What’s up, Contenders? Terry Malloy here reporting live from the Waterfront.
Cannon Fodder is an ongoing column that will re/visit the entire canon (ahem) of feature films produced by Cannon Films. Launching some of the biggest action careers in film history, such as Chuck Norris, Dolph Lundgren, and Jean-Claude Van Damme, Cannon Films were the ultimate purveyors of mid-budget cheese throughout much of the 1970s and 1980s. Cannon Fodder will explore the entire filmography of this storied production company (in no particular order) and will do its best to prepare AICN readers for the upcoming release of Mark Hartley’s definitive Cannon Films Documentary; Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films.
Although Cannon Films was not run for the entirety of its existence by Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yorum Globus, they are the power players that gambled big and eventually lost big with this prolific production house. Each edition of Cannon Fodder will briefly explore what level of involvement the loveable cousins had in each film. Because there are several dozen titles in the Cannon Canon, each installment of this column will cover multiple titles.
NEW YEAR’S EVIL is an early entry in the holiday-themed slasher film sub-genre. But that doesn’t mean it has really anything to offer. If anything, NEW YEAR’S EVIL might be one of the most misogynistic slashers I’ve seen in a long time.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good slasher film. It’s just that this isn’t one of those. BLACK CHRISTMAS is kind of amazing, and although I prefer the MY BLOODY VALENTINE remake, I’d say the original VALENTINE offers more fun in just one or two kills than NEW YEAR’S EVIL offers in its entire running time. To my shame, I’ve not seen some of the other famous holiday-themed slashers such as MOTHER’S DAY or APRIL FOOLS DAY. It’s only a matter of time, though! Any recommendations there?
But back to the film at hand. NEW YEAR’S EVIL is a bit of a pre-MTV smorgasbord, marketed to teenagers by using hip punk rock and an angsty soundtrack. The whole thing is set at a televised teenybopper punk rock telethon party. Our heroine Diane Sullivan (Rox Kelly) is a bit of a punk rock Elvira, hosting the music show and vamping it up big time. The only problem with that is that she has an eager teenaged son who feels ignored by his mother. And to make matters worse, a crazed killer calling himself “Evil” calls in to the show and promises to kill a woman at every strike of midnight across the time zones. His last victim will be Diane, at 12AM PST.
NEW YEAR’S EVIL is the kind of slasher movie that offers a regular dude as the killer as opposed to a masked superhuman killer. We meet him early on and see his face and hear his voice. But who is this dude, really? And what does he want with Diane? And why is her son dropping E and acting so weird? Will the cops stop “Evil” before the clock strikes midnight?
The best parts of NEW YEAR’S EVIL involve the pretty crazy performance of Kip Niven as “Evil”. (Yes, he actually calls himself “Evil”. ‘Cause, you know, the title.) I won’t spoil who the guy is or why he wants to kill. But I will say the reasons ARE unveiled and they are bizarre and misogynist at worst, completely lame at best. But Niven seems to be having fun with the whole thing. Posing as a doctor, a priest, and a mustachioed lothario, he slashes his way through L.A. with gusto. While none of the kills are particularly awesome or memorable, his ridiculous costumes and paper-thin “plan” are the driving force of this film. Niven is more convincing as a track-suited, crustache-sporting sleaze bag than he is a serial killer, but that at least adds some flavor to this otherwise bland outing.
I could see NEW YEAR’S EVIL being a fun watch with a bunch of friends, maybe during a Holiday-themed slasher film marathon. But on its own, and as a Cannon Film entry, this is pretty bland and derivative stuff.
Things You Will Only Ever See In THIS Movie
- Um, not much, being that this is a totally derivative film with nothing original anywhere to be seen.
- But I’ll try: A giggling, fake-crustachioed killer pulling a girl into a dumpster?
How Many Tablespoons of Golan/Globus Are Added?
In this very early Cannon Films entry, the cousins kept a hands-off approach if you believe the credits. Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus are credited as Producers only.
How Can You See NEW YEAR’S EVIL?
I intended to cover THE APPLE for this installment of Cannon Fodder, but the disc I rented simply wouldn’t play on any of my players. So I did a quick search and found Cannon’s NEW YEAR’S EVIL available on Netflix Watch Instant as of this writing.
If you are interested in picking up the film yourself, you can support this column and buy it here on DVD at Amazon. It does not appear to be available on Blu-ray yet.
Now, this, on the other hand, is a real movie! No matter how much I love films like MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE or OVER THE TOP, I still would say those are a particular type of film that have a niche appeal. Cannon was a master of this type of cinema. But I can’t say most people think of Cannon as purveyors of consistent, edgy, or smart cinema. STREET SMART stands in defiance of your pre-formed Cannon Films opinions and kills it as a legitimate piece of filmmaking!
Several talkbackers in my first Cannon Fodder column suggested this film and the prospect of seeing a young Morgan Freeman playing a hard-ass street pimp just won me over. Oddly, it turns out that I HAD actually seen this film at some point in my life and somehow completely forgotten. Which is odd, because this is a pretty spectacularly entertaining piece of filmmaking here. IMDB tells me that Director Jerry Schatzberg began his career as a professional photographer and has directed some 13 feature films. (I haven’t heard of any of them, but that doesn’t really mean anything.) Maybe it is his media background, but STREET SMART feels like it came from a very intelligent storyteller.
Christopher Reeve plays embattled journalist Jonathan Fisher. In a desperate plea to keep his job, he swears to his editor that he can get an exclusive scoop about the daily life of a street pimp. When he can’t get any street workers to talk with him, the gifted writer falsifies a story and finds incredible success. The article gains him fame and even a steady gig on television doing hard-hitting street stories. The problem? (And it is a great plot element…) Jonathan’s story so closely echos the life of real world pimp and murder suspect Fast Black (Morgan Freeman) that prosecutors want to subpoena his notes in order to convict Fast of murder.
Jonathan finds a new vitality in becoming a big shot street reporter and starts spending more and more time on the streets with a hooker named Punchy (the excellent Kathy Baker.) Eventually he gets wrapped up with Fast Black himself and a tentative relationship starts to build. The entitled and naïve reporter is drawn to Fast Black and his world. But Fast Black holds all the cards out on the streets. Freeman inhabits this role with ferocious villainy and was even nominated for an Academy Award for his efforts! It feels odd in light of the many lovable and noble characters in Freeman’s later career. But Freeman grabs this film with both hands and creates a complex and frightening character in Fast Black. His nomination was well deserved.
When the dust all settles, Jonathan has become a compromised and fairly despicable lead character. STREET SMART seems to know that it is dealing with complex racial and societal issues and gives us very grey main characters. I found myself sympathetic towards Fast Black even though he is clearly a killer. And as the film progresses I liked Jonathan less and less. But all of that feels intentional, which is smart filmmaking.
The filmmakers and talent involved elevated this film into something powerful (but still seedy, which isn’t a knock.) STREET SMART comes highly recommended. You could check it out just for the curiosity of a young and healthy Christopher Reeve squaring off against a furious and fascinating Morgan Freeman. Or you can dig into this and pull some meaningful ideas about white entitlement, or the complex morality of life on the streets. I can’t imagine watching STREET SMART and not finding yourself entertained on any number of levels.
Things You Will Only Ever See In THIS Movie
- A manicured Morgan Freeman drinking Yoo Hoo in a Caddy.
- A manicured Morgan Freeman breaking said Yoo Hoo bottle and using it as a weapon to threaten a thieving ho.
- A manicured Morgan Freeman.
How Many Tablespoons of Golan/Globus Are Added?
Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus are only credited as Producers. But the internet offers some juicy details on the background behind STREET SMART being produced under the Cannon label. Internet rumor has it that STREET SMART was a passion project of Christopher Reeve’s and he came to an agreement with Cannon that he would do SUPERMAN IV under their banner if they would produce this film. I find this kind of fascinating because STREET SMART unquestionably became the better and more critically recognized film. But as was Cannon’s typical M.O., they didn’t properly market the film and it ended up being a commercial failure.
How Can You See STREET SMART?
The DVD is rentable over at Netflix if you want to queue it up! You can also pick up the DVD over at Amazon! Any purchases will help support Cannon Fodder.
I’m not going in any particular order here, so let me know what titles you most want to see and discuss, Talkbackers! I’m most excited about a bunch of the action titles from the ‘80s and ‘90s, but I plan to mix it up quite a bit as well, since Cannon did us the honor of releasing several dozen films!
And I’m Out.
Terry Malloy AKA Ed Travis