NIGHT OF THE COMET (1984)
Director: Thom Eberhardt
MGM/Fox

A highly requested item to be issued on DVD, MGM (through the distribution of Fox) has finally granted us NIGHT OF THE COMET, a title whose devotees seem to grow steadily as the years go on. Modestly budgeted (especially compared to other Hollywood sci-fi flicks being released at the time), NIGHT OF THE COMET’s cult grew out of the frequent cable TV airings in the 1980s, and the film is mostly a pleasing mix of B-movie thrills and the then-popular trend of teen comedies, albeit accompanied by grating electronic pop music.

Right before Christmas, the passing of a highly anticipated comet has everyone in LA in full party mode. The morning after, the phenomenon has apparently wiped out most of mankind, leaving them as either piles of dust or as mad zombified creatures. Two teenage girls manage to survive safely: Regina (Catherine Mary Stewart) who spent the night in a theater projection booth, and her younger cheerleader sister Samantha (Kelli Maroney) who bunked in an outdoor shed. Looking for other signs of civilization, they make it to the local radio station where all the current broadcasting is being automated from reel-to-reel tapes. There, they encounter a friendly young man named Hector (Robert Beltran, later of “Star Trek: Voyager” fame) who happened to have slept in the back of his truck. Making the deduction that anyone who was shielded by steel during the comet’s arrival is protected from its damage, the trio fights for survival. The two girls even enjoy a complimentary shopping spree in a clothing store which ends up in gunplay with some unwelcome assailants. Later, a group of callous scientists (lead by familiar character actors Mary Woronov, Geoffrey Lewis and Peter Fox) conducting anecdote blood tests arrive by helicopter to rescue them, but ultimately rain on their parade.

Although an early reference is made to IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, NIGHT OF THE COMET is more akin to doomsday pics like THE OMEGA MAN and even carries shades of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. The film’s limited budget gets in the way of any kind of illustrious onscreen apocalypse (mostly seen as shots of vacated streets or red-tinged skies) or a mass undead invasion, but it makes up for it with ingenuity. Piles of orange dust scattered around clothing eerily convey human remains, and although the occasional zombie is only seen several times (including a twofold dream sequence), the make-up is pretty effective. Rated PG, the non-exploitive film is played for laughs as much as it is for chills, with a definite 1980s lighthearted juvenile comedic outlook (the presence of VALLEY GIRL and THE WILD LIFE star Michael Bowen reassures this), hence appealing to a hip audience who would usually not go for this sort of outing. As the “valley girl”-type youths who care more about boys, bubblegum and video games until grim danger mounts, Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelli Maroney are very good, adding dimension to what could’ve easily been cardboard characters, and have a lot of quirky fun with it (apparent in their carefree shopping spree, set to a blaring rendition of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”).

Though the film is slightly weakened by the poorly executed climatic scenes at the medical experiment facility, NIGHT OF THE COMET is harmless entertainment and it’s is easy to see why it’s so well liked. Although it obviously attempted to accommodate mall hopping theater-going adolescents of the period, director/screenwriter Eberhardt (SOUL SURVIVOR, WITHOUT A CLUE) displays a genuine affection for the genre and is not condescending to his audience. The film has several other pop references, notably a theater lobby adorned with classic movie posters (including one of Woronov’s efforts, DEATH RACE 2000). Sharon Farrell (from Larry Cohen’s IT’S ALIVE) appears briefly as the girls’ wicked stepmother, as does busy actor/stuntman Bobby Porter (Caesar’s son in BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES) as a gruesome zombie kid.

MGM/Fox has released NIGHT OF THE COMET as a barebones affair, and seeing that fans have been crying for a Special Edition, hopefully that will happen sometime in the future. Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic, the transfer looks quite nice. The overall image is clean, colors look stable and the framing appears appropriate. Only several scenes looks a little dark or soft, but that most likely stems from its original filmmaking process and budget. The solid audio is playable in either stereo or mono, and there’s an additional Spanish-language mono track. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are included. (George R. Reis)

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