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Cheap thrills [part 5]
In his final review from Indicator's Bloody Terror: The Shocking Cinema of Norman J. Warren 1976-1987 box set, Gort enjoys some elements of BLOODY NEW YEAR, a film that ultimately falls some way short of its potential, and rounds off his coverage of what is definitely one of the multi-disc Blu-ray releases of the year.
 

Bloody New Year, which would prove to be Warren's final horror feature to date, gets off to a lively start, as grainy monochrome home movie footage of a ballroom celebration plays out in a small window on screen to an oddly catchy cod late-50s rock 'n' roll number as the main titles unfold below it. The period effect is dented a little by the cheesy and non-period font used for the main title and credits. Seriously, we're only a few small steps away from Comic Sans here. Anyway, as the credits conclude, the grainy footage expands to fill the screen and turns to colour, and in a neat bit of sleight-of-hand camera and editorial trickery, a woman is unexpectedly pulled into a mirror by her own reflection. OK, I'm interested.

We're then bang up-to-date with five young friends on a day out at a seaside funfair. Lesley and Tom and Janet and Rick are already paired off with each other, leaving the quiff-haired Spud to bemoan his lack of a partner. Ain't that always the way with holidaying groups of youths in horror movies? Mind you, given that his pick-up technique appears to involve standing near groups of girls and looking moody, it's not all that surprising. When he spots lone American Carol being harassed by three carnies on one of those stomach-turning Waltzer rides, he and his buddies come to her rescue. The carnies give chase and even clamber onto the boat that the youngsters are pulling behind their vehicle as they drive away, but are pushed off into whatever pile of boxes they happen to be passing. As the holidaymakers and their new friend make their triumphant escape, the bruised and bloodied carnies glare after them vengefully. I have absolutely no doubt that this is the very last we'll be seeing of them.

Lesley, Spud and Carol all at sea

One time-jump edit later, Spud and Carol are teetering on being a couple as they and their companions sail the sea in their boat. Despite being in open water, they hit a rock and the boat starts to sink. "Tom, you know I can't swim," Lesley reminds her boyfriend in case he forgot this little titbit when they set out to sea. There's land not far away, so it would make sense to get the boat as close to it as possible before it goes down. So what do they do? Instead of using the sail that propelled them onto the rock in the first place to steer the boat a little closer to shore, they lower it and tie it securely to the jib. Can't have the boat looking untidy as it sinks, can we? They swim to shore dragging Lesley along with them and wash up on what looks at first like a deserted island. Cold and wet, they head inland through woodland and all but ignore the broken-down remnants of what was likely a barbed-wire fence and the big sign saying "Danger – Keep Out." Of course they do. What they find, however, is not a secret government experimental laboratory or an old abandoned mine, but a rather welcoming-looking holiday hotel. Result! As you might expect, when they enter this oddly located establishment, things aren't quite right. There are no staff members to be seen and despite being mid-July the lobby is decorated for Christmas. Unable to find anybody to book them in, they rather cheekily make their way to rooms anyway, light a fire, borrow dry clothing and help themselves to drinks at the bar. Then strange things start to happen, one of which results in a member of the party being strangely killed. As you might expect, they won't be the last.

Like I said, choice of title font aside, Bloody New Year starts briskly and entertainingly enough, and the notion of a perfectly normal-looking holiday hotel that harbours dark secrets and troubled spirits is a tantalising one. You'd have to be bored from the off not to realise that this establishment is somehow stuck in the past, as evidenced in the cut of the found clothing and TV sets that look as if they've been there since the 1950s, one of which delivers an important plot point that nobody sees. Which is all rather intriguing. The problem is that while a lot of things happen in this hotel of horror and its grounds, there's no consistency or internal logic to the range of supernatural misfortunes that are visited on the hapless visitors. It's almost as if Warren decided to crib a number of elements from his favourite modern horror movies and then just tossed as many of them as he could into the mix. Thus the voice of a possessed girl, a subjective camera spirit whizzing through woodland and hands that sprout from the ground and grab their victim are borrowed from The Evil Dead, plates fly around the kitchen in the manner of those objects in Regan's bedroom in The Exorcist, knives jump up and hurtle through the air as they did at the climax of Carrie, and a wall that flexes out in the shape of the monster within it strongly echoes a memorable scene in A Nightmare on Elm Street. I could go on.

one of the group is turned

Unlike the equally continuity-free set-pieces in Terror, though, the horrors that befall our hapless group here are not particularly scary or tension-inducing. Some are old favourites – oh no, quicksand! – while others fall a little flat because the makeup doesn't stand up to the close examination it's sometimes given here. Imagine the possessed girl look from The Evil Dead but done with porridge and plaster and a New Romantic haircut. Not helping is that the performances lack the spark and conviction of those in Terror, and despite spending more time with them before things kick off that we did in Inseminoid, I didn't really get to know any of the ill-defined characters well enough to care that much for their collective fate. That said, once the hotel lets rip Warren throws incidents at us with the speed of horror-trope bullets from a genre machine-gun. Everywhere the youngsters turn there seems to be something out to kill them, and you'll rarely be able to predict what's coming next. Open a door and it'll lead to a sheer drop over a cliff. Put your hand on a banister and the wooden handrail ornament will bite your arm. Step into an elevator and you'll be sucked into its wall (and despite the Elm Street influence and some visibly cracked surface paint, this one is rather good). Enter a cottage and you'll be blasted by a snowstorm or the dining table will turn into a murderous monster. Yeah, that happens. Intermittently, these gags are inventive and rather slickly done, none more so than the one in the hotel's cinema where... no, you really need to see that for yourself. This particular twist also handily disposes of the least likeable member of the group when he's behaving in that annoying way that young people only ever do in horror movies.

I have to admit that I'd usually be prepared to award points for the tradition-breaking decision to have the whole story take place in daylight rather than the spooky shadows of night or the disorientating flash and crash of a thunderstorm. Except Bloody New Year is not Who Can Kill a Child? and has none of that extraordinary film's sense of creeping dread or encroaching horror. Thus the house itself feels almost too welcoming and even familiar to be particularly creepy. There's nothing to impair the senses of the potential victims and no dark corners for the horrors to lurk in, and the make-up is a bit too easy to pick holes in when seen in the unforgiving clarity of daylight. It all builds to a lively but shambolic climax that goes on too long and doesn't have any real tension or sense of threat, though I will credit the two actors who make it to this point with having the nearest any of the group have to personalities. One of them also delivers the film's best performance, but to reveal who that is would obviously constitute a spoiler. It's a film that Warren himself has expressed some dissatisfaction with, for reasons he outlines in useful detail elsewhere in this set. It's not hard to see where he's coming from. There are solid ideas at work here and moments that really do work, but the lack of character depth, sparky dialogue, tension and anything approaching genuine horror mark it as the only film in the set that I'm unlikely to come back to anytime soon. And yes, that includes Inseminoid.

One of the group is pulled into the wall

By the way, if you're wondering whether the three angry carnies would make a reappearance, you'll be happy – if unsurprised – to know they do. The fact these three non-supernatural goons were somehow able to track the youngsters to this specific spot on a remotely located island that they only ended up on by chance after their boat sprung a leak and sank, however, makes me wonder if they should quit the funfair and open the world's finest detective agency instead.

sound and vision

Before you sit down for Bloody New Year it's worth knowing a couple of things about the transfer and source material. The first is that the negative was mistakenly destroyed (you read that right) and for some years this was effectively thought of as a lost film. The second is that the 35mm print used for the restoration – thought to be the only one still in existence – has some extensive and very visible chemical damage, though to be honest it's most evident on bright areas of single colour such as skies. There are also a few instances of single-frame damage and the colour integrity undergoes a few significant and unpredictable shifts, occasionally midway through a shot. Late in the film there are also shots where there's very little colour at all. Good period feel, though. But given that not so long ago you wouldn't have been able to see the film in any form, this is something we should all be prepared to live with, and if you can ignore these issues then the image quality is otherwise surprisingly good. The best material exhibits crisp detail and nicely graded contrast (it can be a little punchy elsewhere), as well as a naturalistic colour palette and sometimes lively reproduction of the primes. Just don't get too attached to the image when it looks this good.

We're warned up front that the Linear PCM 1.0 mono soundtrack has also suffered some damage, but for the most part it's not at all bad. The dialogue and effects are clear enough, if a little crispy on the trebles, and while there is sometimes some background fluff, it's not distracting.

The usual optional English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired are present and correct.

extra features

Audio Commentary with Norman J. Warren and Jo Botting
Here Warren is joined by BFI curator Jo Botting, a hugely knowledgeable film devotee whose work and views I deeply respect. I just wish I liked this movie as much as she does. It matters not, as this is another terrific commentary track and Botting asks all the right questions, even if Warren is not as forthcoming here about the problems he had with executive producer Maxine Julius or his unhappiness with some of the casting and the post-production phase as he is elsewhere. We get details on how specific sequences were shot and special effects were achieved, and when gently pressed Warren does suggest that maybe, just maybe, he was subconsciously influenced by the likes of The Evil Dead, which he had seen by the time he made the film and really liked. He also suggests that the film was designed to be a tribute to the 1950s B-movies he loves (Inseminoid producer Richard Gordon's Fiend Without a Face, a personal favourite of his, is playing in the hotel's cinema in one scene) and that it shouldn't be taken too seriously and we should not be afraid to laugh. I'll give it a go, but...

The spirit of a downed pilot makes an appearance

Norman's Wisdom (28:01)
In the final part of Indicator's newly shot interview with Warren, he talks about how a potential collaboration with Richard Gordon falling through ultimately led to Gordon producing Inseminoid and securing extra funding with a single phone call to legendary Hong Kong producer Run Run Shaw. He talks about some of the TV projects he worked on after completing that film, as well as a documentary record of an air show organised by musician and aeroplane enthusiast Gary Numan. We get the story of how he met and bonded with London-based Chinese filmmaker Yixi Sun and how their attempt to get a project titled Delusions fell through and how this led to the completed but still unreleased Susu. Again, this is entertaining and educational stuff.

New Blood (15:06)
Cheerily upbeat actress Catherine Roman, who plays Carol in the film, explains how a girl from California ended up in a British horror movie and recalls a few of the adventures she had whilst making it. These included being spun about for ages on the funfair ride, a series of small accidents, a stunt that she enjoyed doing that didn't make it into the film, and an alternative ending that was shot but ultimately dispensed with. She remembers it being fun to do, but cold. "I'm from southern California," she offers by way of explanation.

The Art of Blood (14:28)
The film's co-screenwriter and set dresser Frazier Pearce recalls her early days as a photographer, meeting Norman J. Warren and being hired as the stills photographer on Terror, which is where she met her future husband and screenplay collaborator Hayden Pearce. Appropriately, the main focus here is Bloody New Year, which includes one of those "oh you have to be kidding!" stories in which she and Hayden spent a long evening tirelessly preparing the ballroom set for the next day's shoot, only to arrive the next morning and discover that a trying-to-be-helpful cleaner had mistaken their set dressing for discarded rubbish. We're also assured that there was a special effect involving a melting face that they decided in the end was too horrific to use and might have prevented the film from getting a certificate. Given that poor old Ronnie Lacey's face was melted off in Raiders of the Lost Ark six years earlier and that film was classified PG, I can't help wondering just how disgusting this effect was. No, I'm really curious.

The carnies get readfy to rumble

Fights, Camera. Action! (10:22)
Stuntman and actor Steve Emerson (who plays the head carnie in Bloody New Year) recalls how he fell in love with film through Saturday Morning Pictures (look it up if you're too young to remember), getting small parts in movies and TV series and graduating to stunt work following his willingness to be thrown into a river for the camera. He talks about doing the fire stunt in the opening scene of Terror and bringing two young colleagues on board for his work in Bloody New Year. He also has fond memories of his final day of work on Shaun of the Dead, and almost tears up at the memory.

Working with Warren (10:09)
Filmmaker Yixi Sun talks about meeting and finding common movie fan ground with Norman J. Warren, a kinship that led to him travelling to Beijing to pitch for funds for Delusion and later producing her first feature as writer-director, Susu, which despite being a prize winner at the Cardiff International Film Festival has yet to secure a cinema release in the country in which it was made. Her favourite Warren film is Satan's Slave, by the way, and I'm absolutely with her on that.

Original Trailer (2:08)
"It started as a day out..." Lots of screaming women, a few small spoilers and that title font.

Image Gallery
Perhaps it's not surprising that a film whose negative was accidentally destroyed also doesn't have as much surviving promo material as the other films in this set. Here we get just 18 slides, video covers (including a Japanese one under the title 'Time Warp Terror') and posters.

Turn off Your Bloody Phone (0:48)
A short in which Norman J. Warren (who also directs) plays a cinemagoer pestered by some git on a mobile phone behind him who is sorted out by a Chinese spirit played by Yixi Sun. You can play this on its own or as an intro to the main feature.

A snowstorm hits indoors

Booklet
First up, this is not a booklet for Bloody New Year but for the entire box set. I'd already  decided not to comment on it until I'd covered all of the films, and had this review been posted in one go, this is where it would have sat in the list of special features. The booklet (oh please, it's a book!) runs for a whopping 116 pages, and as you would expect, all five of the films in this set are given individual coverage here. The first of several essays is by University of Sussex film lecturer Adrian Smith, which provides an overview of Norman J. Warren's film career, including his early work and his recent collaboration with Yixi Sun. It's a factual rather than an opinion piece, but does neatly bring together information that's scattered all over the on-disc extras. Next we have a 2016 piece from Starburst magazine in which Warren goes into some detail about the making of Satan's Slave and includes details that you won't find elsewhere in this set, which is an achievement in itself. For Prey, we have an interview with Warren conducted for Flesh & Blood magazine in 1995, plus a 1977 piece by Colin Vaines for Screen International detailing the film's unusual financing and production arrangements. Terror gets less coverage than its predecessors, with a single four-page piece containing snippets from a conversation conducted Warren on Terror by Adam Locks in 2009 and from the aforementioned 1995 Flesh & Blood interview. That same Flesh & Blood piece is the source for some more engaging commentary from Warren on the production and effects of Inseminoid, which is followed by a piece compiled from several interviews with producer Richard Gordon and others, including one conducted on the set by Mike Childs and Alan Jones for Cinefantastique in which they tellingly note that "No-one seems concerned that it's just a rip-off of Alien." You don't say. After this we have extracts from the Inseminoid novelisation by Larry Miller, which ups the sexual content and is much more explicit about Sandy's alien rape. Next there is an article on the making of Bloody New Year written by John Duvoli for Fangoria in 1987, which includes extracts from an interview with Warren and a two-paragraph quote in which he explains why the film was a great disappointment to him and others involved in the project. Extracts from contemporary reviews of all five films in this set are followed by an interview with Warren by Dark Side's John Martin in which he talks about some of his unrealised projects. Also included are credits for all five films and for all of the short films on the five discs, plus information on the restorations and transfers and a generous selection of imagery, including a small number that might count as spoilers for those new to the films.

final thoughts

Let's not mess about. As a Blu-ray box set, Bloody Terror: The Shocking Cinema of Norman J. Warren 1976-1987 is amazing. You get five films that few other distributors would seek out HD restorations for and put together in a single release, plus so many special features that I'm genuinely having trouble remembering what my life was like before I dived into this collection. If you somehow dislike everything that Norman J. Warren has directed then this is not for you. But even if you only like two or three of the films and especially if you're a fan of all five then the set is still an absolute must-have, for the movies themselves, for transfers that present the films in the best condition you've likely seen them, and for enough special features to occupy your free time for a month. Yes, I had varying reactions to the movies. I really, really liked Satan's Slave, Prey and much of Terror, and while I still had issues with Inseminoid and wasn't that taken with Bloody New Year, there were still elements in each that surprised me and that I really enjoyed. Probably the biggest plus of this set is that we get so close to the immensely likable Warren and hear so much from him, something I never tired of, despite the repetition of several stories over the course of his interviews and commentaries. I was certainly left in little doubt that being on a Norman J. Warren film set is probably one of the most pleasurable work experiences you could probably ever have. There's so much that is so good here. It's taken an age to complete this review, but now that it's done I'll sign off by affirming that I genuinely can't recommend this box set enough. Brilliant.

 


< previous | Satan's Slave | Prey | Terror | Inseminoid

 

Bloody Terror: The Shocking Cinema of Norman J Warren, 1976-1987 Blu-ray cover
Bloody Terror: The Shocking Cinema of Norman J. Warren 1976-1987
Bloody New Year Blu-ray cover
Bloody New Year

UK 1987
90 mins
directed by
Norman J. Warren
produced by
Hayden Pearce
written by
Frazer Pearce
Hayden Pearce
Norman J. Warren
cinematography
John Shann
editing
Carl Thomson
music
Nick Magnus
production design
Hayden Pearce
starring
Suzy Aitchison
Nikki Brooks
Daniel James
Mark Powley
Catherine Roman
Julian Ronnie
Steve Emerson
Steve Wilsher

disc details
region 0
video
1.85:1
sound
LPCM 1.0 mono
languages
English
subtitles
English SDH
extras
Audio Commentary with Norman J. Warren and Jo Botting
Norman’s Wisdom – interview with Norman J. Warren
New Blood - interview with actress Catherine Roman
The Art of Blood – interview with co-screenwriter and set dresser Frazier Pearce
Fights, Camera. Action! – interview with stuntman and actor Steve Emerson
Working with Warren – interview with filmmaker Yixi Sun
Trailer
Image gallery
Turn Off Your Bloody Phone short film
Booklet

distributor
Indicator – Powerhouse Films
release date
12 August 2019
review posted
21 August 2019

See all of Gort's reviews