Scream Factory is churning out awesome Blu-ray releases pretty regularly these days, and today we have a double feature review for two of their recent sci-fi / horror titles, the 80’s cult classic Night of the Comet and Saturn 3.
As far as trippy 70’s sci-fi movies go, Saturn 3 didn’t disappoint even if the film never quite fully comes together and it’s likely due to the behind-the-scenes politics that left production troubled from the very beginning. The story of Saturn 3 at least has some ingenuity going for it, which really made the film all the more fascinating experience for me (more on that in a sec) and ultimately, rather entertaining.
The futuristic intergalactic tale of Saturn 3 is centered around Adam (Kirk Douglas) and Alex (Farrah Fawcett), caretakers for a hydroponic growing station on Saturn’s third moon who are working to find their ecologically-devastated home planet of Earth a new food supply. Their research isn’t producing the results the government was hoping for (maybe it’s because the two of them like to carry on like a bunch of horny teenagers who have their parents out of the house for the first time), so they send the mysterious Captain Benson (Harvey Keitel) and his trusty sidekick robot named Hector to the third moon to let the pair of lovebird researchers know one of them is about to be replaced by Benson’s robotic pal.
As a whole, there’s a lot of potential at play in Saturn 3, but it’s virtually all unrealized, which is a shame since the film seems to have everything going for it on paper. Saturn 3 boasts a unique trio of actors who all bring something very different and invaluable to the table, a legendary director at its helm plus a screenplay by acclaimed writer Martin Amis and yet, nothing in Saturn 3 ever really comes together as one cohesive film. Unfortunately, Saturn 3 is painfully obvious in the films it pays homage to, sometimes almost teetering into copycat territory and the tone of the movie never quite finds its footing either, which is a damned shame in both cases. In fact, director Stanley Donen sometimes lets things drift into downright goofball territory, especially when the movie’s leads try to take down an unruly and destructive Hector during Saturn 3’s third act, almost derailing everything that worked about his story.
All that being said, Saturn 3 does have some pretty interesting things on its mind when it comes to gender and age politics, which are some aspects of the movie I rather enjoyed. Casting Douglas and Fawcett (who was around 30 years younger than Douglas) as lovers gave the story a rather unique sexual dynamic that I would have loved to see explored more and a young Keitel also brings his signature cold-blooded intensity to the role of Benson, even if he’s actually been overdubbed here (apparently, he sounded too “Brooklyn” for the role). Thankfully, Keitel’s great at carrying a lot of his performance in his facial features and his menacing stares and visage serve him well in Saturn 3. Also working in the film’s favor is the killer robot Hector who has something of a retro charm to him, even despite the fact that he wants to kill everyone and have sex with Fawcett (who could blame him though).
It’s easy to see why Saturn 3 has achieved a certain cult appeal throughout the years- it has an incredible cast, an interesting killer robot running amok, some cool ideas, a likeable campiness to it and a beautiful score by famed composer Elmer Bernstein. It’s a safe bet that it won’t ever win any awards for originality, but on occasion, Saturn 3 proves itself to be an intelligent, creepy and engaging sci-fi story despite a little silliness along the way. If it’s a film you’ve been meaning to check out, I’d definitely recommend it to curious parties. It’s not a movie I’ll spend a lot of time revisiting in the future, but I’m glad I took the time to finally catch up with it now.
On the other side of the cult classic sci-fi spectrum is another recent Scream Factory release, Thom Eberhardt’s criminally underrated Night of the Comet, a lovably oddball movie that seems to get better each time I revisit it. The story follows Regina (Catherine Mary Stewart), a self-assured high school senior that works in the local movie theater and her cheerleading sister Samantha (Kelli Maroney), who are forced to put their military brat upbringings to good use when humanity is practically obliterated by the toxic gasses from a passing comet, leaving piles of dust and zombie hordes in its wake.
What saves both our heroines from certain death is that they both spent their respective evenings tucked away behind steel walls (this could very well be the first time in horror where it actually pays off to have sex!), as Regina shacked up with her projectionist boyfriend at the theater and Samantha was hiding out in a shed in their backyard in an attempt to escape the wrath of their drunken stepmom. The teens soon come to meet a third survivor while exploring a Los Angeles radio station that’s still on the air- a truck driver named Hector (Robert Beltran), who managed to avoid the comet’s deadly gas because he was “making it” with a prostitute in the back of his steel truck trailer.
On the surface, Night of the Comet seems like just another silly, sci-fi flick that revels in all everything that made 80’s movies fun: cheesy dialogue, big hair, outrageous clothes, witty banter, several music-infused montages and of course, a shopping spree at the mall. But what solidifies Night of the Comet’s cult status as a truly great film of its generation is that when you take a look at the story beyond all the silliness. Eberhardt’s story tries to keep things fresh for viewers and there are some undeniably great performances and character moments at play that make it all the more engaging and infectious whether you’re watching it for the first or 30th time.
From a technical standpoint, Night of the Comet is not without its faults, as the film definitely feels like Eberhardt was making the best use he could with the limited budget he had at his disposal. However, the lacking budget can’t help but shine through. For me, though, I tend to appreciate that kind of ‘bigger than my budget’ filmmaking ambition in my classic indie horror, so I’m definitely much more forgiving of flaws when the director at least demonstrates genuine enthusiasm in his work, which Eberhardt does here in spades.
Also showing a ton of enthusiasm for the material are Night of the Comet’s co-stars, Stewart and Maroney, who are both equally awesome and have superb chemistry together as our beleaguered heroines that must find a way to survive- and shop- in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles. As someone who grew up loving both The Last Starfighter and Weekend at Bernie’s, Stewart once again lights up the screen here any time her and her killer gaze (I know I sound like a dude, but Stewart was always able to play up any role with her dynamic eyes) come into frame. And Maroney, who I only really knew from Chopping Mall, did a great job of keeping bubbling Samantha from being a one-note character, which easily could have happened. Supporting players Beltran and the iconic Mary Woronov are also equally great in Night of the Comet as well.
Is Night of the Comet a totally cheestastic and sometimes completely outlandish sci-fi flick? Of course. But I think it’s the film’s ability to embrace its own zaniness that has cemented Night of the Comet’s legacy in modern horror as by far one of the most inventive cult classics to have been spawned during the 80’s. It also helps when you have a director at the helm who wears his enthusiasm for the material on his sleeve and an engaging, top-notch cast to bring that material to life. It’s really too bad we don’t see movies like Night of the Comet anymore.