31 December 2012

YEAR OF BLOOD: AULD LANG PSYCHO

The Year of Blood comes to its glorious close at a time of rebirth and new promises: a time of resolving to be a better, more fulfilled person, and to do a better job hiding the bodies in the year to come. Happy New Year everyone, and thanks for coming along!

Oh my god, guys, I swear that I didn't know when I picked New Year's Evil as the finale to the Year of Blood - and, by extension, to 2012 itself - that it was an early Cannon Films release, but boy am I glad it turned out to be. What better way to commemorate a full year of one dodgy example of filmmaking at its lowest after another, than with the indefatigable producing cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, two names that don't merely promise bad cinema, but truly colorful, delightful stupid bad cinema of the sort that makes you remember why it is that the phrase "so bad it's good" entered the lexicon in the first place!

The omens start early: before the movie itself even begins, in fact. Take a gander at that poster, if you will, the tagline in particular. "Don't you dare make New Year's resolutions... unless you plan to live!" Well, that makes sense, I guess. There ought to be a pun in there, though, don't you think? Because honestly, that's not even threatening. This is the kind of film we're talking about, ladies and gentlemen: the kind advertised with a not-very-clever gag that becomes precipitously more stupid, the longer you look at it.

The actual movie itself is hardly better: it opens in Los Angeles, around 8:30 PM or thereabouts. A good way before midnight in New York, at any rate. And here, punk rock icon Diane "Blaze" Sullivan (Roz Kelly) is hosting an alternative New Year's party for hard core rock fans, airing on one of L.A.'s most prominent underground TV stations. Or something along those lines. It's a big enough deal, at any rate, that Diane has been targeted by a crazy man identifying himself as "Evil", who wants to use her show to broadcast his especially crazy scheme: as midnight hits each U.S. time zone, he's going to kill someone, and torment Diane by playing the tape of his victim's dying screams for her just a couple of minutes later. The concern being, of course, that when midnight comes to California, she's going to be his final target.

What this leaves us with is a slasher film with an absurdly out-of-skew plot structure: we watch as the killer (Kip Niven) drives around Los Angeles, hunting for victims, intercut with scenes of Diane storming around looking angry, intercut with scenes of the cops not even pretending that they give a damn about preventing any of these murders. And all of that is intercut with the actual plot of the movie, which is rock bands. I jest, a little bit; after the two-thirds mark, New Year's Evil starts to earnestly follow its own damn plot, but until then, it's at least an equal divide between musical performances and slasher machinations. This was the same magical year as Golan and Globus's epochally bad disco musical The Apple, mind you, and thinking about the two films in the context of one another makes it suddenly clear to me as it never was before: breaking into cheap-ass genre films wasn't enough, the Go-Go Boys also wanted to get into pop music! That alone can explain why New Year's Evil spend such an indefensible length of time showcasing the talents of rock groups Shadow and Made In Japan, the former of which gets the honor the big show-stopping title song, a hilariously awful fake hair-metal number that sounds exactly like the parodies of the form in This Is Spinal Tap four years later.

The movie is fairly saturated with, "oh, and by the way, IT'S 1980, MOTHERFUCKER!" moments: any time anyone sings a song, or whenever Diane comes out wearing a different outfit; or the moment when the killer tries to seduce a victim into his grasp by suggesting he can get her into a party with Erik Estrada; or my favorite part of the whole picture, an early line where Diane icily suggests to a harried producer, "Drop a 'lude, and relax." But that's just cherry-picking moments out a film where everything is a ridiculous time capsule moment. This should not be a shock: Cannon Films was above all else good at capturing the exact split-second moment in the Zeitgeist when their ideas entered production, which is of course why every one of their films seemed out-of-date by the time it opened.

In all of this, an immaculately tame slasher movie tries its damnedest to raise its head above the madness of everything: but a feature-length ad for Cannon's new rock label wasn't about to yield itself up to genuine horror movie atmosphere, and director Emmett Alston (whose seven-film CV includes three movies with "Ninja" in the title) was assuredly not the man to try and force such a marriage. Instead of the sequences with the killer attaining a prickling, uncomfortable identification between viewer and predator, akin to the same year's Maniac, for example, the alleged "horror" in New Year's Evil plays much more like a Keystone Kops routine, as the killer flails and bumbles about idiotically. Watch him get stuck with a shrill blonde and her embarrassed roommate! Watch him run away from a biker gang! Watch him try to kill the damsel by tying her to the bottom of an elevator! Which has to be some kind of finalist for the "Most absurd death in a slasher movie" race.

Over in the A-plot, Roz Kelly struts and purrs and in general convinces us not at all that she's a plausible rock goddess: the fact that she has an adult child, Derek (Grant Cramer), saddled with a handful of completely pointless red herring scenes - after we've already seen the face of the actual killer, mind you - general serves to cement one's impression that she's a bit long in the tooth to be the supremely iconic face of today's hard-rocking, in your face music that the film desperately requires her to be.

The film is, in short, unmatchably stupid and silly, every inch a Cannon production: Golan and Globus undoubtedly were among the first to read the writing on the wall that slasher films were going to be a big deal in the future of cheap, profitably '80s films, and they wanted to get in on the ground floor. Everything's there: prudish sex that leads to death, gore effects that are neither terribly convincing nor outlandish, and a calendar event to anchor it all. It couldn't possibly be a more perfect example of the early slasher film at its most reductive, crass, and unnecessary; and it's just daft enough to be a complete hoot from top to bottom. There's not an inch of it that works, but damn me, is it ever fun.

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