Night of the Comet (1984) / Horror-Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some gory images, violence, some sensuality, and language
Running time: 95 min.
Cast: Catherine Mary Stewart, Kelli Maroney, Robert Beltran, Sharon Farrell, Mary Woronov, Geoffrey Lewis, Peter Fox, Michael Bowen
Director: Thom Eberhardt
Screenplay: Thom Eberhardt
Looking back on the film in hindsight, it occurs to me that there are some striking parallels between the events in this movie and one that would come almost two decades later, 28 Days Later. Both films are post-apocalyptic sci-fi thrillers where the the population of Earth is threatened into nonexistence in a short amount of time, while the survivors do what they can in order to keep from suffering the same fate at the hands of those who have gone rabidly insane -- the zombies here aren't the slow, lumbering ones we generally associate with the genre either. Both films also feature lingering shots of the desolate streets, the use of the radio in order for survivors to communicate with one another, and a group of misguided madmen who decide upon themselves that they are the vessels for Earth's survival, and will victimize those that remain to achieve success.
"Valley girl" sisters Regina (Stewart, Weekend at Bernie's) and Samantha (Maroney, Fast TImes at Ridgemont High) become one of Earth's few survivors when a comet passes Earth and vaporizes just about everyone who isn't protected behind some sort of steel protection. Sad as it is, the girls decide to have some fun having the town all to themselves. They eventually meet another survivor, Hector (Beltran, El Diablo), and the two get back into their usual mode of fighting over boys -- this one happening to be the last man on Earth, or so they think at the time. Turns out there are other survivors, but they have slowly been turning into some sort of mutated zombies out to kill, making the streets a dangerous place to be. Out to fetch them are a group of scientists looking to find a way to immunize themselves from the degenerative process started by exposure to the comet indirectly, but to do this means to practically enslave and possibly kill the healthy people remaining that they can get their hands on -- namely, Regina and Samantha.
Night of the Comet is a culty, offbeat comedy from the mid-1980s that isn't a really good example of any one of its intended genres, but comes off as refreshingly different for being a interesting mix of several. Comedy, sci-fi, horror, romance, adventure, action, drama, and thriller, it covers quite a lot of territory in a short amount of time, and does so with its own sense of style that makes it different from any other film, even if it is an homage film at its core.
Writer-director Thom Eberhardt (Captain Ron, The Night Before), who had just come off of a similar survivalist horror tale, Sole Survivor, imbues his film with a tongue planted firmly in his cheek, and a genuine love for the various B-movie genres that gives the film the necessary sense of fun needed in order to not get bogged down in deadly seriousness that would have done the film in for sure. Although the acting isn't what you might consider formidable, it works for the sort of campy film that this is, precisely because it is a bit of a throwback to b-movies. Regina and Samantha are fun to watch, and not quite a complete stereotype of Valley girls like other "totally 80s" movies at the time.
Night of the Comet isn't a great film by any stretch, as it is limited in its quality by its derivativeness, but I think it ultimately is successful enough because it knows its limitations, never trying to make itself something its not, and pleases the audience for which it is intended. As a quirky tip of the hat to junk food cinema, it would go on to a similar cult status as the films it pays homage to. Sure, it's dated, but in the enjoyable way.
©2007 Vince Leo