top shelf assault on precinct 13

Most home video releases are mass produced and marketed by faceless conglomerates interested only in separating you from your hard-earned cash. If you look closely though you’ll find smaller labels who love movies as much as you do and show it by delivering quality Blu-rays and DVDs of beloved films and cult classics, often loaded with special features, new transfers, and more. But yes, they still want your cash, too.

This week’s pairing looks at two new Collector’s Edition releases from Scream Factory. The label is an offshoot from Shout! Factory, and while their main focus is on horror titles they’re flexible enough to include variations of the genre, too. They’ve managed to prove themselves in short time through a dedication to HD remasters.

First up is an urban western from John Carpenter that sees a simple act of revenge lead to a siege involving police, prisoners, civilians, and some unruly gang members, and we’re following that with an ’80s horror/comedy with zombies and a pair of ass-kicking valley girls.

John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

Los Angeles police are in a tug of war with the city’s growing gang population, and after a particularly brutal assault by police on a known gangster’s paradise a handful of ruffians strike out with a plan to cause some targeted mayhem. They’re interrupted by a little blond girl obsessed with vanilla twist ice cream though, and when the child’s father comes looking for revenge he leaves one of theirs dead before racing off into the night. He ends up at a police station on the eve of its closure with only a skeleton staff inside including two secretaries, an officer, and Sergeant Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker), whose first day on the job may end up being his last.

They get company when a prison transfer bus pulls up looking for temporary refuge due to one of the convicts being deathly ill, and as the prisoners are being moved temporarily into the otherwise empty cells Bishop makes the acquaintance of one Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston). He’s heading to death row, but all he really cares about is finding someone to give him a smoke. It’s not long though before telephone lines and power are cut and waves of armed gang members begin their assault of the station looking for the man who killed one of their own.

Carpenter was never shy about his love of westerns in general and the work of Howard Hawks in particular, but while he’s written a couple westerns he never actually got around to directing one. This film is as close as he ever got as it clearly emulates Hawks’ Rio Bravo in many intentional ways. There’s so much to love here, and while it’s clearly a low budget affair Carpenter at times makes it feel bigger than it is thanks to his Panavision lenses, atmospheric score, and some thrilling action.

ts assault on precinct 13The film’s biggest success though can be found in the characters. The multi-ethnic gang members look like rejects from a United Colors of Benetton campaign, but inside the precinct there’s an even more interesting melting pot. Bishop and Wilson become buddies of sorts, and the idea of a black cop and a white convict becoming friends wasn’t exactly familiar territory. Stoker and Joston sell the relationship through great chemistry, and together they bring an odd camaraderie to the film.

Scream Factory’s Blu-ray Collector’s Edition uses the same remastered picture as the one Image released in 2008, and that’s fine as it looks pretty spectacular for a film this old and low budgeted. The release includes reversible cover-art, two commentary tracks (one with Carpenter and a newer one with Tommy Lee Wallace), an original trailer and ads, and the following special features.

  • Interview with John Carpenter and Austin Stoker [23:07] – A videotaped interview with both men after a screening of the film in Hollywood in 2002, this Q&A offers insight into the film’s origins and production.
  • Bishop Under Siege with Austin Stoker [7:48] – This new interview is short, but Stoker is a charismatic guy who packs a lot of information and love for acting into a limited time. He shares his memories of the cast and production alongside thoughts on his career and early life.
  • The Sassy One with Nancy Loomis [12:43] – I would have preferred that Stoker get the longer of the two interviews, but Loomis has more experience working with Carpenter and the anecdotes to prove it.

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top shelf night of the comet

Thom Eberhardt’s Night of the Comet (1984)

The world is a buzz with news that a rare comet will be passing through the atmosphere, and people everywhere make plans to go outside and watch its arrival overhead. Two people unable or uninterested in seeing astronomical history being made are sisters Reggie (Catherine Mary Stewart) and Samantha (Kelli Maroney), and as luck would have it they spend the night asleep in separate steel-lined rooms. It’s lucky because everyone else who was outside while the comet passed by was either turned to dust or transformed into a flesh-eating zombie.

So obviously the girls head to a local mall to do some clothes shopping. This is ’80s L.A. after all. Their spree is cut short by the arrival of some bad guys, some government guys (and ladies), and a Chicano guy (Robert Beltran) who may just be the last worthwhile man alive. Together the three of them struggle to stay alive in a whole new world.

Night of the Comet was only Thom Eberhardt‘s second feature, but it already showed a flair for mixing genres to great effect as his script does a really good job of throwing scares and laughs at audiences in equal measure. He found greater success later with more straight forward comedies (Without a Clue and Captain Ron), but this little flick has continued to see its fans grow over the years and stands out as one of the more entertaining genre benders of the ’80s.

ts night of the cometAgain, it’s a low budget affair, but the film has such personality about it that it’s difficult not have fun with it. Stewart and Maroney are great together and share a sisterly sense of humor that pervades the film adding to its casual atmosphere. It also helps during the more menacing scenes as the humor and charm of the duo serve to repeatedly lower our guard only to see something nasty immediately raise it up again. It’s a lightweight horror/comedy that refrains from the more hardcore elements of films like Re-Animator and Return of the Living Dead, but it still has plenty to offer genre fans.

Scream Factory’s remastered Blu-ray includes reversible cover-art, three commentary tracks (stars Kelli Maroney & Catherine Mary Stewart, director Thom Eberhardt, production designer John Muto), the original trailer, a photo gallery, and the additional special features below.

  • Valley Girls at the End of the World with Kelli Maroney & Catherine Mary Stewart [14:59] – The two actresses discuss the film’s production fondly and continue to show real enthusiasm for the experience. They share some fun anecdotes and reflect on how the movie seemed to grow in popularity with the rise of the internet.
  • The Last Man on Earth? with Robert Beltran [12:32] – Beltran talks about how the film was offered to him several times before he finally relented provided they make some changes with the character. He’s not shy about recalling on-set contention, but at its core he seems happy with the result.
  • Curse of the Comet with David B. Miller [6:32] – Miller is a special effects artist who saw a lot of work hit the screen in 1984 including A Nightmare on Elm Street, Dreamscape, and Night of the Comet. This was his first supervisor gig too.

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