Bloody New Year (1987)

Although we’re only just into December, I thought this would be a good pick to continue the “blood review” series – plus, a disappointing number of the remaining titles feature sexual violence as a significant plot point, and I’m beginning to get a bit tired of them. So many low-budget horror movies seem to be made by men who look very much like me (pudgy, white, into metal music) as an excuse to hang around attractive women and have them naked / abused.

But that’s for another day! What we have here is a good old fashioned slice of downbeat, nihilistic horror from my own part of the world, Britain; a movie which, it turns out, has nothing whatsoever to do with the new year.

“Bloody New Year” is the work of Norman Warren, who I’ve just discovered but from the mid 70s to the mid 80s made a number of fascinating sounding movies – unlike his contemporaries at Hammer, his had modern settings (in some cases, even futuristic ones) and rarely, if ever, gave us anything approaching a happy ending. His feature directing career ended with today’s review as funding became impossible to find, but he continued to find fans, had a documentary made about him in 1999 and remains a beloved figure among horror fans.

Early on, I began to wonder if someone had accidentally changed channels while recording, as we switch from a rather American-looking New Year’s Eve 1959 party, to a group of British people in their early 20s at a funfair. The funfair! Aside from “Carnival Of Souls”, every movie with a scene at a funfair sucks – there are presumably other exceptions, but I don’t care to know about them – and they’re awful in real life too. As this one is grotty and British, it’s even more depressing, but the clean-cut youths get into a fight with some carnies (who have a similar reputation on both sides of the Atlantic, it would seem), wreck a bunch of the rides before driving off. Well, one of the carnies hangs onto the side of the boat they’re towing before being punched off, which seems a bit extreme if you just want to get some kids to stop messing about. But whatever.

It turns out the youths (the only face you’re likely to recognise is character actor Mark Fowley, who’s done soaps and was a regular on “Starhunter” in the 90s) were going for a day out on the boat, which seems quite good fun until a rock holes their boat and forces them to take refuge on an island – given how small Britain is, I’m always vaguely surprised to see this sort of thing used as a plot point in a British movie.

After strolling round the apparently deserted island for a while, the six of them find a hotel, with roads to it, and the hotel appears to be decorated for a New Year’s party – but it’s July! And that’s when things get weird. Well, weirder. People are glimpsed in the distance, a table comes to life and attacks them, the TV only shows a news report from 1959 about an experimental aircraft that could actually rip the space-time continuum going on a test-flight…oh, and the carnies from before track them down to the island and start attacking them.

I don’t want to give too much away (although I’ve already done it, in a way) but it bears a slight resemblance to the denouement of “Prom Night 3: The Last Kiss”, one of our favourite horror-comedies. It shares the wildly bleak ending to that gem and a little of the sense of humour, too – although I don’t think anyone would call a movie this relentlessly downbeat a comedy by any stretch.

I grew bored of the way they were so desperate to split up and make it easier for them to die or get replaced by weird silver-zombie versions of themselves; and how, okay, they were sort of assholes, but did they deserve what they got? Perhaps I’m expecting some sort of karmic balance from my horror when the real message is, no matter who you are or what you do, a table could come to life and attempt to swallow you.

It’s interesting, for sure, such as the mirror imagery, and I’m looking forward to watching more Norman Warren movies, but I don’t think it was all that successful – this appears to have finished off his feature career, so it seems some people agreed with me.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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Xtro (1982)

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I knew very little about “Xtro” before popping it on, so when I discovered it was set in England and made by an English writer/director, I was rather surprised (plus, it’s an early movie from New Line, aka the producers of the “Nightmare On Elm Street” movies). There’s something about English horror of the 80s – well, I can only think of “Lifeforce”, “An American Werewolf in London” and “Hellraiser” here, but please bear with this analogy – that seems dingy and miserable in a way American ones just didn’t seem to be able to manage. Plus, I just realise, all those movies have American actors in major roles, as if they knew to sell it over the pond would need an accent US audiences could relate to. But anyway, I’m wandering away from the point here. Xtro!

 

Sam Phillips (Philip Sayer) is abducted by aliens while staying at a cottage with his son Tony, an event that still traumatises Tony three years later. I mean, this is on the back of the VHS box, so I’m not giving anything vital away here. Sam’s wife Rachel (the strikingly beautiful Bernice Stegers) is now living with American photographer Joe (Danny Brainin), plus French au pair Analise (future Bond girl Maryam D’Abo, in her first role). They really don’t seem wealthy enough to need an au pair, but presumably someone went “this horror movie needs nudity, and Stegers is married to a famous director so we can’t force her into doing it” so whatever.

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One day, the aliens show up again and drop off one of their crew, in a scene that gets trotted out every now and again by particularly credulous believers in alien visitation before a thousand people shout at them “it’s from Xtro, you idiot”. This odd-looking fellow kills a few people on a dark country lane before…and perhaps I missed a bit here…laying an egg inside some poor unfortunate woman and then disappearing from the movie forever? Anyway, the upshot of all this is, she gives birth to a full-sized adult man, aka Sam from the beginning of the movie. After cleaning all the goo off himself and learning how to talk again, he pops off home to reclaim his family.

 

Obviously, he’s got ulterior motives, and one of these is sucking some of the lifeforce from his son, which also gives him alien powers. These powers are used to animate a midget clown and an Action Man figure to kill his nasty downstairs neighbour – played by Anna Wing, who shortly after this movie cemented her place in UK pop culture history by getting the part of Lou Beale on “Eastenders”. Oh, and he kills Analise because she’s insufficiently committed to a game of “Hide and Seek” – don’t worry, I couldn’t make any sense of that bit either. There’s one bit where he wakes up in the middle of the night, covered in blood, so a doctor is called, who can find nothing wrong with him. Horrible, right? Well, it’s just ignored the next morning, as if children waking up drenched in mystery blood is a terribly common occurrence.

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I’ve possibly made it sound more interesting than it really is. It grinds to a halt when Sam shows up again, becoming a sort of dull kitchen-sink drama for a good twenty minutes or so, and only really kicks off again when Sam and Rachel go back to the cottage to see if they can figure out what went on. I feel worst for Joe, who gets treated as an afterthought in the conclusion of the movie.

 

One thing “Xtro” got right was the special effects. The alien (as seen above, if I can get a decent screenshot) is extremely effective, and the liberal use of goo and gore is refreshing for a British horror movie too (director Harry Bromley Davenport said he wanted to make it even more disgusting, but New Line stopped him). That it’s mistaken for one of the 72 “video nasties” is completely unsurprising, because it is gross!

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Plus, I like how the inspiration for the plot feels English. I’d lay good money on this having something to do with the Rendlesham Forest incident – which happened two years before this movie was made. Complete nonsense, mind, but it’s got that home-grown flavour to it. Of course, it might have just been rush-released to get some of that “ET” money, but we shall never know (by which I mean I can’t be bothered to check).

 

SPOILERS FOR THE ENDING: Rachel, having seen her boyfriend die, and her husband and son go off to space, was (in the original ending) supposed to go back and find her home full of clones of Sam, but the special effects looked terrible. Then it was supposed to finish with her just sitting down in the field, but Davenport said that was too abrupt. The ending we’ve been left with is Rachel walking back into her house with a Mona-Lisa-esque knowing smile on her face, and picking up one of the eggs that Sam left behind. If it had cut off with her smiling at the eggs, it would have been quite creepy and interesting, but what they did was have one of the eggs pop open and attach itself to her face, killing her, which is stupid.

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It’s got one major positive (the special effects) but everything else works against it. The plot is about halfway to being decent, but just throws all that out of the window towards the end; the acting from the women is excellent, but the men – including the kid, who’s just awful – leaves a lot to be desired. It’s fun to see the British have a real crack at an exploitation film, but it could and should have been much better than this. And despite their other horror franchise pumping out the sequels regularly, New Line wouldn’t produce the second “Xtro” for another eight years, with part 3 a further five years after that.

 

Rating: thumbs down