I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Night of the Comet

NIGHT OF THE COMET is like OMEGA MAN reborn as a vividly nineteen-eighties movie. To me it feels like a cousin of RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, and an acquaintance of MIRACLE MILE, CHERRY 2000 and A BOY AND HIS DOG. The tone is a little cartoony, but not silly; it has zombies, but the bigger threat comes from the government. It’s a good salty-sweet mix of bleak and cynical with sweet and fun.

The young leads, Reggie (Catherine Mary Stewart, NIGHTHAWKS, THE LAST STARFIGHTER) and her little sister Sam (Kelli Maroney, SLAYGROUND, CHOPPING MALL) are called “Valley girls” on the box, but luckily that means no more than where they live. Maybe they say “I’m so sure” or something, but they’re serious characters, not the goofy-talking stereotype we know from the Moon Unit Zappa song. Still, centering around youths of the ’80s, NIGHT’s primary locations are a movie theater, a radio station lit by neon art, and a mall.

They just about have L.A. to themselves after the tail of a comet turns most humans into piles of dust and others into deteriorating zombies. They don’t get exposed because they happen to be inside while most people are out at comet-watching parties – Reggie in a projection booth, Sam in a metal shed after getting in a fist fight with their stepmom (Sharon Farrell, MARLOWE, THE STUNT MAN). They go to the radio station because it’s still broadcasting, but it turns out to be a recording (accurate prediction of the future). Commandeering the booth brings them to the attention of fellow survivor Hector (Robert Beltran, LONE WOLF MCQUADE) and a crew of jumpsuit-wearing underground lab scientists predating the ones in DAY OF THE DEAD.

Stewart was known for Days of Our Lives just a couple years before this, but radiates a movie star seriousness and intelligence that helps make a really compelling heroine. Reggie’s good with a MAC-10 thanks to childhood lessons from a military father, but otherwise she’s a down-to-earth depiction of a normal young adult who hasn’t decided what to do with her life. She works at the movie theater, but is a poor employee, spending much of her shift playing Tempest in the lobby. The mystery of who temporarily joined her on the high score list is my favorite inconsequential subplot.

I like that her casual willingness to “make it” with the projectionist (Michael Bowen, JACKIE BROWN) and others is never shamed or judged, as it might in other movies (unless she was a guy). I suppose the ending (SPOILER) implies that settling down to be a wife and mom is better, but at least Sam is allowed to live a life of adventure, driving off with the one-time sixth-place Tempest scorer. And I read Reggie’s fate more as an endorsement of finding the family that makes you happy than about fulfilling some societal expectation to mate, spawn and die. Sam and Reggie hate their deceased stepmother, but Reggie and Hector’s rescued/adopted kids are probly in a better place (not withstanding the empty post-comet world they’ve inherited).

Sam is an unexpectedly dimensional character as well. Though wearing a cheerleader uniform for most of the movie and getting jealous over boys, her gallows humor and non-hysterical vulnerability make her more human than is standard for this type.

The think tank scientist Audrey (Mary Woronov, DEATH RACE 2000, THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL) is yet another strong female character. She reminds me ofs DAY OF THE DEAD’s Sarah and ALIENS‘ Ripley with her quiet, bitter, don’t-give-a-fuck-what-you-think-I’m-gonna-stand-up-for-my-opinion disagreement. The movie plays with our assumptions about these characters’ intentions in an enjoyably devious way. Also, Geoffrey Lewis (DOUBLE IMPACT, ONLY THE STRONG) is part of that group. Always good to see Geoffrey Lewis.

By the way, part of the mythology is that the last time the earth passed through the tail of a comet like this it was what killed the dinosaurs. It makes you wonder if there were any dinosaur teens that stayed in caves and survived like this. If this movie ever hits the remake block they should do it as a premaquel – shot-for-shot remake, but with dinosaurs.

Before NIGHT OF THE COMET, writer/director Thom Eberhardt made his debut with SOLE SURVIVOR, known for having basically the same premise that became FINAL DESTINATION, but he mostly did comedies: THE NIGHT BEFORE, WITHOUT A CLUE, GROSS ANATOMY CAPTAIN RON. He also wrote but did not direct HONEY I BLEW UP THE KID. No shame in that, but I never would’ve guessed he had a nice little gem like this in his past.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017 at 11:51 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

16 Responses to “Night of the Comet”

  1. Great Great movie.

  2. One of my favorites from the ’80s. I’ve seen it so many times that I’m actually jealous you got to see it for the first time.

  3. The first time I saw this, its charms (three-dimensional characters, subtle wit, confident craftsmanship) were not what I was looking for (exploding heads) so I didn’t think much of it. I watched it later in life with more wisdom and discernment and realized that it was a real gem. As I age, I love it more and more when a shameless exploitation movie like this one (and “Valley girls fight zombies with machine guns” is as exploitation a precise as it gets) isn’t afraid of scaring off knuckleheads like the younger me who just want blood and mayhem and decides to have a personality. Po-faced drama is easy; finding a weird, offbeat tone like this is hard. This is certainly the most upbeat and humanistic post-apocalypse I’ve ever seen, despite its conclusion that the world would probably be better off without 99.9% of the population. At least the .1% that made it are mostly some pretty solid people. I’d share an abandoned shopping mall with them any day.

  4. *premise

  5. This is one of those movies I always saw people mention online and before that magazines but never saw. I wrote it off as another alien invasion movie based on it’s title. Had no idea it was the misadventures of some 80s girls during a zombie apocalypse. That sounds way more interesting than I expected.

  6. I was at a brewery in south Seattle near the flat screen where TUCKER AND DALE VS. EVIL was showing when a millennial hipster girl comes over and starts squealing to her group of friend at the top over lungs while pointing. “OMG EVERYBODY!!!!!THIS IS THE GREATEST B-MOVIE OF ALL TIME!!!! ALL TTTTTIIIIMMEEE!!!”

    Since she was screaming less than a foot away from me, I turn and say, “You know, NIGHT OF THE COMET says hi.”

    She flashed a glare while somehow still ignoring that I exist, and proceeded to explain the entire plot of TUCKER AND DALE VS. EVIL to her disinterested friends at a volume level of 11.

    I stand by my comment.

    The beer was just alright.

  7. I ran across this years ago on HBO after midnight and was taken aback by it. It was way better than it had any right to be. The two female leads were charming to a fault. I loved how effortlessly competent they were, having been trained since childhood by an apparently ideal, military father. I just had to smile every time either one of them did anything awesome. The movie is also oddly sweet for a semi-horror zombie thing. It has an optimistic streak that’s up my alley and not the norm for this kind of genre. Good stuff.

  8. This is a GREAT movie, I caught it on Halloween night 2011, I’ve been meaning to get the blu ray and watch it again.

    I especially love the opening, the way it starts off with music and narration akin to a 1950s B-movie, before cutting to the 80s, this along with NIGHT OF THE CREEPS are really cool in the way they’re a blend of 1950s and 1980s B-movies, in fact I wonder if this was an influence on NIGHT OF THE CREEPS considering the similar title and tone.

  9. I tried to watch this a couple of nights ago on Youtube but I was bored out of my skull. Maybe I went in hoping it would be a different movie. But I couldn´t get through it.

  10. This is another one of those movies, that seem to have a pretty big fanbase in the US, but are obscure in Europe. Like MONSTER SQUAD, PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE or RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. But unlike these three, I never saw COMET. It ran on SyFy a few times, when it was still SciFi and I might have recorded it, but I’m not sure if I really wanna watch a letterboxed 4:3 version of it.

    I always wondered why Thom Eberhardt isn’t a bigger name. THE NIGHT BEFORE was fun, despite questionable those-were-different-times handling of forced prostitution. (I really miss goofy comedy Keanu btw). I also remember WITHOUT A CLUE as an excellent take on the “This is the REAL version of Sherlock Holmes” trope.

    Was CAPTAIN RON such a big box office bomb? Not just ended it the career of the director, it never runs on TV (Not even on Disney Cinemagic and they even show that one movie, where Chevy Chase plays Jonathan Taylor Thomas’s stepdad on heavy rotation!) and if it ever got a DVD release, it was most likely one of the super early ones, where you had to flip the DVD in the middle of the movie. I kid you not, I encountered a shit ton of young people, who have no idea that there is a movie where Kurt Russell plays a funny and mostly incompetent Snake Plissken, who gets Martin Short and his family in a lot of trouble!

  11. Without a Clue is a glorious gem of a motion picture! As is this!

    I used to work as a projectionist, and I always believed I would be safe from the zombie apocalypse because of this movie.

  12. Being a projectionist might save you from the zombie apocalypse, but when there is a demonic possession outbreak in your movie theatre, you are screwed!

  13. CJ – I watched CAPTAIN RON last year and I agree, it’s an underrated little movie.

  14. I am a yuuuge fan of NOTC. I think I’ve owned it in every possible home format and I never get tired of watching it. And it turns out I’ve enjoyed other Thom Eberhardt movies without even realizing that he was the brain behind this one. WITHOUT A CLUE is a fun romp, and CAPTAIN RON is so, so good. My wife & I saw it on the big screen on what turned out to be the coldest night of the year in our neck o’ the woods…it was something like 6 degrees F out (pre wind-chill), and did that Caribbean paradise look good to us…

  15. I feel I should like this more than I do. I love the cast, the characters are wonderful, it is gorgeously shot, but by the end I’m always a little let down. It’s probably those goddamned ungrateful kids. They aren’t the slightest bit upset that their entire family is dead and they seem more irritated by Reggie wanting to adopt them than thankful that she saved their little punk lives. Would have served them right if she just left them to have their blood drained.

  16. Man, I crushed so hard on the cheerleader girl when I first saw this as a kid. She had that cute little chipmunk face, the curly, piled-high hair, she was saucy, had nice legs, and I could see right through her bra in the dream sequence. I teared up when not-Ripley “killed” her.

    I bought this on Amazon when Vern put this review up (sorry, Vern, forgot to click your Amazon link when I did it) and showed this movie to my son who just turned 13. Damn if he didn’t like the cheerleader girl, too. His one complaint was “That hair, though!” I said “Whaaaaat? That’s how hair supposed to look, son!”

    Good stuff.

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