APRIL 21, 2012
Most directors’ final films are pretty disappointing for one reason or another, but if Bloody New Year proves to be Norman J. Warren’s swan song (he’s still alive, but appears to have retired), I think it’s a pretty decent capper on a career filled with some wonderfully batshit horror films. In some ways it’s one of his nuttiest – the term “kitchen sink” will certainly come to mind as you watch – but it’s also pretty accessible. And it’s just plain fun, which is all I really ask for out of this sort of stuff.
After a prologue in 1959, we meet our protagonists, who are enjoying a trip to the beach when they suddenly decide to go to a local fun park. There, they get into a fight with two hoodlums and a carny, engage in a minor chase, and get on a boat, which springs a leak and leaves them stranded on a nearby island, where the actual plot of the movie begins, nearly 20 minutes later. It’s like one of those Simpsons where there’s a tangent to the tangent to the actual plot, except it takes almost the entire length of a Simpsons episode. In other words – it’s pretty damn random, and it sets the stage nicely for the insanity that follows.
What follows is basically a haunted house movie, which is new territory for Warren. Granted I’m no scholar on the guy, but of the five films I’ve seen from him, none belong to the same sub-genre, and I admire that. The quality was questionable on a few (some say all), but it’s great that he keeps you on your toes not only within the narrative of that film, but over his career as a whole. Too bad he retired before torture porn got invented!
Anyway, the kids aren’t there long before all hell breaks loose. People jump out of movie screens, objects fly around, toy Santa Claus robots turn on, our heroes are menaced by a vacuum cleaner, and all manner of ghosts and zombie like figures attack with respectable frequency. It’s also got a lot of abstract ideas, such as a typical “everything in the room flies at our heroes” scene (complete with a paper towel roll unspooling in their direction – oh no!), which is immediately followed by everything reforming and going back in its place. There’s a time travel (or timewarp – the original title is Timewarp Terror) element to the film that I never quite understood, so I assume this has something to do with it.
But that’s nothing on the scene where two of them are terrorized by what can only be described as a laugh track ghost. They/we don’t see anything, but we hear this very sitcom-y canned laughter as Warren basically rips off Sam Raimi and sends the camera whooshing past our heroes, stopping at a tree, and then turning around and whooshing by them again, over and over for like 3 minutes. All the while with the laughter. It’s pretty easy to see that he was inspired by Evil Dead for some of the movie’s nuttiness, but what’s weird is that it actually feels more like the more manic Evil Dead 2, which wasn’t out at the time he made this (the film premiered at Cannes in May of 1987, right around when Evil Dead 2 was seeing its own release). I guess it’s possible he got wind of it and rushed through this, but I’d to believe that two nutty guys simply had the idea to make gonzo haunted house movies in 1986 or so.
I was also charmed by the carny character who keeps popping up to mess with our heroes. His reasons for disliking them are odd to begin with – he basically sides with the punks who are walking around on his tilt-a-whirl ride and harassing the paying customers, and then joins them in chasing our heroes around when they’re the ones who were causing the problem. But he goes above and beyond, chasing them out of the park and even somehow appearing on the island, though I guess that might just be one of the ghost’s tricks.
A shame that whoever put this disc out (Salvation or Redemption, I can’t figure out which is supposed to be the company logo) didn’t do a better job with the transfer. It’s full frame, which is a shame (assuming that the IMDb’s listing of a 1.85:1 original ratio is correct), but it also seems like they didn’t convert it from PAL properly for this NTSC release, so everything looks slightly sped up and jerky. It’s quite distracting, and for a stand-alone release kind of a drag – this is forgivable for a budget pack release, but at full price they could have tried a little harder. It also lacks any extras whatsoever, which would be OK if I could find any info about the film online, but it seems to be a bit of an obscure release in every way. Don’t know why, it’s honestly the most enjoyable of Warren’s films that I’ve seen, free from the odd pacing of Prey or Terror, and without the misogyny and unpleasantness of Inseminoid. I’d love to see this in one of the later slots at the next New Bev all-nighter! Someone find me a print, dammit!
What say you?