In November of 1983, ABC aired what was one of the definitive moments of 80’s television. The notorious movie “The Day After.” It was about the aftermath of a nuclear attack on America. I was 12 years old at the time, and I wanted nothing to do with it. Just the print ad in TV Guide scared me to death. Even to this day, even knowing it was directed by Nicholas Meyer of “Wrath of Khan” fame, I have no interest in seeing it. I’ve got too many childhood fears wrapped up in it. I suppose you had to be a kid in the 80’s to understand the massive boogieman that the threat of nuclear annihilation was for us. This was reflected in various TV and film offerings of the day, including today’s film, which takes a more lighthearted view of being one of the last people left on Earth. A film that wasn’t a big hit, but was championed by critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert…1984’s “Night of the Comet.”
It’s Christmas time in LA, but what’s on everyone’s mind is that a comet is due to pass by earth…the first time it has done so in 65 millions years. Everyone is having comet parties, except for Reggie (Catherine Mary Stewart), she’s stuck working at the movie theater. Now, “work” for this valley girl means spending her time trying to get the high score on the Tempest machine that sits across from the snack counter and having sex with Larry the projectionist (Michael Bowen) up in the booth. He even pays her $15 each time.
The two end up spending the night in the projection booth. Larry wakes up first, but when he goes to leave the theater, he is attacked by a strange zombie-like creature. Reggie is completely unaware. Later, when she wakes up, she heads out to find the streets completely empty…except for the occasional pile of red dust, with empty clothes lying nearby. Soon, she also encounters the zombie, who seems to be gnawing on a piece of Larry. Reggie manages to escape, though, and heads home.
At home, she meets up with her sister, Sam (Kelli Maroney), who has spent the night in the family’s metal tool shed after a fight with their wicked stepmother. Everyone else is gone, replaced with red dust. They soon figure out that the comet has wiped everyone out, but they were saved due to being metal rooms (the shed and the projection booth).
Desperate to find other survivors, they head for a local radio station when they hear it still broadcasting. But upon arrival, they find it’s just a tape. They do, however, encounter another survivor…truck driver Hector (Robert Beltran…for all you Trekkies out there). Thanks to an open microphone, their presence at the station is soon detected by a group of scientists hiding in an underground bunker, led by none other than Mary Woronov and Geoffrey Lewis.. Immediately, this group sets out to find them.
Now, with nothing to do at the radio station, the group splits up. Hector promises to come back after heading to San Diego to find his mother. He ends up encountering a zombie kid at her house instead. As for the girls, well, Sam is all bummed out because it seems that the last man on earth has eyes for Reggie and not her. So the two sisters head for the nearest mall to cheer up Sam with some shopping. What follows is a really fun shopping montage, which abruptly ends when they are attacked by, no kidding, zombie stock boys! Lucky for the girls, the scientists show up just in time. But, as it turns out, the girls may have been better off with the zombies.
From the opening narration, it’s easy to recognize that “Night of the Comet” is meant to be a salute to the B-sci-fi films of the 50’s and 60’s. Many people call it a comedy, but that’s a little misleading. It certainly has some funny moments and an all-around light-hearted approach, but much of the film is also played fairly straight. Where the film succeeds is in it’s two female leads and their very believable responses to being the last people on earth. Faced with the end of humanity, what do they do? They go shopping! Be honest with yourself…wouldn’t you?
Both Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelli Maroney do a great job with their characters. They are valley girls, but they aren’t the cartoony, straight-out-of-the-Frank-Zappa-song version. In a movie that has comet zombies stumbling around, these girls actually have solid footing in the real world. Another highlight of the cast is the always great Mary Woronov. The vet of many Roger Corman produced films is a perfect fit in this film that owes a thing or two to Corman’s brand of filmmaking.
The film does have a few missteps, chief among them is the scene where Chocotay…I mean Hector, encounters a zombie kid at his mother’s house. Come on…the zombie should’ve been his mother! The ending is also a bit goofy, but these things don’t detract from the overall enjoyment of the film. With its great atmosphere, part MTV part cheezy horror, and its two great leading ladies, “Night of the Comet” is a fun little slice of the 80’s. More fun than “The Day After,” you can bet on that!