Directed by Thom Eberhardt, Starring: Robert Beltran, Catherine Mary Stewart, Kelli Maroney. Sci-Fi / Horror, US, 1984, 95mins, cert 15.
Released in the UK on Blu-ray and DVD by Arrow Video on 22nd September 2014.
It’s 1984 in the Valley. A spectacular once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event, namely a close encounter with a passing comet, has the population gearing up for a night of unprecedented star-gazing celebration. Unfortunately the aforementioned comet brings with it a rather nasty surprise in that everyone who gazes upon it or is exposed to it is either instantly disintegrated into red dust, or turns into a flesh-eating zombie. Cinema usherette Regina (Catherine Mary Stewart) can thank her lucky stars then that instead of witnessing the celestial light-show first-hand she chose instead to spend the night with the projectionist – in the projection booth of the local fleapit – which just happens to be steel-encased...Her cheerleading sister Samantha (Kelli Maroney) also manages to miss the cataclysmic event having run away from home after a bust-up with bitchy step-mom.
This is a film so quintessentially 80’s it should almost have been sealed in a time-capsule the moment it was completed and deposited for safe keeping in a vault with instructions only to open at a set time in the distant future. The 80’s iconography literally drips off the screen and the incessant synth and sax pop soundtrack almost makes your ears bleed.
This film escaped me upon its initial release, an oversight I blame almost entirely on the subdued uninspiring original poster art which really didn’t do it any favours. Not that it’s an easy film to sell mind you. It has a LAST MAN ON EARTH science-fiction premise and a couple of half-hearted zombie attacks (the best of which is a fleeting dream-sequence) but neither can be said to deliver any real substance on either front. It’s mainly a likeable cheesy B-movie with a refreshingly likable couple of leading ladies in big-haired Catherine Mary Stewart and gum-chewing Keli Maroney.
Upping the cheese factor to fondue levels we have Latindio Robert Beltran (best known as ‘Commander Chakotay’ from STAR TREK: VOYAGER) as ‘Hector’ who also manages to escape immediate dustification by spending the night in his truck engaged in a bout of horizontal salsa with a lonely hitch-hiker.
It’s a film I’d suggest you need to meet at least half-way (if not more) in order to fully appreciate it. There’s some nice gags sprinkled in with the comet dust such as the Jean Harlow Clark Gable RED DUST film poster (see what they did there?) on the door in the projection booth. The projectionist is waxing lyrically about a pristine print of IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE in 3D to a buddy on the phone. (Ironically, given that celluloid as a cinematic medium is now virtually extinct in 2014; a similar discovery today would arguably elicit an even greater excitement than that imagined in 1984).
The scenes of deserted downtown L.A. (shot through a red filter which would once have sent videocassette players into colour-bleed meltdown) are nicely atmospheric; an impromptu fashion parade in a shopping mall encapsulates an unadulterated moment of escapism against the backdrop of (total bummer) near extinction. I also loved the exchange between Samantha and her stepmom Doris who trade face-slaps before gold ole’ Doris floors her step-daughter with a hook to the jaw.
Arrow’s Blu-ray does a reasonable job of bringing this low-budget grainy feature into the HD light. The extras are copious: 3 separate audio commentaries; interviews with Kelli Maroney, Catherine Mary Stewart, Robert Beltran, Mary Woronov and special make-up effects creator David B. Miller. The obligatory trailer comes along as standard, plus there’s a reversible sleeve and an illustrated collector’s booklet.