Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Scream Factory- NEW YEAR'S EVIL and BLACULA/SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM on Blu-ray ""

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


NEW YEAR'S EVIL (1980; Emmett Alston)
I feel like "Holiday horror" sometimes gets a bad rap. It's an oft target for parody when it comes to the genre and folks seem to take great joy in coming up with some oddball one-off holiday to make the title of a would-be horror film. And to be fair, the genre itself kind of set itself up as this kind of target as so many Holiday horror films were made during the rush of early 80s slasher films that came in the wake of HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13TH. Things like MY BLOODY VALENTINE and MOTHER'S DAY certainly invite folks to take themselves less seriously. MBV in particular is a great slasher movie, even if the title may initially give folks some pause. That being said, NEW YEAR'S EVIL is another in that category that would seem to be coming from a place of silliness or at least an attempt to capitalize on New Years Eve as a holiday for a horror movie to take place on. What director (and writer) Emmett Alston does with that though is interesting to be sure. He creates something of a murder mystery slasher movie out of the whole thing. A psychopath keeps calling in to a New Years Eve TV program to tell the hostess about the killing he's been doing (and will continue to do) throughout the evening leading up to the new year. Though the movie certainly falls into the slasher category, it's also something of a thriller which is a slight change of pace from some of the other films that were flooding theaters around this time. They way Alston uses the countdown to midnight as a literal ticking clock that the killer is working with makes the movie a bit more suspenseful and keeps things moving along more than was the case with some lesser slasher efforts from the era. This movie also has a really good creepy mask that the killer wears and I've always been a fan of a good mask. Sadly, it feels like I haven't seen this trend as much in recent years (though the masks in YOU'RE NEXT are pretty memorable). The cast also has some standouts that are recognizable. Kip Niven's (EARTHQUAKE, MAGNUM FORCE, DAMNATION ALLEY) is a face that will seem immediately familiar to cinephiles, whilst Roz Kelly should ring a bell for Happy Days fans (she played Pinky Tuscadero, Fonzie's girlfriend).
The soundtrack  certainly makes an impression right out of the gate with Shadow's quite delightful theme song for the movie (listen below). I think that having a good opening song is another thing that has been sadly underrated for a while. It really can help set the tone obviously, but if the energy is right it can propel things forward in a fantastic way. I have never seen this film with a crowd, but I can only imagine that this song combined with footage of Hollywood Boulevard and some rather rambunctious characters would have folks looking at their neighbors like, "Alright! Now we're gonna have some fun!". 
Thanks Scream Factory for plucking this one from a slight obscurity and giving it a solid special edition type Blu-ray treatment. Though horror fans are absolutely aware of this classic slasher (especially thanks to it having been on Netflix Instant for a while where many finally got a chance to see it), it needs more love in my mind and this disc will be a big step in getting it that adulation.

Special Features:
-This Scream Factory Blu-ray features an audio commentary with writer/director Emmett Alston (moderated by Code Red DVD's Bill Olsen). There's a little bit too much dead air throughout this one, but overall it's not bad.
-"Call Me Eeevil... : The Making of New Year's Evil" - (37 mins) This newly produced retrospective featurette includes interviews with Director of Photography Thomas Ackerman (BEETLEJUICE, ANCHORMAN), plus actors Kip Niven, Grant Cramer, & Taaffe O'Connell. All parties talk about how they came to the project, their experiences working with Emmett Alston, and some stories of how they developed their characters. All the actors seem to get a kick out of the fact that the movie has continued to have a life since its and something of a cult following years later. 

As with most movie phenomenon in the 60s and 70s, American International Pictures (AIP) always wanted in on the action. When Blaxploitation films began to become a thing after the release of movies like COTTON COMES TO HARLEM and SHAFT, AIP saw an opportunity to throw their hrs into the ring. They didn't have Netflix's in-depth alga rhythms to help determine how they should go about it, but they could easily see that they'd had a great deal of success with horror films over the years and why not just do that again, but make them "Black". Thus things like BLACULA were born.

BLACULA is a much more dramatic, often outright sad film about a cursed man who misses his wife and thinks he's found some kind of reincarnation of her in a modern day woman.
What struck me was how much of a bummer the opening scene was. Basically the main character is having dinner with Count Dracula (which yeah I know is probably a bad idea in the first place). When Dracula starts to speak of the man's wife in terms of wanting to buy her and make her his slave, the man is naturally offended and tries to leave. Dracula ain't having any of it though and he goes to town on both of them. Poor guy. Really much more sympathetic an origin story than I'm used to for most vampire flicks. Actor William Marshall plays BLACULA and he brings a wonderful sense of poise and propriety to the character. This may have to do with the fact that he was primarily a Shakespearian stage actor.

SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM benefits greatly from the addition of the lovely Ms. Pam Grier to the cast. Grier makes any movie she is in better. I am a huge fan of hers.
This film brings Blacula back into the story by having him summoned by the son of a voodoo cult leader. When his mother (the Queen of the cult) dies and does not choose him as her successor, he becomes angry and vows revenge but performing the ritual which conjures Blacula and gets him bitten and turned into a vampire. While I didn't expect to, I ended up enjoying this movie a little more than the first for one reason (Pam Grier) or another. 

On a personal side note, I had my mind blown recently when I finally figured out that William Marshall also played "The King of Cartoons" on some episodes of Pee-Wee's Playhouse. Fantastic.

Special Features:
-Included on this Blu-ray is an audio commentary track (on BLACULA) by David F. Walker (who made a cool Blaxploitation Documentary called MACKED, HAMMERED, SLAUGHTERED AND SHAFTED back in 2004). Walker is a very well-informed commentator and has lots to say about the film itself, the actors (not just the main cast, but also many of the supporting actors as well). As you would imagine from his pedigree, Walker has a great deal of passion for the genre and for this film in particular (whilst maintaining a realistic viewpoint on the movie's flaws). It's a very propulsive, information-packed commentary and one of the better ones I've heard on a Scream Factory disc so far. Criterion-level stuff.
-"Interview with The Vampire's Assistant - Richard Lawson from SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM" (14 mins) - This is the other supplement on the disc and it can be found in the SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM features menu. In this interview, Actor Lawson discusses how he was cast, what he learned about filmmaking on the movie, and his experiences working with William Marshall, Pam Grier and the other actors. Lawson is a very calm, well-spoken actor who is very thoughtful in his recollections of working on the movie. Fun interview.

A few interviews I found online with William Marshall and Pam Grier:

No comments: