Bloody New Year

When vacuum cleaners attack
Norman J. Warren
Suzy Aitchinson, Nikki Brooks, Colin Heywood, Mark Powley
The Setup: 
Group of teens find themselves trapped on island out of time.

I think you'll have to agree that there are too many movies to write about. I have others that I've seen that I still haven't written about, and some that probably I never will, but I had to advance this one to the front because I had to try to get down the atmosphere and effect while it was still fresh in my mind, and also because writing about it is going to be fun. I have no idea how this came to the top of my queue--I think because the blurb mentioned time travel--but it was a delightful anomaly. This is pretty much Carnival of Souls reinvented for the 80s. Doesn't that sound appealing? No? Come on man, Carnival of Souls. For the 80s.

We open with a black and white movie playing, showing a 50s-style dance, as we hear a song called "Recipe for Romance" in a kind of 50s throwback style, a la The Smithereens (it's by a group called Cry No More). The song is kind of good, and the footage somewhat entrancing, to the point that I went back and listened to it three times. Now here's something interesting: the song ends, and we hear the sound of a laughing crowd with no music--they are the actors we're about to see in this movie. And they all make a conga line and dance out the door, except the last one, who turns back and begins the scene, as the screen shifts to color. She walks over to a mirror, and is abruptly pulled in--and then the movie proper starts. So it's this interesting kind of meta-introduction to the film.

Suddenly we're at this amusement park, where one woman is in a ride, being aggressively spun by two mean men, to the point where she's frightened. She has two preppy male friends, who eventually step in to stop the thuggish guys (who are thuggish in the most delightful 80s way: they wear jean jackets and are unshaven), and then it seems that the ride is out of control, and they're all hanging on as it spins, and then one of the characters pulls the plug and they all fly off in a slapstick style. Meanwhile you at home are still trying to piece together WHAT the tone of this thing is. Then two of the preppy guys are menaced by the three thugs (note in the pic how the one on the right has his fly open), and they run into a kind of haunted house ride. NICE IDEA, filmmakers! The action goes from bright sunlight to this blackened space where anything might appear, and it's just a really good idea. Unfortunately it doesn't come to all that much. Suddenly one of the other teens drives a truck pulling a boat through the haunted house, the teens get away, you're still trying to make sense of what you're seeing--and suddenly they're all out in the boat at sea.

So far the story has been 100% inexplicable, and it's not about to get any better, but at least the setting and general plot will remain the same. They are relaxing on their sailboat when they hit ye olde sudden rock in the middle of the ocean (maybe it's one of those floating rocks) and their boat is sinking fast. They have to take to the open water and--whew! Good thing there's that sudden, unforeseen island right there! Those things sure do sneak up on you.

They all come ashore, and after a little snooping, find a small hotel. This is a contemporary 80s small European hotel. Inside, they find it all decorated for New Year, with a lot of Christmas decorations still up. They wander around for a while, all wet and cold, and are assaulted by a vacuum cleaner and then a small ringing Santa figure. They split into couples, and each hangs out in a different place, and suddenly a maid comes in and gives one of the girls a blanket. The movie successfully makes it really weird that suddenly a figure comes out of nowhere. Two others change into clothes they find, and you're aware of them donning 50’s clothes. We are starting to see figures of 50's-styled characters that our main characters don't seem to see. Soon the entire group has unconsciously changed into 50's clothes and styled their hair in a 50's manner.

They go down to a movie theater and a movie suddenly switches on, showing a monster that looks very much like a giant sperm attacking various people. Then there's another movie, with an Arabic character, and as one of the guys clowns in front of it, the Arab comes out of the film and attacks and kills him. Then one of the women is caught in a living net that jumps onto her and squeezes hooks into her, but "dies" when some of its strands are cut. Which brings us to the table monster. One of the lovely ladies is standing next to a table covered in green plastic, which suddenly morphs into a figure that attacks her. You'll notice that genial hunk Tom hesitates just a sec before going to help her, as though giving it some thought. Then another of the women, Janet, opens a door and receives a freezing blizzard that pursues her thorough the room. By now you've noticed that Janet has an extremely piercing scream, which she employs quite often through the proceedings. And by now it's clear that every time someone opens a door, there's going to be some new dire, or funny, or dire and funny surprise.

Somehow the three thugs from the amusement park are also on the island, and they will join the ghosts and such in accosting our heroes for the rest of the film. The movie Fiend Without a Face is name-checked, and the earlier film with the giant sperm may in fact be footage from it. One of the thugs punches a fist right through the blonde, who promptly turns into a white-faced zombie-witch thing. By now, an hour in, it's clear that nothing about this movie is going to make any sense whatsoever.

Which is what makes it delightful, but also has a deleterious effect, as you know that what you're watching doesn't really matter. Anyway, there's the old dismemberment by elevator, and the constant threat of being absorbed into elevator walls. At one point they enter a foggy room in which mirror shards hang suspended in the air. By now only two are left, and the guy goes and puts Lesley, our heroine, in a boat and tows it out into the water before suddenly turning back to rescue another woman. Lesley floats out to sea, while the guy encounters the white-faced zombie, who lays out the explanation. Unfortunately, the sound quality was so bad I could only make out a bit of it, but the gist is that the island is some sort of purgatory outside of time, where lost souls through the ages have collected and, yeah, here we are. The guy is killed and Lesley floats out to sea. Back at the dance from the very beginning, we see that Lesley is trapped inside the mirror. The end.

I really liked it. A lot of people on IMDb hate it, and I suspect that this is because it makes so little sense and there is a total absence of plot. But if you've seen it, one is aware not long in that this is following the pattern of Carnival of Souls, meaning that the people are in some spiritual purgatory in which anything can happen and there is no escape. The reality that nothing you're watching means anything can be hard to overcome, but once you realize that, you can just relax and let the eerieness take you wherever it means to. Which is nowhere, but what else do you have to do?

And for a while, like Carnival of Souls, it has effectively evocative sequences, like Lesley getting aggressively spun by the thugs, or the guys entering an amusement park haunted house, and the first few sights of people living on the island have a weird creepiness. I really liked the touch of our characters gradually taking on the 50s clothes and mannerisms, but unfortunately it doesn't really go anywhere. This is the only script by a man who served as costumer and art director on several films, and I was hoping he had some idea about adopting the styles of an earlier era and acting out scenes from that era, but it doesn't really happen. Still, weird and fun and creepy, if only for a while.

Should you watch it: 

If you like eerie goings-on and don't need a lot of explanation.