When Lily (Analeigh Tipton) transfers to scenic Seven Oaks three strange but charismatic young women approach her like a girl gang in matching sweater sets. Although Lily doesn't need help with her wardrobe or men Violet (Greta Gerwig) Heather (Carrie MacLemore) and Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke) recruit her to live with them hang out with them and join them in their efforts to thwart the school's "atmosphere of male barbarism." It's not actually barbaric; it's a fairly normal upper class liberal arts college but to these girls one of whom has such delicate nostrils that she freaks out at the slightest hint of BO we'd be much better off returning to an classier era. Seven Oaks which used to be a women-only campus is a veiled reference to the Seven Sisters colleges some of which like Vassar have gone coed.
With Violet as a slightly awkward ringleader the trio has very strict ideas of what's proper and what's not what kind of behaviors lead to depression and general uncleanliness and what will most enhance each person's happiness. They set out to do this by avoiding handsome men and going for fixer-uppers and offering depressed students tap dancing classes and fresh-smelling soap. However even though Violet's biggest dream is to kick off "an international dance craze " something she assumes will benefit many people on a wider scale than their college-level suicide interventions they all seem sort of depressed. Is it anthropological curiosity that motivates Lily the loneliness of a new school or as with the audience the sort of weird charm shot through sadness that Violet possesses?
Fans of Whit Stillman's talky thinky upper crust movies are overjoyed that the writer/director has returned after 14 years but what will about newbies? Damsels in Distress is somewhat perplexing; there are a few too many characters and subplots that are introduced and then dropped like the young woman whom the gals take in briefly after a suicide attempt. The film brings up questions about identity the ways we lie to ourselves but leaves them dangling. We're given details about who Violet really is in an insightful and startling subplot that could have given the movie a slightly weightier tone but then it shifts back into Stillman territory. To be fair that's why we're watching in Damsels to begin with; the random excursions into the outside world of actual mental illness heartbreak and financial or personal struggle have no real place in Stillman's lovely bubble. In the end it's not clear if there's some greater thrust to the movie some sort of lesson that the protagonists and viewer should be taking away from it all but if we're allowed to turn off our brains for mindless action fodder and enjoy it why not do the same for hyper-literate modern dandies in a world of dance classes and sunny college campuses?
It's also buoyed by a strong cast led by Greta Gerwig and Analeigh Tipton with enjoyable performances by Echikunwoke and would-be suitor Adam Brody as well as excellent costumes that combine the modern look of liberal arts colleges with the perfectly preppy wardrobe of the three girls and occasional dance numbers. Small touches like Audrey Plaza as a wild-eyed and -haired tap dance student referred to as "Depressed Debbie " Gerwig's stoic face even when referring to her breakdown as being "in a tailspin " and a sight gag here and there serve to remind us that Stillman and his team aren't fumbling in the dark here; they're perfectly aware of how enjoyably goofy Damsels is. It's no accident that their college offers a class called "The Dandy Tradition in Literature" that focuses its studies on Evelyn Waugh and others as obsessed with the leisure class as Stillman.
Another year draws to a close. 2011, we barely knew ye.
In preparation for the coming 2012, you are no doubt scurrying about the house, making sure you have a well-stocked liquor cabinet, preparing the appetizers, and trying to decide with which noisemakers your drunk relatives will least likely hurt themselves. But, if you find a moment to yourself during all this madness, perhaps you would fancy a viewing of something from Netflix’s Instant Watch service to help you adequately ring in the New Year.
We hope you’ll consider selecting 1980’s New Year’s Evil.
Who Made It: New Year’s Evil was directed by Emmett Alston. If his is not a name you’re familiar with, that’s actually to be expected and perfectly acceptable. Alston did little outside of New Year’s Evil, but his other important contribution to the world of B-cinema was the classic 1985 Sho Kosugi film Nine Deaths of the Ninja.
Who’s In It: Here again, not much to report. But then, this is not a film we are going to sell you on based on the names attached. We’ll get to that in just a moment. The film’s biggest star is Roz Kelley who is best known, or at least better known, for her recurring role as Pinky Tuscadero on the TV series Happy Days.
What’s It About: When a local punk-rock personality throws a big New Year’s bash (dubbed New Year’s Evil), she goes all out. She takes over a swanky hotel, brings in the hottest bands, and links the party to New Year’s celebrations in several other time zones just so they can ring in the New Year multiple times. But just as things are really starting to get rolling, she receives a threatening phone call from a man with a distorted voice calling himself evil. He claims that he plans to kill one person at the stroke of midnight in each time zone; the last victim to be the host herself. Is this just a hoax, or will this be the last New Year she sees?
Why You Should Watch It:
One of my favorite sub-species of the horror genre is the holiday horror film. Over the course of the genre’s history, nearly every conceivable holiday on the calendar has been bloodily repackaged and sinisterly repurposed to provide the most festive of shrieks and the most terrifying of season’s bleedings. Outside of John Carpenter’s Halloween and Bob Clark’s Black Christmas, holiday horror films do not enjoy a reputation for high quality. In spite of its low-budget, routine slasher trappings, I would argue that New Year’s Evil is among the best of the lesser-known holiday horror films.
For those who demand camp of their ‘80s slasher films, rest assured New Year’s Evil is well equipped to satisfy even the most scrutinizing of B-movie palates. Most of the characters are one-dimensional, the dialogue is uproariously bizarre at its best and hysterically flat at its worst, and it is filled to the brim with brain-dead punkers flopping around on the dance floor like dying fish. However, the film also features a deviously clever concept allowing for genuine surprises and a more authentic killer—more Ted Bundy than Jason Voorhees. The cinematography is playful and more adept than it has any right to be; at one point cleverly drawing an apt parallel between the goofballs in the mosh pit and the inmates of an asylum. The film also features a soundtrack packed with weird, wonderful rock tracks and, for some reason, slow love songs. The title track is an out-of-control, fist-pumping power anthem that is sure to have you screeching along. "New Year’s Eee-viiiiiiil!"
I won’t deny that New Year’s Evil is obscure; in fact it resides in a very special corner of the esoteric galaxy. However, this under the radar status (I know, now I’m mixing columns) is chief among the reasons you should give it a spin. This film has never seen the light of day on DVD, and its VHS versions are actually quite rare, making the task of obtaining a copy a rather expensive proposition. Therefore its recent addition to the Netflix Watch Instant catalogue marks the first time New Year’s Evil has been this readily available for viewing. Make it your resolution to watch New Year’s Evil, otherwise you’ll be the one to drop the ball.