Today’s BAD MOVIE MONDAY column is about a film called NEW YEAR’S EVIL. It was released in 1980 and was directed by Emmett Alston. It stars Roz Kelly, Kip Niven, Grant Cramer and Chris Wallace. The film is a pretty good horror movie, but… is it a slasher? I’ve always said that from 1979 to about 1983 every horror movie was trying to force itself into the slasher subgenre, often with poor results, and NEW YEAR’S EVIL is the perfect example of a movie that feels like it was hastily rewritten to fit the trend. So you know what? Instead of a review, I’m going to answer the question of whether or not NEW YEAR’S EVIL is a Slasher Movie, and my answer will be definitive.
Quick Recap! When COVID shut down everything in early 2020, I started an online bad movie night get-together with some friends that we eventually dubbed “Bad Movie Monday”. The premise was simple: We’d torture each other every Monday with the worst trash we could find, tell a few jokes, cheer each other up, and in the process maybe discover some weird obscure cinema that we might never have seen any other way. This series of reviews will feature highlights of those night so you can all share in the fun and maybe get some ideas for your own movie night.
Okay, first let’s look at the film’s synopsis to see what we’re dealing with, and then we’ll list the set of rules that we’re going to use to figure out if it’s a slasher or not.
On a punked-out, rock ‘n’ roll TV special, the hours to New Year’s Eve are counted down by the vivacious hostess Blaze. But as the show progresses, every hour, on the hour, a maniacal night-slasher brutally carves up a new female victim. As the trail of mutilated bodies spreads throughout the city, it becomes apparent that the monstrous psychopath’s ultimate target is Blaze herself. Desperate to stop the bloody rampage, the police frantically seal off the on-going televised festivities. But the killer is quicker than they suspected – and he’s also the last one anyone suspects. So join the holiday season’s deadliest celebration – it’s a party you’ll never forget!
Well, right out of the gate that synopsis screams Giallo, not Slasher. Still, we’ll give it a chance. It’s fairly well liked. Supposedly, it’s Quentin Tarantino’s favorite slasher movie. Personally, I also like it too. I’m not a huge fan, but think its underrated eighties sleaze.
So, here are a few rules I have compiled that I feel are necessary in order for a movie to properly be called a “Slasher” movie. Keep in mind that none of these rules are cast in stone, but that if a movie doesn’t follow at least six rules then it probably isn’t a slasher.
#1 – The killer has to be masked for much of their onscreen time, and then unmasked at the very end. Also, the unmasking has to be shocking in some way. Either because the killer is someone you didn’t expect or preferably because they have some sort of facial deformity that makes them hideous. There are exceptions to this rule. Nightmare on Elm Street is one example. I feel Freddy’s distinctive glove, sweater and hat, not to mention his burned face, fulfill the “mask” criteria. However, it’s still an important rule to follow.
#2 – One of the more minor rules, but still a rule. The film has to take place on a specific date. Either it’s a holiday like Halloween or Valentine’s Day or Christmas, or the anniversary of some terrible event, or both. This can be referenced in the title or not.
#3 – Until at least the third act, none of the characters should be aware that anyone is being killed. So usually one, two people tops, are murdered at a time. The only exception should be The Final Girl who should either have a sixth sense about the killer’s presence or have witnessed a killing. In either case, no one believes her warnings. The only mild, very mild, exception to this rule is someone previously connected to the killer who is trying to warn everyone that he’s back. Usually this person is either crazy or someone that people dismiss as crazy.
#4 – The killer is almost always male. The reason for this, beyond the rather depressing real life statistic that males are often far more homicidal and almost always more violent in temperament than females, is that having a female killer changes the genre to a ghost story or a film noir. While there are a few female slasher villains, and while I personally think it would actually be quite cool to subvert the genre by having a female killer chasing a Final Boy, it’s just not that common and of the few times I’ve seen it done it’s only really worked once or maybe twice.
#5 – The Final Girl does not have to be a virgin. That’s a stupid idea that some overthinking and overly snobby faux-intellectual College professor came up with for a class they were teaching called “Everything I’m too lame to enjoy must be decadent and bourgeois 101”. No, instead The Final Girl has to have a connection to the killer. Either she is a long lost relative or a former love, or she has a terrible secret in her past. The whole “virgin” thing comes from a misunderstanding of the Final Girl character. The Final Girl is not a virgin, she’s just more reserved and thoughtful. This is why she becomes aware of the killer when others aren’t. Because she doesn’t fit in with her, usually far hornier, entourage she has more time on her hands to notice something is wrong.
#6 – The killer can use any weapon except a gun. Even when presented with the opportunity to use a gun, like if he killed a guy that was out hunting, he will not use the gun to shoot people. Instead, he will break the gun so no one else can use it or use the gun as a club or spear.
#7 – The killer doesn’t talk unless it’s to make frightening phone calls to the police or the victims. The killer also absolutely never talks when stalking or chasing their victim. Again, the exception to this rule is A Nightmare on Elm. However, I’m much stricter about this rule than I was about the mask rule. When a killer openly speaks too much, it takes away from them being scary.
#8 – The killer should be physically wounded by The Final Girl in the third act and show an unusual, almost supernatural, resilience. So she has to stab them or shoot them or run them over with a car, and the killer then has to get up as if nothing had happened. The more they shrug it off, the more of a slasher movie it is.
#9 – The Final Girl is almost never chased by the killer in a familiar place. It can’t be her own house. It always has to be someone else’s house or some other unfamiliar location, like a cabin or hospital or some sort of industrial setting.
#10 – The killer’s mask should always be slightly damaged at the end as a setup for a sequel, where it will look rougher and more distinctive. Destroying the mask completely however means that the killer is dead.
Okay, now that we’ve listed what makes a slasher movie, let’s apply these rules to the original Terminator movie in order to test our theory before we try it out for real with NEW YEAR’S EVIL. Everyone always says the first Terminator is more of a slasher than an actioner. So let’s prove it, with science!
So, right off the bat Terminator fulfills rule number 1 because Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character wears human skin as a disguise. Underneath, he’s actually a scary robot skeleton.
The film doesn’t follow rule number 2. It doesn’t take place on any special day or ominous anniversary, so no points. However, it kind of follows rule number 3, albeit not completely. Sarah Connor mistakes Kyle Reese for the killer and is spooked by the news show mentioning that women with the name Sarah Connor are being systemically murdered. So let’s give it half a point for that one.
It fulfills rules 4 and 5. Ahnuld is very male, and Sarah is very connected to our killer, albeit because of time travel. So two points. However, the film so badly breaks rule 6 that we’re actually going to dock it point. Lots of guns used by the Terminator. In fact, almost only guns.
The film then impressively follows rules 7 to 10 perfectly. The Terminator barely talks, Sarah wounds him horribly and he keeps walking away from it, and the crushed Exoskeleton is what sets up the sequel. We’ll give it three and a half points instead of four, because it isn’t a mask being damaged or destroyed and the sequel features a different killer, but its close enough for me.
So, yes, I proved it. Tell your friends. The original Terminator gets 6 out 10, which makes it a slasher movie in my book.
Okay! Shall we now finally wander into the subject of this entire column? Which is to answer the following question: Is the movie that me and my friends are going to watch tonight for BAD MOVIE MONDAY a slasher movie or not?
Well, we’re definitely starting off on the wrong foot. NEW YEAR’S EVIL not only doesn’t fulfill rule number 1, it also shows us the killer within the first fifteen minutes. I mean, he’s actually on the freakin’ POSTER. It does make up for it by following rule number 2 and being set on a holiday, and then surprisingly incorporating the theme of this holiday into the story. It’s actually pretty clever the way they use the New Year in this.
However, the film then completely ignores rule number 3. The killer kills people and then tells the police about it. So the victims are immediately found. No points for that one.
The film then, of course, follows Rule number 4. However, it doesn’t follow rule number 5. The Final Girl is not someone who doesn’t fit in or is in some way different or alienated from the others. She’s actually a famous TV star. So definitely not shy or awkward. She also is only aware of the killer because he calls her up to tell her what he’s doing. So she isn’t exactly doing the Final Girl thing where she’s sensing him when others are not. She also calls the cops, who believe her and take steps to stop the man. One hundred points awarded for a smart decision! That said, slasher movies aren’t about smart decisions and so it gets zero points.
The film also doesn’t follow rule 6 and 7. The killer uses a gun in the third act, and before that was incessantly gabbing away while stalking and killing. Although, I will say that the killer’s long insane rant about feeling castrated by women feels like such a REAL sick fucked up thing that a maniac would say that I‘m going to give it one point for realism even if I can’t give it a point for following the rules.
Finally, when it comes to rules 8 through 10, they almost don’t apply to this film. Our final girl is so passive and ineffective that she doesn’t fight back or even run away from the killer. So 8 and 9 don’t really count at all. As for 10, the film does introduce a mask very late in the game but then barely uses it. So, let’s give it half a pity point for all three.
Final tally? 3.5 out of 10. Whoa… So the film that’s always been considered a “slasher” movie is less of a slasher than The Terminator, which was always considered an action movie. Interesting twist.
That said, NEW YEAR’S EVIL is a really great giallo with a surprisingly clever twist ending. It actually has a lot in common with Lucio Fulci’s New York Ripper which came out two years later. So on the level of a thriller it works fairly well. However, I’m not a fan of talking killers or of gross misogyny in horror movies, and NEW YEAR’S EVIL has a bit too much of both. So, I’m kind of iffy on it and always have been. The ending speech by the killer about why he’s murdering women just seems too depressingly real, and I prefer it when horror movies are scary fantasies. Other issues that I have with it is that it’s a bit cheap and seems to have been quickly banged together. That, and the attempts to make it into a “slasher” are laughable. The Final Girl is also really lame in my book. She is so weak and ineffective that it borders on being a sexist portrayal. I’m not someone who wants all my heroines to kick ass, but the amount of passivity her character shows feels almost insulting. Yet, despite all that, the film is worth checking out even though I’m not a fan. True, it wasn’t my thing, but it’s a pretty good thriller and a very good giallo.