Sunday, November 24, 2013

Blu-ray Review: NIGHT OF THE COMET (1984)

Collector's Edition Blu-ray+DVD Combo

Label: Scream Factory / Shout! Factory
Region Code: A
Rating: PG-13
Duration: 95 Minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono with Optional English SDH Subtitles
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.78;1)
Director: Thom Eberhardt
Cast: Robert Beltran, Catherine Mary Stewart, Kelli Maroney, Sharon Farreel, Mary Wornov, Geoffrey Lewis
Tagline: It Was the Last Thing on Earth They Ever Expected.

Night of the Comet (1984) at it's core pretty much boils down to The Last Man of Earth (1963) by way of Valley Girl (1983) starring the super-cute duo of Catherine Mary Stewart (The Last Starfighter)  and Kelli Maroney (Chopping Mall) as teenage sisters who wake up the morning after the Earthis buzzed by a strange comet to discover that pretty much everyone else have been reduced to a pile of red dust. Oh boy, and the few remaining survivors have been infected by the effects of the comet and are becoming violent zombified maniacs that our totally awesome valley girls must face-off against to survive. If that brief synopsis sounds a bit goofy let me assure you that it really is but it's a lot of cheesy 80's fun. 

Maroney and Stewart do a great job as the sisters, they come across as believable with the expected quarreling and worrying for each other, plus they're super cute, the relationship is the centerpiece of the movie and what drives it. As a kid watching it on TV I was totally in love with these girls, they kicked my burgeoning hormones into top gear of you know what I mean, boner city. The older sister Reggie works at the local cinema (the famous El Ray) and her film projectionist boyfriend Larry (Michael Bowen) deals prints of obscure sci-fi films out the back door of the theater. I loved how Reggie is obsessed with keeping the high scores on the Tempest video game in the theater lobby, it's such an 80's thing, I myself had a similar addiction to the Galaga arcade game at the local five and dime. Younger sister Sam is a bratty blond cutey, decked out in a cheerleader outfit, there's just nothing I didn't like about that. 

During their end-of-the-world travels the sisters encounter another survivor at the local radio station, a young truck driver named Hector (Robert Bertrand, Eating Raoul). After a rough start the trio team-up and the sisters argue over who has dibs on the seemingly last man on Earth. Not too long after they encounter a group of scientist from a secret underground base and it seems they've been rescued, but of course the scientist have ulterior motives and want the teens blood to save their own skins, no surprise there, once I spotted sinister character actor Geoffrey Lewis (Salem's Lot) I knew something was wrong. One of the scientist named Audrey (Mary Warnov, The House of the Devil) is more sympathetic to the teens survival, while she doesn't get a lot of screen time she makes the most it, her scene with Hector at the radio station is memorably dark and poignant. 

The writing from director/writer Thom Eberhardt (Captain Ron) is very good, this is a funny script that doesn't stoop to ridiculous levels of camp, it's littered with fun Easter eggs for genre fans. The setting is great, the eerily empty L.A. streets with a red-tinted sky definitely sets a tone, the effects are very lo-fi but they work. Other than some cool zombie make-up effects from David B. Miller there's not a lot of special effects work here which helps not date the film, but there are some truly awful 8-bit light show in the sky effects as the comet passes which is vintage 80's cheese, just awful, also be on the lookout for some LA window washers in one shot who shouldn't be there.

Maybe the effects aren't dated but pretty much everything else about the film screams early 80's with no shortage of period fashions, neon lighting, the Tempest video game, those old Diet Pepsi cans and of course Kelli Maroney's wonderful valley girl affectations, it was a real blast from the past, if you're nostalgic for the 80's this should satisfy all your cravings and then some. 

The score from composer David Richard Campbell (All The Right Moves) is weirdly awkward, and while it's certainly 80's is pretty cheesy. Worse yet are the synth-pop tunes that pop up from time to time, the only respite comes in the form of Tami Holbrook's very decent cover of Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" which blasts during an apocalyptic shopping spree at, where else, the mall. 

It's a goofy sci-fi film that comes with a lot of nostalgia for this reviewer, it was plastered on the cable networks throughout the 80's and I have fond memories of it, and while I can appreciate how this might fall a bit flat for a younger, modern audience I think this one still offers a lot of bang for the buck and Scream Factory's Blu-ray+DVD combo has some great features. 

Blu-ray:  Night of the Comet (1984) comes to Blu-ray from Shout! Factory imprint Scream Factory with a 1080p hi-def transfer in (1.78:1) widescreen and like a lot of cheapies shot on shitty 1980's film stock it's not exactly overwhelming, colors are nicely saturated and look accurate but can be soft from time to time and lacking the clarity and richness of a modern presentation, but that's to be expected and Scream Factory have done a fine job with what they had to work with, there's a nice layer of film grain intact and while the source material does show some minor dirt, speckling and grit throughout it's very watchable and a step-up from the previous DVD. 

Audio options include DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 with optional English SDH subtitles. The 5.1 offers some very cosmetic immersion from time to time, it's front heavy and did not blow me away, I actually preferred the 2.0. Whichever option you choose the dialogue comes through strong alongside the effects and (awful) score, no distortions, a very clean presentation. 

Scream Factory have done a great job with the extras on this edition with three audio commentaries! We have brand-new commentaries Writer/Director Thom Eberhardt, Stars Kelli Maroney and Catherine Mary Stewart and Production Designer John Muto all moderated by Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures. The commentaries with Eberhardt and stars Maroney and Stewart are fantastic and full of anecdotal behind-the-scenes info, fun stuff.  The commentary with Muto is a bit more on the technical side and pretty interesting and recommended to anyone with an more than a passing interest in what happens behind the scenes on a low budget film set. 

There's a handful of newly produced featurettes with video interviews with stars  Kelli Maroney and Catherine Mary Stewart, Robert Beltran and Special Make-Up Effects Creator David B. Miller adding up to just over 32 minutes, it's fun stuff. 

Bertrand speaks about taking the role following Eating Raoul (1986) and recommending Warnov to the producers. He didn't much care for initially but loved the idea that the last guy on Earth was Chicano, he speaks about making changes to the character and fighting to maintain the integrity of the role.

Maroney and Stewart are still cuties today and offer up some fun memories of the shoot and working together to form a real camaraderie on set, what it was like to be a working actor in LA in the 80's, early morning and xmas shoots, the reception of the film and it's cult status in the age of the internet. 

Special Make-Up Effects Creator David B. Miller recalls what a great year he was having at the time following his work on Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video with make-up master Rick Baker and working on this b-movie out of his one car garage, this was his first solo outing as a special effects make-up artist. 

Finishing up the extras we have a theatrical trailer and photo galleries with over 100 images from the film, a slipcover with new artwork from David Levine, who's done some great artwork for Scream Factory including Funhouse (1981) and The Burning (1981), a reversible sleeve of artwork with Levine's and the original theatrical artwork plus a standard-def DVD disc featuring the same set of extras. 

Special Features:
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Thom Eberhardt
- Audio Commentary with Stars Kelli Maroney and Catherine Mary Stewart
- Audio Commentary with Production Designer John Muto
- Valley Girls At The End Of The World – Interviews with Stars Kelli Maroney and Catherine Mary Stewart (14:59)
- The Last Man On Earth? – An Interview with Actor Robert Beltran (12:32)
- Curse of the Comet – An Interview with Special Make-Up Effects Creator David B. Miller (6:32)
- Film Photo Gallery (3:27)  

- Behind the Scenes Gallery (5:02) 
- Theatrical Trailer (1:14)

Verdict: Night of the Comet (1984) is a fun sci-fi mash-up thrown into the neon-blender of the early 80's which riffs on quite a few films including Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1978). It's not a horror film but it has elements that will appeal to fans of horror, I would place this firmly in-between Chopping Mall (1986) and Terrorvision (1986) as a goofy 80's science fiction entry, a nice slice of 80's cheese and Scream Factory's new Blu-ray is stuffed with some great extras, a recommend. 3 Outta 5