It’d be easy to sell Night of the Comet to anyone with a passion for camp eighties flicks just by showing ‘em a frame or two alongside the beautiful tagline, “They came. They shopped. They saved the world!” After all, who could say no to a film whose two protagonists try on high heels with a submachine gun in hand when the world’s pretty much gone to hell? Clearly, I couldn’t.
“One part sleek post-apocalyptic thriller, one part kitschy play on sci-fi/horror B-movies, and one part John Hughes movie” pretty much sums up what Night of the Comet is all about. More specifically, it’s a tale of two sisters trying to stay alive and have a good time in a world where everyone’s either dust or a slowly-deteriorating zombie-like being. Both the gun-toting daughters of a military man, these Valley girls have the skills to defend themselves against all sorts of enemies, even though Samantha (Kelli Maroney) is a pep-filled cheerleader and Regina (Catherine Mary Stewart) is your typical jaded gamer.
In any other flick, these roles would be allotted to men for a buddy-cop routine that’d be unmemorable in every way. But it’s not. As much as writer/director Thom Eberhardt places the two high school girls into a couple of uncompromising situations (as most horror works do), few of them come off gratuitous; the only exceptions being two dream sequences in which Samantha fears sexual assault by ab zombie. These are two women who are surprisingly well thought out, with Regina practically coming off just like your typical male action lead would. She’s defiant of a system that wants to hold her down, emotionally and physically prepared for the worst, and she even gets the last member of the opposite sex on earth, Hector (Robert Beltran). Watching Catherine Mary Stewart fill the shoes of this ultra-cool eighties woman makes one wonder how her career didn’t sky-rocket immediately afterwards.
As much as she certainly is the star of the film, this doesn’t diminish the other roles present. Regina, as the sidekick, and Hector, as the love interest, get the bulk of the emotional weight. Being the last surviving humans on Earth is a heavy burden to carry, and the few times its characters ruminate on the continuation of the world work well, whether or not they’re coated with comedy. Even its villains, Night of the Cometoffers solid characterization. The scattered zombies might have delivered some minor thrills, but nothing is as good as the gleefully insane band of barely-surviving mall employees or the rogue scientists mostly out to save themselves. There’s no reason to focus on practically dead small fry when you can deliver the film’s biggest punches with slowly deteriorating folks longing for a chance to save themselves or grasp the power they never had. After all, you can’t have a good post-apocalyptic villain without using them to showcase the dark nature of humanity.
In all honesty though, I’m bloating this film to sound like the greatest thing in the world. It’s really not, but its schlocky charm could overwhelm the most cynical of viewers. Cheesy jokes and effects will easily be lost on anyone who isn’t swayed by the film immediately, but its embracing of a purely eighties aesthetic is bound to tick off those not into it. An abundance of power shots show off all that good ol’ post-comet pink/orange haze over LA, resulting in some of the most gorgeous cinematography you’ll find in a genre-flick of the decade. For all its low-budget camp sensibilities, Eberhardt does a damn solid job at directing the film. The generic knock-off pop-rock tunes, the neon lighting and coloring that fills every frame, and ridiculous dialogue that screams self-awareness (“Daddy would have gotten us Uzis”), all fall together to make something that was clearly tailored to be fun above all else.
If ever there was a film in the eighties that should have launched everyone who helped make it to greater things, but didn’t, it’s this one. Aside from being a sheer delight, Night of the Comet really is an ideal time capsule of its period, bringing along with it all the good (and a little of the bad) that comes with a genre flick of its time.
Night of the Comet is currently available on Blu-ray/DVD Combo.
Directed by Thom Eberhardt; written by Thom Eberhardt; starring Catherine Mary Stewart, Kelli Maroney, and Robert Beltran; 95 minutes.