Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure and Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 35 min.
Release Date: November 16th, 1984 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Thom Eberhardt Actors: Catherine Mary Stewart, Kelli Maroney, Robert Beltran, Sharon Farrell, Mary Woronov, Geoffrey Lewis, Peter Fox, John Achorn, Michael Bowen, Lissa Layng, Janice Kawaye
comet whose elliptical orbit is so large that it remained completely unobserved for millennia will now be visible for a brief period of time as Earth passes through the tail’s arc. This phenomenon promises to boast a light show of stellar proportions not seen in 65 million years. During Christmastime, enthusiastic revelers in California anxiously await the grand, once-in-a-lifetime event (unconcerned with the gradual loss of all telecommunications as the “visitor” flies by).
18-year-old Regina Belmont (Catherine Mary Stewart), who works at the El Rey movie theater, is more concerned with maintaining her slate of high scores on the arcade game (or sneaking up into the projection room with Larry [Michael Bowen]) than doing the duties for which she’s paid. Her sister Samantha (Kelli Maroney) is no more responsible, though they share a contention against abusive stepmother Doris (Sharon Farrell), who imposes strict curfews and has a hypocritical agenda of her own when it comes to finding additional men to have fun with. But the two girls have bigger problems than parental guidance, when, after the comet passes by, the whole town seems to spontaneously vanish – and then reappear as bloodthirsty zombies.
With a particularly abrupt shift in visuals – like the most shocking moment in “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” when Leatherface makes an initial appearance – the first victim in “Night of the Comet” meets a sudden, strikingly violent end … at the end of a hefty wrench. This is incredibly unexpected, since the opening sequences set the mood as something of a raunchy teen comedy, full of rebellion, domineering adults, and sex. And when Regina makes her way down the abandoned roadways on her motorcycle (borrowing imagery and a premise from “The Last Man on Earth”) to the sound of electric guitars, the tone switches back to that lighter, hipper, punk misadventure styling.
With its youthful cast (including “Star Trek: Voyager’s” Robert Beltran), modern soundtrack, and the nearly tangible sexual tension between adolescent survivors, “Night of the Comet” is one of the most uncommon of all zombie movies. With scientists experimenting and analyzing in the background, a few nightmare sequences, and extreme isolation lending to mundane activities to pass the time, this film manages to borrow from “Dawn of the Dead” (there’s even a reference to consumerism, which received some satirization from George A. Romero’s cult classic) while also establishing conventions that would be reused by dystopian/postapocalyptic young adult thrillers decades later. It’s both original in its merging of genres and themes, and derivative in its lurching, doddering antagonists and set designs.
But there’s a regular sense of fun amidst the semi-sincere peril, even when a juvenile, girlish dress-up montage segues into a machinegun shootout with sadistic, anarchic stockboys. Or when characters start killing themselves out of depressive hopelessness. Perhaps the strongest point is the use of unlikely heroes – airheaded girls who find it difficult to comprehend the severity of the situation (though, in a fresh twist, they reverse roles into those of societal expectations on maturation) and the attitudes or exploitative motives of the people they run into. They somehow manage a bit of optimism and formidableness (or female empowerment) as they do battle with authority figures and sinister grown-ups in general. But even with its incomparable mixture of ideas (some goofy, others quite morbid), the film is just discordant enough that it’s difficult to embrace wholeheartedly. The parting shots, however, are soundly amusing.
– Mike Massie