Night of the Comet (1984)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2014-01-11 07:12

Written and Directed by: Thom Eberhardt
Starring: Catherine Mary Stewart, Kelli Maroney, and Robert Beltran

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

ďThe burden of civilization is upon us..."
"Bitchin', isn't it?"

As we get further away from the 80s, theyíve met the same cinematic fate as those decades that came before (and, much to my existential terror, even those sinceóweíve got fucking 90s movies now): crystalized and calcified on-screen as a perfectly arranged set of clichťs and exaggerations set to trigger a nostalgia bomb raised in a acid-washed era of big hair and neon. Few films actually produced in the 80s are as thoroughly ď80sĒ as the preservation efforts weíve seen in recent years. One notable exception is Night of the Comet, a film that is so drenched in its cotemporary trappings that it forces one to wonder if writer/director Thom Eberhardt is a dark wizard who time-travelled into the future just so he could catch a glimpse of what an ď80s movieĒ would look like before returning to his own time and delivering the quintessential example of one in 1984.

Indeed, itís 80s as hell, but not in an empty, nostalgia-baiting sense; instead, itís an almost insufferably adorable fusion of the decadeís preoccupations. Apocalyptic paranoia, here something of a smoldering ember after burning so ferociously for three decades, is at the forefront, only itís not Red-tinted, at least not of the Commie variety; this time, itís the fault of a good old extraterrestrial source, as a radioactive comet screeches over Earthís skies and delivers one hell of a Christmas present in the form of a crimson dust. Of course, a great number of the planetís citizens mistake it as a sign to party (especially the dopes in the greater Los Angeles area, where we lay our scene) and perish for it. Among the scattered survivors and the walking dead are a handful of teenagers, including sisterly duo Reggie and Samantha Belmont (Catherine Mary Steward and Kelli Maroney), who proceed to party their way through the ruinous landscape as only teens can.

Writing off Night of the Comet as a goof on Romero is easy enough, especially when the Belmont sisters head for the mall for a montaged shopping spree and makeover (set to ďGirls Just Want to Have Fun,Ē in case youíre underestimating the 80s-ness of it all). That it makes a lark out of such bleak material seemingly marks it as a fluffy sendup of that particular genre, but itís actually an oddly affecting teen movie for much of its runtime. While it certainly wasnít the decadeís exclusive domain, the 80s had more than its fair share of disaffected teens rebelling against paternal authority, and Night of the Comet blows it up to apocalyptic proportions. At first, itís typical stuff: Sam and Reggie have to put up with a wicked stepmother, whose demise alongside the rest of the population makes the sistersí post-apocalyptic accessorizing feel like the ultimate teenage wish-fulfillment.

And for a while, it looks as though audiences will essentially take a vicarious romp through this fantasyland. The stretch that finds the girls bouncing between the mall to an abandoned radio station feels like it should be listless, and it perhaps would be if we were watching a less magnetic duo (which actually becomes a trio once Robert Beltran strolls in as a fellow survivor). Stewart and Maroney are a delightfully charming odd couple, with the former taking the lead as the resourceful, tough-as-nails survivalist and the latter acting as the Uzi-toting cheerleader as if she were the unholy union of Mad Max and Valley Girl. But in keeping with the filmís sympathies for its adolescent protagonist, Maroniís no empty-headed ditz and holds her own in the irradiated fray. Watching these two is a joy, and Night of the Comet wouldnít work had they not cast their spell over the proceedings.

When the film returns to the zombie movie formula, it does so in familiar fashion, although the well-worn insistence that humans are more dangerous than the undead is cleverly reimagined through the prism of teenage angst. Eventually, the trio discovers that they arenít alone after all, as a team of scientists have also endured the cometís destruction and have even developed a method of staving off the undead disease as they concoct a full-blown antidote. The only problem is that it comes at the expense of other survivors, whose blood is harvested and transfused, so the scientistsí interest in our heroes isnít exactly altruistic, thus creating a scenario that finds adults literally feeding off of the lifeblood of their adolescent counterparts, at which point Night of the Comet becomes a decidedly unsubtle allegory for this eternal struggle.

Surprisingly enough, Eberhardt canít resist a dash of pessimism towards the end; while the kids emerge triumphant, he correctly anticipates this generationsí eventual transformation into yuppies, even as he has a couple of them ride off into the sunset. But despite this touch of grey, Night of the Comet remains an impossibly delightful bit of pop art that functions in spite of its thin plot (one can hardly even call it a ďzombie movieĒ since the undead are sparse). Instead, it relies on its oddball charms and its clever updating of 50s B-movies, another 80s fascination that positions Night of the Comet as the direct descendent of The Blob. Iím not even sure itís a laugh riot, eitheróitís more cute than side-splitting, more a goof than an outright satire, and yet it's irresistibly bouncy all the same.

Itís arguable that much of its charm derives from its candy-colored 80s digs, so oneís tolerance for it may directly correlate with oneís affinity for the decade. As you might expect, itís become a cult classic for those reared on it, and Scream Factory has come to their rescue with another excellent Collectorís Edition. As usual, the set includes both a DVD and Blu-ray copy along with a host of extras. The supplements include newly-produced interviews with Stewart, Maroney, Robert Beltran, and effects man David Miller, while a couple of photo galleries and the filmís trailer round out the promotional material. Joining these extras are three feature length commentaries; one predictably pairs Maroney and Stewart, and Eberhardt and production designer John Muto each get a solo track. Night of the Comet is certainly an 80s relic, but itís one that deserves to be dusted off and revisited; in keeping with the spirit of the film itself, thereís more than meets the eye hereósure, maybe it is a goofball (not unlike most teenagers), but it also has something to say, even if itís the cinematic equivalent of a graffitied Trapper Keeper. Buy it!

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