In 'Night of the Comet,' the fate of human civilization — and the future of all humanity, for that matter — rests in the hands of two teenage Valley girls and a guy from San Diego named Hector (Robert Beltran). Or, as he later calls himself while dressed like a Texan cowboy and loudly listening to country music, his name is Heck Gomen. As quite literally the last man on Earth, he's partly central to the siblings feuding and bickering over what matters most for the survival of our species. Equally important are decisions on what music to play over the radio, whether a feather boa is more fashionable than a shawl, shopping sprees at the mall and is it really necessary to wait for the light to change at a crosswalk. Humanity is on the brink of extinction, and these issues are, like, totally crucial.
From a script he also wrote, director Thom Eberhardt made the wise choice of providing these girls with a backstory that audiences can sympathize with. The 18-year-old Reggie, played by a very likeable Catherine Mary Stewart ('The Last Starfigther,' 'Weekend at Bernie's'), and her little sister Sam (Kelli Maroney) are forced to live with their wicked, two-timing stepmother while their Special Forces father is off fighting some nameless war. It also makes their squabbling more tolerable because if the girls thought they had it bad before, now they must contend with a once every 65-million-year comet turning humans to dust. Some survivors, like our trio of protagonists, go unscathed while others slowly degenerate into zombie-like cannibals roaming the streets of Los Angeles.
In order to survive the dangers of L.A., it helps to have a dad teach his daughters the proper use and handling of various firearms because one never knows when an Uzi submachine gun will be the weapon of choice to battle zombie thugs inside the local mall. Or, perhaps shoot at a random blue Cadillac that's just begging to be used for target practice. Lo and behold, Reggie and Sam — two rather androgynous names interestingly used as shorthand nicknames for two very feminine female characters — just happen to be experienced and somewhat skilled with guns. In one early scene, we see Reggie inflict martial-arts pain on a city-worker zombie in a back alley and later reduce a baffled Hector's manhood a smidge by disparaging his gun while chatting inside a women's restroom.
These girls may be from the Valley, still in high school and with very little ambition towards their future, but don't discount them so easily. They're tough, independent and resilient, and they know how to have a good time while surviving the mass extinction of the human race. Their rough and headstrong personalities are quite handy, particularly, when confronted by a secret organization of scientists who also survived by hiding in an underground military base. Led by Dr. Carter (Geoffrey Lewis), the group pretends to be a rescue team but harbors a sinister agenda that fellow scientist Audrey White (Mary Woronov) publicly disapproves of. Their presence is somewhat bewildering since they ultimately have little to no effect on the overall storyline.
For me, this subplot, which takes up a majority of the film's second half, is the least memorable aspect from 'Night of the Comet.' The scientists and their agenda makes the narrative flow feel somewhat clunky and episodic, taking away from what makes the cult horror sci-fi favorite such a blast to watch: walking the empty streets of Los Angeles while battling zombified survivors of the comet's deadly rays. The first time I watched 'Night of the Comet,' I took it as deadly serious horror flick but always disliked the second half with the scientists. Years later, I came to appreciate it as the tongue-in-cheek satire it actually is, but those latter moments still slow the pace significantly. I understand the role they play in the plot and Eberhardt's intentions, but I wanted more scenes in the city.
Even so, it's not enough to completely ruin the film because 'Night of the Comet' remains a long-time, nostalgically-beloved childhood favorite.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Shout! Factory brings 'Night of the Comet' to Blu-ray as a Collector's Edition combo pack under the distributor's Scream Factory line. The Region A locked, BD50 disc is housed inside the normal blue case with a DVD-9 copy on the opposing panel, brand new reversible cover art and a cardboard slipcover. At startup, the disc goes to a generic main menu selection on the left side with music and full-motion clips. Also, if you buy direct from the Shout! Factory website, fans can get an exclusive, limited edition poster of the newly commissioned artwork with their purchase while supplies last!
The cult comedy horror/sci-fi favorite scatters its red comet dust all over Blu-ray with a decent and generally pleasing 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.85:1), but it's not the sort to make audiences cheer. The movie understandably was made on a limited budget and it has never yielded the best results on any home video format, so the picture quality seen here is to be expected, showing a great deal of softness with several splatters of dirt and white specks. A few sequences are nicely detailed, such as the clothing and lettering on various products, and fine lines are at least resilient. But by and large, the best aspects are far and few between.
Nevertheless, this high-def transfer is a considerable upgrade to previous editions, and that is saying something. Contrast is stable and well-balanced though the photography is slightly but deliberately on the lower end, giving the movie a more pessimistic, gloomy feel. Black levels are also accurately rendered with deep, penetrating shadows that don't take away from background information. Colors benefit the most from the upgrade. Though the palette leans heavily towards reds and oranges, primaries appear bold and vibrant with strong secondary hues and natural skin tones. With a consistent thick layer of film-like grain present from beginning to end, the movie looks good on Blu-ray.
On the audio side, 'Night of the Comet' arrives with a slightly more impressive presentation as fans have the option between a 5.1 soundtrack or the original stereo track.
Surprisingly, both are quite good, even the newer upmix which stays faithful to the movie's front-heavy design. Vocals are delivered with clean clarity and priority over the rest of the mix. The music and off-screen action moves smoothly across the soundstage to create a nice wide image while the low-end provides presence and depth. Only point of complaint is a mid-range that feels generally lacking and flat, making much of the movie feel a bit on the dull, uniform side. The constant sound of wind blowing to represent the deserted feel of the city is almost completely gone or comes in such a low volume that it's barely audible at all.
Not surprisingly, the original stereo design is the favored version, not only restoring that constant sound of wind but also exhibiting a great deal more warmth and fidelity. Dialogue reproduction is precise and cleanly rendered in the center while the other channels widen the soundfield with music and discrete effects. The mid-range is tad more dynamic and detailed, but it never feels as if it there's much going on in the higher frequencies anyhow. Low bass is adequate for a film of this vintage with good palpable weight, making the overall lossless mix a great listen.
Worth noting is that the back of the package mistakenly indicates a new interview with Mary Woronov, but sadly, the interview never happened so is not actually available here.
In spite of a questionable second half, 'Night of the Comet' is an entertaining tongue-in-cheek comedy horror with lots of nostalgia value. With great performances from the cast and weird laughs about Valley girls being responsible for the fate of humanity, the film has grown in stature since its release to become a cult sci-fi favorite. The Blu-ray comes with a strong but not wholly satisfying picture and a better audio presentation. Supplemental material is a nice bonus of interviews, making the overall package a significant upgrade over previous editions. Fans should be happy. Worth a look for everyone else.