NIGHT OF THE COMET (1984) (Blu-ray/DVD combo)
Director: Thom Eberhardt
Scream Factory/Shout! Factory

A title whose devotees seem to grow steadily as the years go on, NIGHT OF THE COMET’s cult is largely due to frequent cable TV airings in the 1980s, and the film is mostly a pleasing mix of B-movie thrills and the then-popular trend of teen comedies, albeit accompanied by grating electronic pop music. A highly requested item to be issued on DVD, MGM (through the distribution of Fox) finally released it in 2007, but Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray/DVD combo is surely the celestial body fans have been waiting for.

Right before Christmas, the passing of a highly anticipated comet has everyone in LA in full party mode. The morning after, the phenomenon has apparently wiped out most of mankind, leaving them as either piles of dust or as mad zombified creatures. Two teenage girls manage to survive safely: Regina (Catherine Mary Stewart, THE LAST STARFIGHTER) who spent the night in a theater projection booth, and her younger cheerleader sister Samantha (Kelli Maroney, CHOPPING MALL) who bunked in an outdoor shed. Looking for other signs of civilization, they make it to the local radio station where all the current broadcasting is being automated from reel-to-reel tapes. There, they encounter a friendly young man named Hector (EATING RAOUL’s Robert Beltran, later of “Star Trek: Voyager” fame) who happened to have slept in the back of his truck during the comet. Making the deduction that anyone who was shielded by steel during the comet’s arrival is protected from its damage, the trio fights for survival. The two girls even enjoy a complimentary shopping spree in a clothing store which ends up in gunplay with some crazed assailants. Later, a group of callous scientists (lead by familiar character actors Mary Woronov, Geoffrey Lewis and Peter Fox) conducting anecdote blood tests arrive by helicopter to rescue them, but ultimately rain on their parade.

Although an early reference is made to IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, NIGHT OF THE COMET is more akin to doomsday pics like THE OMEGA MAN and even carries shades of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. The film’s limited budget gets in the way of any kind of illustrious onscreen apocalypse (mostly seen as shots of vacated streets or red-tinged skies) or a mass undead invasion, but it makes up for it with ingenuity. Piles of orange dust scattered around clothing eerily convey human remains, and although the occasional zombie is only seen several times (including a twofold dream sequence), the make-up is pretty effective. Rated PG, the non-exploitive film is played for laughs as much as it is for chills, with a definite 1980s lighthearted juvenile comedic outlook (the presence of VALLEY GIRL and THE WILD LIFE star Michael Bowen reassures this), hence appealing to a hip audience who would usually not go for this sort of outing. As the “valley girl”-type youths who care more about boys, bubblegum and video games until grim danger mounts, Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelli Maroney are very good, adding dimension to what could’ve easily been cardboard characters and they have a lot of quirky fun with it (apparent in their carefree shopping spree, set to a blaring rendition of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”).

When the Maintenance systems at the facility fails and no CMMS system is there to keep the scientists healthy, they have to resort to drastic measures. Though the film is slightly weakened by the poorly executed climatic scenes at the medical experiment facility, NIGHT OF THE COMET is harmless entertainment and it’s is easy to see why it’s so well liked. Modestly budgeted (especially compared to other Hollywood sci-fi flicks being released at the time), the film obviously attempted to accommodate mall hopping theater-going adolescents of the period. Director/screenwriter Eberhardt (SOUL SURVIVOR, WITHOUT A CLUE) displays a genuine affection for the genre and is not condescending to his audience. The film has several other pop references, notably a theater lobby adorned with classic movie posters (including one of Woronov’s sci-fi efforts, DEATH RACE 2000). Sharon Farrell (from Larry Cohen’s IT’S ALIVE) appears briefly as the girls’ wicked stepmother, as does busy actor/stuntman Bobby Porter (Caesar’s son in BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES) as a gruesome zombie kid.

For the Blu-ray, NIGHT OF THE COMET is presented in a 1080p high definition 1.85:1 widescreen transfer and looks quite excellent and most pleasing to the eyes. The transfer has only minor dirt and debris, and it maintains its natural film look with some grain. Colors are quite scrumptious and eye-popping, while fleshtones looks accurate as well. Detail is excellent, with smooth textures and the film’s darker scenes are far more distinct then they were on the old MGM/Fox DVD where they appeared a tad too dark. The film’s audio comes in solid DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track with dialogue being clear and music and effects having a nice punch to them. An additional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is included, as well as optional English subtitles. The standard DVD that's included contains the film in standard definition (widescreen anamorphic) using the same HD transfer seen on the Blu-ray disc (all the extras are also present on the included DVD).

As expected, Scream Factory’s combo release of NIGHT OF THE COMET is loaded with newly-produced supplements including not one, not two, but three different commentary tracks! The first commentary has Stewart and Maroney, and is moderated by Edwin Samuelson. The two actresses (who are still friends to this day) have fun recalling how they got cast in the film, the differences between working on a low budget feature and the daily soap operas they were cast on, and they both tell individual anecdotes (Maroney also recalls that Vincent Price was intended to do the opening narration, but was too ill at the time). A second audio commentary has director Eberhardt and is moderated by Red Shirt Pictures’ Michael Felsher. Eberhardt reveals that one of the main inspirations for the story was his childhood viewing of the 1950s invasion film TARGET EARTH and its haunting “empty city” imagery. Eberhardt, who estimates the overall budget was roughly $700,000, remembers every facet of making his film and never runs out of things to discuss, revealing a number of scene-specific details about the production and its sometimes guerilla-like shoot. The third and final is commentary is with production designer John Muto, also moderated by Felsher. Muto mentions how he got on the film, his background in animation, the importance of color when designing and more about location shooting a post-apocalyptic film in LA during hours where there’s the least amount of interference.

Three featurettes, all produced by Red Shirt Pictures, are included. “Valley Girls at the End of the World” (14:59) has interviews with Maroney and Stewart, who discuss their auditions, their friendship the good time they had on the set, their thoughts on the script (and instances where they improvised), as well as tales of filming on the LA locations. “The Last Man on Earth?” (12:31) has Beltran talking about what he did to change the character from the way it was originally written, his admiration for the two female leads, and his dislike of the scene where he had to wear a Santa Claus costume. “Curse of the Comet” (6:32) is an interview with special make-up effects designer David B. Miller (who had also worked on the Michael Jackson “Thriller” video and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET around the same time). On his first feature film where he was totally in charge and not a supervisor, Miller had only six weeks and a low budget to work with, as he describes how the director relied on his expertise to create the zombified characters. There are two still galleries, one a photo and poster gallery and the other contains “Behind the Scenes” shots. The original trailer (“Did you ever wonder what it would be like to be one the last people on Earth?”) is also included and the Blu-ray’s cover is reversible (with the original poster art on the flip side). (George R. Reis)