Monday, September 9, 2013

New Years Evil (1980): Horror on the TV

New Year's Evil (1980)
dir: Emmett Alston

1980s horror movies have a reputation for mainly containing acts of graphic violence perpetrated against women, while violence against men flinches. Obviously, this is more true in some movies than others. The two prime counter-examples in my mind are Johnny Depp's volcano of blood in Nightmare on Elm Street, and Kevin Bacon getting spiked through the neck in Friday the 13th. Then, there's New Years Evil.

New Years Evil has exactly one female character who lasts more than 10 minutes. That character is Blaze, the uh...heroine?...of the movie. Blaze is a punky mid-30s sexed-up rock show hostess who is throwing her show's New Years Eve party in a Los Angeles hotel, featuring a hell of a lot of crappy bands. Her husband is supposedly in Palm Springs getting coked up, and she's busy mildly ignoring her son who has an announcement five minutes before a huge televised performance. Oh, and Blaze's female assistant is killed before the opening credits, but everybody thinks she's just missing.

The movie is then split into two separate movies (but never with a split screen, unfortunately).  The first film is Blaze putting on her punk/rock n roll New Years Eve party.  Right as she starts, she is called by a guy calling himself Evil who states that he will be killing people. And, every hour on the hour, Evil calls back and torments Blaze with recordings of the murders he just committed, while leading the police on a goose chase to find the victims.

The second film is Evil calling Blaze and killing women on the hours.  He picks up girls, sexualizes them if they aren't sexualized, then kill them.  The murders aren't really all that brutal, though a cop states that all of the victims have had their breasts mutilated, and the killer has mommy issues.  To the movies' sole credit, we never see the breast mutilation, and even when we see the bodies, their breasts look intact.

Eventually, as was telegraphed from the opening scene, and the repeated mentions throughout the film, the killer is revealed to be the missing husband, who's goal was to discredit and murder his wife for being a sexed up workaholic bitch who ignored his needs and the needs of their son.  The husband plans on killing Blaze by chaining her beneath an elevator, sending it up to the top floor, then sending it back down to crush her beneath it.  Because formula dictates, he fails, but the message was received.

With horror movies, especially in the '80s, the killer was the tool to implement conservative values upon transgressing victims (generally teenagers).  New Years Evil is no different.  In 1980, we were already seeing the backlash of the feminist movement, as women moved from behind-the-scenes mothers into public-facing tough women.  1979 has Kramer vs Kramer, which posed the wife as needing to leave her entire family to "find herself" and gain her financial independence.  Four months after New Years Evil, William Adler would release his novel War of the Roses, which, unlike the movie, was a screed posed against the ambitious Barbara Rose for daring to try to make a company of her own selling pate.

In this light, New Years Evil was a movie that was violent against both sexualized and successful women.  The first murder is Blaze's female assistant, a moderately successful woman serving another woman.  The second murder is a psych ward nurse, whom Evil had seduced.  The third and fourth murders were a pair of semi-ditzy sexed-up women whom Evil had picked up at a bar.  The fifth murder was a teenage girl who had been heavy petting with a boy at a drive in.  And, then there's the torture of Blaze.  These are all of the females in the entire movie.  Let me repeat that for posterity: these six victims were the only women in the entire movie. And, there were no men who were victims.

New Years Evil becomes a screed against the sexualized woman, as is usual for 80s horrors.  Unlike most of the horror movies, the man who is also doing his share of sexualizing the women is not victimized or murdered.  Indeed, in most of the cases, the sexualizer in New Years Evil is the murderer.  Only the drive-in teenage boy is sexualized but is not the murderer, and is also not victimized (except for having his car stolen, which, really, doesn't count in a horror movie).

But, worse than that, New Years Evil is a screed against the successful woman, embodied by Blaze.  Blaze is a woman who is married, but neglects her family for her job, which, if she was a man, would normally be the symbol of patriarchical success in movies of old.  Men are regularly neglectful of their family in the service of their successful jobs. Blaze, because she is wife and mother, isn't allowed to be successful, or even mildly neglectful. She's not allowed to be distracted by the oncoming four-hour-long televised show that will she is the host of.  No, because she is wife and mother, she has to attend to her son's needs even though he's coming to her 5 minutes before she has to go on the air.

New Years Evil is actually a hugely misogynistic horror flick, seemingly even more than usual.  Which is a shame, because it is actually a clever idea for a film in general.  As a sort of slasher radio show, it could have been amazing, especially if it wasn't so reactionary against both sex and success in women.  But, the movie is bogged down with the need to murder women, and to rail against successful women.

Plus, it's actually kind of bad.  It's not laughably terrible, except for a scene with the murderer hiding in a dumpster.  It does have some cheesy, overdrawn lines.  But, the movie isn't actively offensive in quality.  This is just merely average to bad in quality.  It isn't recommended for gore.  It isn't recommended for humor.  It isn't ironically enjoyable.  It isn't actively good.  It is a wasted idea that never quite took off the ground.

The main purpose of the movie, now, is to exist as a statement of what men thought of feminism in the early 80s.  It shows the patriarchy's reaction to women attempting to succeed.  And, it's a valuable tool for that tye of cultural statement.  For actual enjoyment, stay clear.

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