping their combo of her presumed sex appeal, the music and viewer interactivity will help them beat out all of the major networks in the ratings. Seeing how they only have four people answering phones, a crowd of maybe 30 people at best and bands forced to squeeze themselves onto a tiny 20x20 stage when they perform, I'd say that's highly unlikely.

While fielding calls, Diane / Blaze speaks to someone with an electronically-altered voice who claims their name is "Eeeeeeevil." Their New Year's resolution? To commit murder at midnight. Seeing how midnight is going to hit differently across the U.S. depending on time zones, that's going to be more than just one victim. The caller then tells Diane he's going to cap things off by killing someone she knows and loves. Ernie promptly retrieves a pair of the LAPD's least-finest; Lt. Ed Clayton (Chris Wallace) and Sgt. Greene (Jon Greene), who initially laugh off her concerns: "You gotta expect that from the type of audience you appeal to." Diane is then lectured about helping to create the problem in the first place (?) before they agree to tap the phones to trace the call in case the person calls back. She just has to keep them on the line long enough. Little does she or anyone else know, but her assistant, Yvonne (Alicia Dhanifu), has already been murdered in her hotel room by an assailant brandishing a switchblade.

Meanwhile, we meet the caller / killer; a man by the name of Richard (Kip Niven). He sneaks into a psychiatric hospital, poses as an orderly and manages to get nurse Jane (Taaffe O'Connell) alone long enough to stab her and slash her throat. The murder weapon? Again, a switchblade. Another nurse later finds her corpse stuffed in the closet but, by that time, the killer has long split. The psycho calls back in to Diane's show, plays an audio recording of the murder and then tells her where the body can be found. He'll repeat this same pattern a number of other times... Now off to the next!

Thankfully, "next" is played the always-delightful Louisa Moritz, who livens things up for a bit in a hilarious cameo as a bubbly motormouth bimbo into "transcendental meditation," until Richard tricks her into sticking her head in a bag of weed and then suffocates her with it! He makes it a two-for-one by then murdering her roommate (Anita Crane). After angering a motorcycle gang, he's pursued into a drive-in theater playing Blood Feast (not the H. G. Lewis one, but a re-title of the 1972 Italian giallo The Red Queen Kills 7 Times), where he stabs the biker leader to death and then steals a car with a teen girl (Teri Copley) in the backseat. Through a series of lucky breaks, the girl is able to escape. From there, it's off to the club to meet up with his ultimate target: Blaze.

I absolutely hated this one the first time I saw it years ago, but this revisit has opened my eyes that there at least a few good things to be found here. Most of the performances aren't bad, with an especially fun turn by Niven, who seems to have a blast playing the killer. He also has a chance to change disguises a number of times, including slapping on a 70s porn 'stache to impress the ladies at a nightclub, dressing up as a priest and impersonating a cop. Production values are generally fine and there are a couple of individual scenes, like the aforementioned one with Moritz, that are entertaining. Alas, the complements pretty much end right there. Obviously made to cash in on both the post-HALLOWEEN holiday-themed psycho killer craze and the emerging late 70s / early 80s New Wave / punk scene, this needed to accomplish just two things to have been passable: 1. Give slasher fans what they want to see and 2. Feature decent music. This fails on both counts.

While there's a little blood here, that also turns out to be a problem because, when I say little, I mean it. How little? So little that confirmed slasher hater Roger Ebert gave it a kinder, gentler review than just about any other slasher flick that followed hot on the heels of Carpenter's classic. Exploitation elements in general are quite low here and nearly all of the unimaginative murder scenes (mostly switchblade stabbings / slashings) take place entirely off-screen.

We're then left in the position of having to try to enjoy this as a suspense film, yet it's unable to ever generate any due to its fragmented structure, which constantly jumps back and forth between boring filler scenes at the club and the killer's exploits. One plot twist is successfully deployed at the hour mark, but the film then squanders it by saddling the killer with a truly moronic motive (plus terrible dialogue to match), ending with an unintentionally funny final scene of a chained-up Blaze dangling from the bottom of an elevator about to get squashed. Had I made this movie, I'd have kept the killer's identity hidden the entire time and then, in the final minute, had the mask ripped off to reveal... Dick Clark. Motive: Anger at Blaze for putting a dent in his Nielsen ratings.

Considering all of the great new wave and punk acts that were around in 1980, was this really the best they could find? While the title theme song is somewhat catchy (or maybe I just got used to it after hearing it five times), the rest of the music is generic and sounds more like standard pop-rock than new wave or punk influenced. Also, I seriously doubt punkERS attending a freaking New Year's Eve rock concert want to stand around and listen to a bunch of slow instrumentals and ballads. Making matters worse is them rubbing salt in the would by making us watch the irritating audience, who are slam dancing and mugging for the cameras one minute and then acting like they've been slipped Quaaludes the next.

While director Alston never made anything all that great, at least some of his other films were more memorable. He's best known for a string of low budget ninja movies in the 80s. After serving as 2nd unit director on the hit Enter the Ninja (1981), he went on to direct the Crown International release Nine Deaths of the Ninja (1985), The Force of the Ninja (1988) and Little Ninjas (1993), a rip-off of the previous year's hit 3 Ninjas, which was deceptively released under the alt title 3 Little Ninjas to trick people. He also made the truly weird DEMONWARP (1988), which managed to squeeze aliens, ghosts, zombies and a Bigfoot monster into its nonsensical plot.

Grant Cramer (Hardbodies; Killer Klowns from Outer Space) co-stars as Diane's mentally-imbalanced son, Derek, who suffers from extreme headaches and is featured in strange scenes slipping his mother's pantyhose over his face and jamming a pin through his ear lobe. Sleaze movie regular John Alderman (LOVE CAMP 7) has a tiny role as a psychiatrist who says, "He's mutilated the breasts of most of his women, that's a common characteristic of a psychopathic killer..." and SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE final girl Michelle Michaels (billed as "Michelle Waxman") plays one of the punks. Alston also has a cameo as a camera operator.

A Cannon Film Group release, this was produced by the dynamic duo of Menaham Golan and Yoram Globus, and is available on DVD (MGM) and Blu-ray (Shout! Factory). Because of the snappy title and the fact there are so few horror films set on this particular holiday, this is probably the #1 genre title people seek out when they're looking for a New Years-themed horror film. However, you do have other options here: Terror Train (1980), Ghost Keeper (1981) and BLOODY NEW YEAR (1987) to name but a few.


Last Horror Film, The (1982)

... aka: Fanatic
... aka: Fanatical Extremes
... aka: Les frénétiques (The Frantic)
... aka: Love to Kill
... aka: Maniac 2
... aka: Maniac II: Love to Kill
... aka: Shin maniakku (New Maniac)

Directed by:
David Winters

William Lustig's Maniac was released in 1980 to some controversy due to its "misogynistic" depictions of violence toward women and graphic gore. The reviews were also absolutely brutal. People expected that from, say, Gene Siskel, who claims he walked out of the theater after 20 minutes, but even reviews from most major genre publications were negative. Since then, the film has enjoyed a big boost in popularity (enough so that it was remade in 2012) and a greater appreciation for its gritty effectiveness, make-up artist Tom Savini's craftsmanship and effective performances. It was a completely different story in 1980, though. Back then, nearly everyone involved couldn't wash their hands of it fast enough! And that's a big part of the reason The Last Horror Film even came to be.

Maniac producer Judd Hamilton, who put up most of the budget, and star Caroline Munro, Hamilton's then-wife, were both upset that the original script, which apparently had more plot and better characterizations, had been sacrificed to make room for more bloodshed. The genesis for this loose follow-up appears to have occurred after a screening of Maniac at Cannes. During a press interview, Hamilton said that while he personally hated the film, he was still being inundated by offers to purchase the distribution rights. The interviewer then responded that it was "tragic" that such a film would even have an audience to begin with, to which Hamilton responded, "Maniac is a bad piece of blood and gore. We'll have a big success from an audience that shouldn't exist. Now I'd like to make a film about that audience..."

And that he did.

The audience for something like Maniac, which would be me and most of you fine folks reading this, is personified here by Vinny Durand. Played by talented character actor and Maniac star Joe Spinell, Vinny is first seen sitting in a theater watching a topless woman being electrocuted in a hot tub in some sex-n-violence slasher flick. His reaction? Breaking out in a sweat, shaking, grunting and basically acting like the whole spectacle is getting him off. Maybe it is. He's slouched down in his seat and we can't see where his hands are after all. A couple sitting behind him ("Weirdo!") walk away in disgust.

When he's not getting his jollies watching simulated murder scenes, Vinny drives a cab. He's the laughing stock of the entire neighborhood. Everyone considers him a loser and make fun of him for constantly reading movie magazines and fantasizing about being some hot shot director who wins an Oscar. He's single. He's a loner. And he lives at home in a cramped apartment with his elderly mother (played by Spinell's adorably untalented real-life mom "Mary Spinell" / Filomena Spagnuolo) who thinks he's going crazy because he's not getting enough protein in his diet. So tell us how you really feel, Judd Hamilton.

Vinny has purchased a plane ticket to France, where he's hoping to track down "Queen of Horror Films" Jana Bates (Munro), who's set to be at Cannes to promote her new film "Scream." He's bringing along his camera and, while he's there, hopes to convince Jana to star in his movie, which he then hopes will open some doors for him in Hollywood. Yes, that's just how crazy this dude is. After hitching a ride from a cowboy driving a Confederate flag-decaled Corvette (!), Vinny settles into his hotel room and then gets to work. He's at the airport the next morning when Jana and her current beau, up-and-coming director Alan Cunningham (Hamilton), arrive to a mob of screaming, adoring fans. Due to her acclaimed performance in "Scream," Jana has been short-listed for Best Actress honors alongside the likes of Jane Fonda, Meryl Streep, Julie Christie and Faye Dunaway (hehe).

Despite his best efforts, Vinny finds it impossible to get in contact with Jana but he doesn't let that stop him from going forward with making his horror film, "The Loves of Dracula," anyway. Instead of asking Jana to star, he'll just force her to. As for his movie's heavy, well, he'll just cut corners and play the killer himself. The only thing left is to cast some victims. Luckily, he's in a whole town full of potential victims. Who needs to hire fx people when you can really kill them yourself, right? Vinny starts specifically targeting people within Jana's inner circle. He sneaks into the hotel room of her ex-husband, producer Bret Bates (Glenn Jacobson), and decapitates him. Vinny hides behind a shower curtain and films as Jana walks in, discovers the corpse, screams and runs off. He then gets rid of the body before the police arrive.

Other Jana acquaintances, including theatrical agent Marty Bernstein (Devin Goldenberg), lowly gore film director Stanley Kline (director Winters) and actress Susanne Archer (Susanne Benton) each receive a cryptic note about how they'll never work on another horror film again and end up getting killed off one by one. Death scenes include a stabbing, an axing, a shooting, a fall from a tower, eyes ripped out, chests ripped open and a slow-motion chainsaw decapitation. In between that there are weird, stylish and highly amusing fantasy sequences where Vinny envisions himself being mocked by his peers.

Since this was filmed on location at the 1981 Cannes Film Festival, it turns out to be a great little snapshot at what was going on there at the time. We gets endless guerrilla-style shots of posters and theater marquees, the crowds, the press, the nightlife / discos / clubs, the celebrities and everything else. Isabelle Adjani, who won the Best Actress award that year for, ironically enough, the horror film Possession, is seen walking the red carpet, as are Karen Black, Kris Kristofferson, Marcello Mastroianni and other celebs. Naturally, the famous nude beaches also get quite a bit of coverage as dozens of anonymous, unashamed women parade around topless.

Radio broadcasts talk about the attempted assassinations of president Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II, airplane bombings, terrorist attacks and other unpleasant then-current events in between discussions about whether or not horror films have a negative psychological effect on viewers or can inspire real-life violence. Whatever messages the film is trying to get across are muddled into near-incoherence by just how busy the whole thing is, yet it is that same busyness that makes the film endless entertaining. I wouldn't call this great, or even good, but it's still fascinating in a messy, slapdash kind of way.

Holding everything together as much as he possibly can is Spinell, who gives a memorably unhinged performance and puts on quite a show here! Depending on the scene, he's either campy, creepy or pitiable. His exchanges with his real-life mom, whom he keeps in contact with from Cannes, are hilarious. He's also involved in many outrageous, head-scratching scenes like vomiting up his popcorn and running out of a theater while watching a gore movie, ripping open his shirt and rubbing his chest (!) while images of Munro are projected onto his body and going to see a buxom stripper (Sharon Hughes) and having grainy b/w visions of him gyrating on a stage while wearing a skimpy two piece bikini (!!!)

On the flip side, this is not an ideal vehicle for Mrs. Munro despite her star billing and the amount of time set aside to show her strutting around, modeling and posing for endless photo ops. Her performance is basically a non-starter because, like many others in the cast, she's been horribly dubbed by someone else (thankfully though, Spinell has not). As for her styling throughout... whew! She has a deep tan, ridiculously overdone makeup, a wardrobe selection best described as New Wave meets Ringling Brothers with Goth undertones and bleach-streaked, feathered skunk hair. Let's just say she's both looked and sounded better than what's on display here.

Among the cast of thousands (no lie for a change!) are J'Len Winters (the director's wife) showing off her enhanced chest in two different scenes, Tami Hamilton (Judd's daughter from his first marriage) as a police decoy who has the misfortune of having to copy Munro's hairstyle and June Chadwick and Robin "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" Leach as reporters. The opening credits song is "Photographic" by Depeche Mode, but most of the other songs are from Jesse Frederick (later a notable TV theme writer) and Jeff Koz, the best of which is "High Wire."

In 1982, this played at both the Sitges Film Festival and the now-defunct Paris International Festival of Science Fiction and Fantasy Films. And, yes, it also played at Cannes (in 1983). It then made its U.S. home video debut in 1984 on the Media label and has since been picked up for distribution by Troma, who've released it countless times on video, DVD and Blu-ray. Some of their releases have changed the title to Fanatic. In other countries, like Germany and Japan, the film has been marketed as a sequel to Maniac.

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