The COMET returns to orbit
'80s Cult Favorite Finally Arrives on DVD
Plus: SOLARBABIES, RUN'S HOUSE, THE SHIELD and More!
One of my favorite cult sci-fi films of the ‘80s has at last
arrived on DVD in a no-frills but at least agreeably-priced edition
Thom Eberhardt’s NIGHT OF THE COMET (***, 95 mins., 1984, PG-13)
is a goofy, highly entertaining cinematic brew that’s more fun
than most gloomy films about The End of Civilization As We Know it, and
as such has dated better than the majority of its genre brethren.
Though a firmly a product of the ‘80s, there’s a certain
energy present throughout “Night of the Comet” that has
made it an enduring fan-favorite, its premise offering a sort of
“Twilight Zone” tale that John Hughes might have written
had Rod Serling’s series been around at the time of its
Catherine Mary Stuart (who starred in “The Last
Starfighter” earlier in ‘84) and Kelli Maroney play a pair
of siblings from The Valley who find themselves two of the only humans
alive after a comet passes by and wipes out nearly all of the world
around them. Instead of moping about, though, the duo opt to party like
it’s 1999, though a pair of bad guys (Geoffrey Lewis, Mary
Woronov) ultimately appear with some very “Omega Man” like
shenanigans in tow, wanting the ladies’ un-infected blood to
prevent themselves from turning into zombies!
Even though its climax is tired and the villains uninteresting,
“Night of the Comet” is otherwise a gem, capped by a
totally satisfying ending that strikes the perfect note for the
material. The appealing performances of Maroney and Stuart carry the
film while Eberhardt manages to get the most out of the picture’s
limited budget, especially from a visual angle. Dramatically,
it’s no great shakes, and the last third of the picture does
drag, but “Night of the Comet” effectively mixes satire,
sci-fi, zombies and valley girls together in a splendid concoction that
has lost little of its appeal over the years.
Fox and MGM have dusted off this Atlantic Pictures release (which
CBS/Fox first issued on VHS back in 1985) for its long-overdue DVD
edition and pretty much hit the bullseye here. Though lacking in
supplements of any kind (not even the trailer is on-hand), the movie
has never looked better in its fresh 16:9 (1.85) transfer. Though
initially released in mono, a 2.0 stereo remix here gives a bit more
“oomph” to the soundtrack, with the picture’s bouncy
pop tracks suitably complimenting the action throughout (I love the
mellow ‘80s soft-rock duet which closes the film -- “Learn
To Love Again” -- which is surely deserving of its own CD release
by now as well).
Needless to say I strongly recommend “Night of the Comet”
as one of the best “little” genre films of the ‘80s,
with Fox/MGM’s DVD retailing for a hair over $10 in most outlets.
A bigger-budgeted misfire from producer Mel Brooks, SOLARBABIES (*½, 94 mins., 1986, PG-13)
has also been newly released on DVD from Fox/MGM.
Whereas “Night of the Comet” had fun spoofing its
post-apocalyptic premise, the 1986 “Solarbabies” wants
nothing to do with originality -- recycling “Mad Max”
shamelessly by way of the roller-skating phenomenon that was all the
rage thanks to the success of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical
“Starlight Express” at the time.
What ended up on-screen in this Alan Johnson-directed mess is an
embarrassing, juvenile sci-fi film about a desert planet with orphaned
kids running around on skates, trying to avoid the one-note bad guys
(including Richard Jordan) siphoning their world’s precious
water, and using a magical ball of energy named “Bodhi” who
apparently has come to set them all free...or something.
Having never seen “Solarbabies” before (the film died at
the box-office back at Thanksgiving ‘86, raking up only $1
million in ticket sales), I was hoping that Fox’s new DVD would
offer some entertainment -- even of an unintentionally amusing variety.
Sadly, despite offering a game cast (Jason Patric and Jami Gertz --
prior to their “Lost Boys” pairing just a few months later
-- Lukas Haas and Adrian Pasdar among them), widescreen cinematography,
and a score by Maurice Jarre (regrettably an all-synth affair that
clumsily enhances the cartoonish aspects of the Walon Green-Douglas
Metrov script), “Solarbabies” is just terrible, a relic of
the decade that likely should’ve remained dead and buried for all
Fox’s DVD edition does look nifty in 16:9 (2.35) widescreen and
sports an active 2.0 Dolby Surround mix (a cropped full-screen version
is available on the disc’s flip side).
Tellingly, the movie concludes with a laughable end credits sequence,
sporting the cast jumping into the ocean while the hideous Smokey
Robinson song “Love Will Set You Free” (“Available on
Motown Records!”) closes out the soundtrack. Ugh!
Upcoming DVDs From Fox
SHIRLEY TEMPLE: America’s Sweetheart Collection Volume 5 (Fox, available March 27th):
Three-disc box-set offers new transfers of Temple classics “The
Little Princess,” “The Blue Bird,” and “Stand
Up and Cheer,” all having been digitally remastered and presented
in their proper color/black-and-white versions for this latest Fox
anthology. Strongly recommended for all Shirley fans!
THE SHIELD: Season 5 (2006, 546 mins., Fox, available March 27th):
The fifth season of the acclaimed, award-winning F/X cable series finds
Forest Whitaker on-hand as an internal affairs cop, out gunning for
detective Michael Chiklis’ head. Fox’s four-disc box set
includes all 11 episodes from the fifth season in full-screen transfers
with 2.0 Dolby Surround sound; extras include deleted scenes,
commentaries, and a Season 6 prequel segment.
FANTASTIC FOUR: Animated Series Volume 1 (2006, 87 mins., Fox, available March 27th):
Four episodes from the most recent animated adaptation of Earth’s
Mightiest Heroes makes for a somewhat thin DVD (only 87 minutes of
content with no extras), but comic completists may still be interested
if they can find it at a discount. Fox’s DVD sports full-screen
transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks.
New and Coming Soon on DVD
RUN’S HOUSE: Seasons 1 & 2 (2005-06, 316 mins., Paramount):
Run-DMC member Joseph Simmons served as the basis of this reality show -- but the
good news is that this family-friendly program is a great deal more
substantive than, say, your typical Anna Nicole or Osbornes episode.
Simmons is a family man and minister trying to raise his kids the right
way, and while there’s ample humor to be mined from this MTV
series, the message is a positive one and the series doesn’t
pander to its audience the way so many other reality programs do.
Paramount’s DVD edition is a three-disc set sporting its entire
first and second seasons (season three is currently airing on MTV) with
bonus content including extended sequences, music videos and cast
PUMPKINHEAD: ASHES TO ASHES (2006, 95 mins., R; Sony)
Evil town doctor Doug Bradley is harvesting organs and dumping bodies
in the local swamp, which brings out undead town sheriff Lance
Henriksen and the vengeance seeking demon Pumpkinhead to gain
retribution for their nefarious crimes. This belated follow-up to Stan
Winston’s above-average late ‘80s creature chiller is
substantially better than the last “Pumpkinhead” entry,
with effective enough make-up effects compensating for a tired script
and brain-dead characters. Sony’s DVD offers an excellent 16:9
(1.85) transfer that’s absolutely flawless, while the 5.1 Dolby
Digital sound packs a decent punch. Not bad for a night’s rental,
with what’s apparently an even better follow-up (“Blood
Feud”) having already been shown on the Sci-Fi Channel and due
out on DVD in the near future.