There are 80s horror movies, and then there are 80s horror movies. What I mean is, there are flicks that just so happened to have been made in the 1980s, while there are others that truly embrace the era in which their made so much so that one couldn’t imagine them coming from any other era. The sci-fi/horror/comedy hybrid, Night of the Comet, is definitely one of the latter. From lady-mullets, day-glo neon set decorations, and me-decade fashions, down to a self-aware script liberally peppered with more Valley Girl speak than…um….Valley Girl, this post-apocalyptic cult classic is as firmly rooted in the eighties as legwarmers and Members Only jackets. It’s also a film that was almost completely bypassed by the DVD era due to studio indifference, despite its legions of fans clamoring for a release. The film did surface somewhat late in the game as a bare-bones offering from MGM, but, now, in a major coup for Scream Factory, Night of the Comet comes to Blu-ray as part of the company’s Collector’s Edition series!
Night of the Comet stars the gorgeous Catherine Mary Stewart (The Last Starfighter/Nightflyers) as Regina Belmont - a tough teen with a penchant for videogames and a sore spot for her wicked stepmother, Doris (Sharon Ferrell), who’s in charge of Regina and her kid-sister, Samantha (Kelly Maroney) while their dad’s away on military assignment. While the world parties, awaiting the arrival of a comet that is making another pass at the Earth after its last celestial showing 65 million years earlier, Regina holes up in the theater in which she works as an usher, waiting for a customer of her projectionist/boyfriend, Larry (Michael Bowen), who makes extra cash lending out the theater’s films during the off hours. The two do what teenagers always do in the movies during the comet’s passing, and, when dawn comes, and Larry’s customer is a no-show, he decides to go off after him, leaving Regina to play Tetris and eat popcorn for breakfast. Larry, however, doesn’t make it more than a few feet out the door before he’s accosted by a zombie-like hobo, who then sets his sights on Regina. Regina narrowly escapes, but, on her ride home, discovers that something’s changed about her city. The sky is now a burning orange/red, the streets are abandoned, and there’s a crimson dust and random clothes scattered everywhere.
Regina returns to her house where she is startled to find her sister, Sam, casually readying herself for another day of school, oblivious to all that’s happened outside as she’d spent the night inside the family’s metal shed hiding out from her stepmother. Regina shows Sam the dusty remnants of their neighborhood’s comet party revelers scattered through the streets, but Sam doesn’t want to believe any of it, and it doesn’t truly hit home until they return downtown, drawn into the city by the local radio station’s broadcast. When they reach the station, however, the find the broadcast is automated and on tape. They also find they are not alone, as a trucker named Hector (Robert Beltran) has also sought refuge here. After a brief standoff, the parties swap stories, with Hector telling Regina how he’d spent the night in the back of his truck with a girl he picked up only to awaken to discover that everyone had simply vanished. Well, almost everyone. When he and the girl went exploring, she fell victim to one of the same the zombified beings Regina had encountered earlier.
While Regina and Hector talk, Sam plays with the studio equipment, broadcasting for help. Almost immediately, they receive a phone call from someone purporting to be a scientist who says they are hiding out in a nearby bunker, telling them to stay put and that they’ll come and rescue them in the morning. However, Regina and Samantha have other ideas, and, while Hector ventures off to check on his family in San Diego, the girls decide to do a little shopping, where they soon learn that comet zombies aren’t the only dangers in this brave new world.
Night of the Comet is an enormously entertaining hunk of 80s b-movie goodness that has long been a favorite of mine. With a ton of funny gags, a supporting cast that includes the great character actors Mary Woronov and Geoffrey Lewis, as well as a few solid scares, a neat premise, and a really infectious sense of fun and playfulness, this is a movie that’s guaranteed to make fans of 80s cinema smile. Sure, the budgetary restraints are oftentimes glaringly obvious, and things can be a bit too self-aware at times, but the film never veers off into outright parody, and its conclusion, while sunny, is also a touch sobering. It’s definitely not a doom-and-gloom look at the apocalypse (this is one end-of-the-world scenario I wouldn’t mind being a part of, especially if it meant spending the rest of my days with the likes of Stewart and Maroney) and that’s precisely the point; it’s a very 80s look at the end times, with all of the goofy charm and charisma of one of the era’s teen sex romps, but also manages to squeeze in a bit of social commentary, including a mall scene that expands upon Romero’s mindless consumerism sermon of Dawn of the Dead.
Scream Factory brings Night of the Comet to Blu-ray in a lovely 1.78:1 transfer that I’m sure a lot of people will consider “soft”, but it should be known that the film has ALWAYS had a hazy, gauzy quality to it, and this is simply how it was shot. Obviously, detail is somewhat muted by this aesthete, but the transfer still looks pretty damned spectacular, and there is plenty of fine detail evident in close-ups of faces and in fabrics and textures. The film’s color palette (red skies, red dust, the blue/pink of Sam’s cheerleader outfit) is perfectly recreated here, while contrast is spot on, with deep blacks and subtle gradations of the gray interiors of the bunker. The 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track is somewhat flat and uneventful, but this isn’t a film in which the sound design was ever a standout to begin with, and I feel it’s best represented by the also-included 2.0 DTS HD mix, with a more balanced and, in my opinion, robust mix.
Being a collector’s edition release, Scream Factory loads this sucker up with all of the extras fans have been asking for, and then some! First, a quick note, however; on my review copy, there’s a mention of an interview with Woronov that was, apparently, scheduled, but never done. The art was already “in the can”, so to speak, so it was too late to change this. If the title goes into a second printing, I’d assume this will be rectified. That being said, there are more than enough quality extras to make up for the unfortunate omission, including three – count ‘em, THREE - commentary tracks (the first with writer/director Thom Eberhardt, the second with stars Stewart and Maroney, and the third track featuring production designer, John Muto). Scream Factory also includes three featurette/interview segments, including Valley Girls at the End of the World, which focuses on Stewart and Maroney and their experiences filming Night of the Comet; The Last Man on Earth?, which features recollections by star, Robert Beltran, and the FX-centric piece, Curse of the Comet, with FX artist, David B. Miller discussing his work on the film and other projects that lead up to it.
Rounding out the extras are a pair of stills galleries, the theatrical trailer, and a DVD copy of the film. As with all of the Scream Factory collector’s editions, this release sports both a slipcase and a reversible cover, with the original poster art on one side and a very nice piece of original art by Nathan Thomas Milliner.
Night of the Comet is a goofy, occasionally scary, always entertaining 80s time capsule with a very vocal fanbase that’s been begging for a quality release of the title since the dawn of the DVD era. While MGM’s DVD was certainly serviceable, this is the version of the film fans have been clamoring for, with a great HD transfer and a fantastic assortment of quality bonus features. Once again, Scream Factory delivers the goods, releasing what will most likely be the definitive edition of Night of the Comet for years to come, and, for fans of the film (and 80s b-movies in general) it comes very highly recommended!