Bloody New Year (1987)
I watched Bloody New Year today -- December 30, 2000 -- with the idea that it would be nice to write about a topical horror film after basically taking three weeks off from writing reviews. Unfortunately, aside from extremely superficial plot points, this Norman J. (Horror Planet, Satan’s Slave) Warren directed, Frazier Pearce written film has little to do with our most temporal of holidays. However, it wasn’t a complete loss, as I found Bloody New Year to be a modest but entertaining melding of slasher films and more traditional haunted house yarns.
Don’t get me wrong, this is no masterpiece. Neither Warren nor Pearce ever worked again in the industry after Bloody New Year, and I’m sure more than a handful of analysts would say that this film is one of the main reasons. A list of its implausibilities, bizarre scripting decisions, cheesy special effects and other faux pas, including performance quirks, would take more space than I have available. But unlike films with similar problems, say Alien Predator, also from 1987, the fact that Bloody New Year is enjoyable to watch isn’t because it is like watching a car wreck, but rather because Warren does such an admirable job with what was surely a miniscule budget, leading to limited time for script rewrites and scene retakes as well as corner cutting wherever possible.
The story in a nutshell is that five English youths, and a young American woman who they pick up on the way, wreck their boat while headed to an unnamed destination and have to make a swim for Grand Island instead. Grand Island has a Twilight Zone-like history, and because of this is deserted. Our sextet stumbles upon the Grand Island Hotel, a much more humble version of The Shining’s Overlook, and similar oddities ensue.
Although Warren’s original vision as stated in a 1987 Fangoria interview (issue 69, pp. 14-17) -- a sci-fi/horror flick reminiscent of 1950’s fare, just bloodier and otherwise modernized -- didn’t make it to the screen very well, what he ended up with is certainly passable. One of the problems with the finished product, and an unusual problem for such low-budget fare, is that there are too many ideas here. A 1950’s prologue that runs beneath the opening credits is unnecessary and subtracts from the impact the backstory might otherwise have once it is finally revealed to our main characters. An extended sequence set in a county fair-like amusement park is excellent and on a first viewing suggests that maybe Bloody New Year is going to become an update of Carnival of Blood (1970), but it also ends up being largely unnecessary.
However, in another unusual characteristic for low-budget horror, the amusement park material begins a slow process of bringing you into the protagonists’ lives. On a superficial viewing of Bloody New Year, it might seem like an excuse to bring cardboard cutout, Friday the 13th-styled teens (well, young adults in this case) into an isolated setting where they can start to have sex then get the axe--and that surely was one thing that Warren had in mind--but one of the fundamental differences here is that you really start to care about most of these characters. By the time any supernatural stuff starts to happen, and even more so by the time anyone dies, you’d be just as interested in watching a Big Chill drama about the cast as you are in seeing them attacked by "table monsters" and turned into deceitful zombies, and of course that always gives the death scenes more emotional impact. Credit for the strong character element goes to the cast, Pearce and Warren equally. None of them did their parts perfectly, but in tandem, it works.
Similar are the special effects. Films that take the turns that Bloody New Year does don’t work without effects, and despite the transparency and tackiness of some of them, Warren manages to pull most of them off. Almost all go far in adding momentum to the film. The effects aren’t technically anywhere near as impressive as The Shining or the Evil Dead or Nightmare on Elm Street films, three obvious influences, but the comparisons aren’t laughable, either. In fact, the spot where I felt "transparency" hurt the effects the most was not with the supernatural stuff, which is more demanding budget-wise, but in some of the stunt work during the amusement park scenes--two times it was obvious that stunt men waited until their padded marks to make falls and they exaggerated their rolls.
I suppose it’s about time that I stop ragging on the first Blair Witch Project film, but I have to point out that two key scenes in Bloody New Year should scare the pants off fans of that overhyped phenomenon of 1999 while managing, in one case, to outdo the Witch. Both scenes seem like they could have been influences. One is the invisible, but vocal, party crowd chasing two of our protagonists through the forest. The other is when they run back through the forest and find mysterious mirrors hanging from the trees. And if that’s not enough, one protagonist can be a real screamer ala Heather Donahue.
While its illogical elements and predictableness once our crew reaches the haunted hotel are the biggest factors disabling Bloody New Year from achieving a higher score (Oh yeah, and don’t let me forget the commercials for the super-1980’s-New-Wave band Cry No More ala Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare, another 1987 oddity), this film is a worthwhile way to spend ninety minutes for serious horror fans who don’t mind a few nicks and scratches.