Cult Movie Retrospective: Night of the Comet

“They came. They shopped. They saved the world!”

It’s the night of the big interstellar star show, and poor Regina (Catherine Mary Stewart) has to work. Holed up at the local movie house (where she’s an usher), she calls her sister to let her know she’ll be home a little later than usual. Sam (Kelli Maroney) is equally upset. She is being forced to spend the evening kowtowing to her stepmother’s mindless friends. As the big event finally arrives – Earth is passing through the tail of a massive, mysterious comet – something strange happens. Everyone on the planet just disappears – everyone except Regina and Sam, apparently.

At first, they figure they’re alone. Then Regina runs into an angry zombie with murder on his mind. Eventually the sisters make their way to a local radio station, where they confront Hector (Robert Beltran), a truck driver who’s also running from the fiends. Together they decide to look for others. Unfortunately, there are more than monsters posing a potential threat. A group of scientists are seeking human subjects for evil experiments, and Regina, Sam, and Hector will make terrific blood banks. Seems that after this Night Of The Comet, no one is safe – not even the ones who managed to survive.

Night Of The Comet Scene

Night Of The Comet Zombie

Due to its allegorical nature and the patterns of audiences, it’s fun to see how the science fiction genre has adapted over the years to become indicative of every decade it inhabits. While ‘50s and ‘60s science fiction held stories of invaders, paranoia and experiments gone wrong, the ‘70s and ‘80s were much more about the absence of life and the mystery of the future. However, it’s a rare film such as Thom Eberhardt’s Night Of The Comet, that is able to incorporate those elements and criticism of government and society while also being humorous, fun and reflective of ‘80s youth.

Eberhardt does a great job at directing with an equal balance of suspense and comic levity – and even interjected a fair amount of horror for a PG-13 movie. The two funniest scenes in the film involve a shopping montage which turns into a new wave zombie shoot’m up at a nearby mall (scored with a boot-leg version of Cyndi Lauper’s hit, Girls Just Want To Have Fun) and the other is when Hector battles a zombie child in his mother’s East LA home. Beyond that, there are plenty of funny lines, the most memorable one occurring while the girls are doing some defensive target practice. Sam’s MAC-10 jams up on her and she turns to Reggie with a sour face and says, “Daddy would have gotten us Uzis.”

There is temptation, of course, to immediately discuss Night Of The Comet with reference to other zombie movies and end-of-the-world sci-fi; not hard to do, given it follows the same essential plot beats as Night Of The Living Dead, The Day Of The Triffids, et al.

However, considering the film specifically as a relic of its era, it’s easier to liken it to another 1984 film: John Milius’ Red Dawn. Perhaps this is because the dawn (and indeed the midday, afternoon and dusk) are quite literally red in Night Of The Comet; perhaps it’s because both films were among the very first PG-13s (which may be evident from the comparative lack of violence, swearing and nudity). What Night Of The Comet and Red Dawn share above all, though, is an apocalyptic vision in which teenagers are the only hope for humanity (or, at least, American society). Of course, the key difference is that Milius seemed to approach this idea dead straight, really expecting us to swallow Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen and company as hardened freedom fighters. Eberhardt, on the other hand, is clearly out to have a bit more fun with the idea.

The notion of a couple of Debbie Gibson-types being mankind’s last chance is beautifully absurd, and Night Of The Comet makes the most of this, mocking spoiled daughter stereotypes and poking fun at the shallow materialism of the day.

Night Of The Comet Kelli Maroney

Night Of The Comet Catherine Mary Stewart

Because of this, the film has a refreshing self-awareness. For instance, when Reggie moodily tells her stepmother that “Like, I’m 18 okay. I can watch the comet wherever I want to watch the comet.” you laugh A) because it is a horribly stupid line that a young girl would indeed say, and B) you don’t believe for a second that Stewart is 18. Hell, Stewart herself even says it with a healthy amount of contempt. The film continues in this hilarious tongue-in-cheek manner throughout the proceedings.

All in all, Night Of The Comets is fun, silly, and ridiculously quotable. It also served as partial inspiration for Joss Whedon’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer, which makes sense – the film certainly helped set the precedent for smart, self-aware teen heroines. It’s a quirky, fascinating film that acquits itself well. Like, seriously.

Let us know your thoughts on this 80s-rrific gem in the comment section below.

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