Night of The Comet (1984)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #359

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Working Title: Teenage Mutant Horror Comet Zombies
Number of Views: Three
Release Date: November 16, 1984
Sub-Genre: Sci-Fi/B-Movie
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $700,000
Box Office: $14,418,922
Running Time: 95 minutes
Director: Thom Eberhardt
Producers: Andrew Lane, Wayne Crawford
Screenplay: Thom Eberhardt
Special Effects: David B. Miller
Visual Effects: John Muto
Cinematography: Arthur Albert
Score: David Richard Campbell
Editing: Fred Stafford
Studios: Thomas Coleman and Michael Rosenblatt Productions, Film Development Fund
Distributors: Atlantic Releasing Corporation, CBS/Fox, Shout! Factory
Stars: Catherine Mary Stewart, Kelli Maroney, Robert Beltran, Sharon Farrell, Mary Woronov, Geoffrey Lewis, Peter Fox, John Achorn, Michael Bowen, Devon Ericson, Lissa Layng, Ivan E. Roth, Janice Kawaye, Chance Boyer, Andrew Boyer, Stanley Brock

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Suggested Audio Candy:

 

Diana DeWitt “Hard Act to Follow”

 

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If you’re not already aware, I loved the eighties dearly. Many of my all-time favorite movie oddities resided there: Xtro, Galaxy of Terror, Halloween III: Season of The Witch, and Night of The Creeps are just four of my personal darlings and I’m about to introduce you to another. Before any of the aforementioned creeps could hijack the night, it belonged to a certain comet that came with its own government health warning. Thom Eberhardt’s Night of The Comet is a veritable masterpiece and, thirty years on, still retains that same exclusive charm which made it stand out so effortlessly from the crowd way back in 1984.

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Eberhardt’s sci-fi wonder came hot on the heels of his directorial debut, the pervasively creepy and vastly overlooked chiller Sole Survivor, from a year previous. Here he had a mere $700k at his disposal which was particularly measly given the ambitiousness of the project he was undertaking. Shot on location in downtown Los Angeles during Christmas Day to ensure the streets were barren, he somehow managed to cobble together a classic. His hard work paid off financially also as Night of The Comet made over twenty times its original outlay in box office receipts alone before going on to become something of a VHS favorite. However, it’s all gone spookily silent ever since. It’s as though all of this wonderful film’s loyal followers just simply evaporated into tidy piles of red dust. All of them, that is, except for yours truly.

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Eberhardt’s film takes its influence from all manner of classics; Night of The Living Dead, Day of The Triffids and just about any B-Movie from the fifties are given the nod here and updated brilliantly with a new age sensibility. It tells the tall tale of a passing comet which pays our planet a visit (the first of its kind since the Jurassic times) and changes everything. Excitable folk gather in the streets to marvel at the phenomenon, while we are introduced to spirited sisters Samantha and Regina, two fun-loving gals who skip the big event and, as a result, are given the keys to the city. There is a catch of course. While anyone fortunate enough to be sheltered by steel are safe, those opportunists gawking from the streets are reduced to mere brick-dust. Meanwhile, those partially exposed become marauding zombies.

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Suddenly Los Angeles has been transformed into one colossal sandbox for their exploration. Think Grand Theft Auto 5 only minus the A.I and instead with a Dead Rising perk activated. A few straggling mutants aside, the girls were afforded the entire run of the place and, in such situations, what would any eighties chick want over anything else? To have fun right? You’re damned tooting; Regina and Samantha did exactly that and headed directly for the local mall. Starting to sound familiar? Comparisons with George A. Romero’s Dawn of The Dead are not unfounded as this treads many of the master’s boards, albeit with a little less emphasis on biting social commentary. Eberhardt isn’t afraid to poke a little fun at the shallow materialism synonymous with the era. The girls try on lingerie, dance like only an eighties child could dance, and lo-and-behold, even run into some unsavory nomadic mallrats hell-bent on plundering their private party.

Skip Adams Trouble

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“You were born with an asshole Doris. You don’t need Chuck”

The prospect of these two being mankind’s last hope is utterly preposterous but what they are is one of the most endearing double-acts of the entire decade. Both are utterly superb; Catherine Mary Stewart (Mischief, Nightflyers) as the more level-headed Regina oozes charisma and Kelli Maroney (Chopping Mall, The Zero Boys) as the often petulant and occasionally ditzy Samantha is brimming with vim, vigor, and a whole bundle of sexy sass. Between the latter and DeDee Pfeiffer’s Allison from Richard Wenk’s equally glorious Vamp, that was pretty much my masturbation sewn up for my entire adolescence. However, it was more than that. Their shared chemistry is something truly beautiful, as though they actually share a birth mother, and Night of The Comet simply wouldn’t have clicked in the same way without them.

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Given that the entire planet’s population has been decimated, it is left up to Eberhardt to keep us invested once the initial thrill of the eerie red skies and barren city streets begins to wear off. He throws in a sinister government agency sub-plot and it works decidedly well although part of us wishes to back in the mall watching Samantha parade around in her skivvies. The girls are joined by the likes of able veterans Mary Woronov, Geoffrey Lewis, and Robert Beltran, whose character Hector bears an uncanny resemblance to a certain Erik Estrada, and our grey matter is tested…just a little. Eberhardt canny direction and refusal to conform to stereotype keeps things spicy and the conclusion is a thing of delight, finally offering up the answer to who beat Regina’s score on Tempest.

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Night of The Comet appeared around the same time that James Cameron’s sci-fi epic The Terminator was doing the rounds and is every bit the success when you consider it was made for a fraction of the cost. Incident is infrequent which makes it all the more unsettling when something untoward occurs, and Stewart and Maroney are pitch-perfect as our masters of ceremonies. Joss Whedon drew much inspiration from this film when concocting Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Keeper, meanwhile, discovered what happens when you overwatch a VHS cassette. Strangely enough the sight of Samantha in her bra and panties corroded first. Thankfully, those wonderful souls at Shout! Factory have now reissued this on Blu-ray which leaves you no excuse not to add it to your collection. Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later is an indisputable modern classic but what occurred 28 days prior is every bit as fascinating.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10

Grue Factor: 2/5

 

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: You would be forgiven for expecting a fair amount of splatter given that flesh dripping zombies are on the menu. No can do I’m afraid, Eberhardt leaves the grue to Romero and focuses instead on building and sustaining a palpable dread which hangs like the red skies above over the entire duration. As for skin, we’re ever thankful that Samantha chooses to skip the big bang, and spends the night in a steel shed instead, as it means we get to lust over her as she shows off her new underwear. My long-term memory is potent enough to recall the precise erection this wondrous sight provoked. You’ll be relieved to learn that I had no intention of wasting it.

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Read Night of The Creeps Appraisal

Read Xtro Appraisal

Read Galaxy of Terror Appraisal

Read Halloween III: Season of The Witch Appraisal

 

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