Back to 80’s America when hair was big, rock music was bigger and comets were hitting town turning everyone into piles of dust or rapidly mutating zombies. Times were great in 1984 and never better than on the video shelves when films like this were literally flying off them into chunky top loading players (to be rewound as nobody ever did that with the bloody tapes) and eagerly viewed by those of us going through that awkward thing called puberty, hoping to see some blood and breasts. Night Of The Comet was the perfect example of a film which 30 years later would be considered a cult viewing experience by now grown up kidults wanting to watch them all over again and look back fondly on what we were then told were the best years of our lives. Naturally the old CBS / Fox videotapes that we watched these films on 3 decades ago are redundant and probably landfill but it’s thanks to companies like Arrow Films that we can reanimate them in high definition with stacks of extras to boot.
Director of this Thom Eberhardt made it shortly after another more obscure but still fondly regarded sleeper called Sole Survivor (which I would also dearly love to see again). I think it would be fair to say that he never hit the big time with other films such as Captain Ron (1992) and Naked Fear (2007) and Night…. was as good as it got for him. Even then the source material was heavily reliant on that old chestnut Day Of The Triffids by John Wyndham, the literary legacy of which has had far reaching tentacles within post apocalypse cinema and without it we would probably not have seen the likes of many films such as Danny Boyle’s highly regarded 28 Days Later (2002).
Not giving a jot about Nostradamus prophecies and dire warnings from tin hat wearing survivalists most of America is going whacky about an impending comet flying over and offering a spectacular meteor shower. Needless to say when it turns most of them into piles of dust leaving only their clothes behind there are very few survivors left in town. Two sisters described as valley girls (“The term originally referred to an ever increasing swell of affluent middle-class girls living in the early 1980s Los Angeles commuter towns of the San Fernando Valley” thanks Wiki) Regina (Catherine Mary Stewart) and Samantha (Kelly Maroney) are among them. These girls don’t take any shit and can kick ass with the best of them which is just as well as Regina who has been making out at the local cinema for the night, hence still being alive, is attacked by a zombie like creature. Escaping on a motorbike and reuniting with her sis they hole up in a radio station meeting up with good old boy Hector (Robert Beltran) and make plans for what to do about their situation.
The film needs to come with a warning saying “contains really bad AOR” as it is constant (to be fair picking a radio station playing back music isn’t going to help). The big perm haired sisters seem immune and even enjoy this listening distress but for the sane minded amongst us the sounds of Stallion and Revolver are pure hell and I can only really thank Arrow for NOT including the soundtrack as an extra. Seriously it is everywhere, the girls carry their boom-boxes from room to room and only have a break when they go shopping (as valley girls at the end of the world do) and sing and dance along to ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ agghhhh. At one point a radio playing some of these nauseating rawk is shot and even if the guy firing the gun is being a real zombie asshole I swear I could have kissed him. Fashion sense should also be mentioned as Samantha has it down to perfection. Prior to shit going down she is seen sporting wearing fluorescent day-glo disco spandex (my description) and after she confronts the end of the world in a cheerleaders costume; perfect! Well it was for a teenager wanting to see a bit of boob at any rate and as for the bit she changes showing of her lacy lingerie well I’m sure some glasses got suitably misted up.
Anyway back to the plot, the world is deserted, there are only a few zombies so they don’t really act as much of a threat but there are some sinister scientists too, one of them is played by chisel faced stalwart Mary Woronov giving the movie even more of a cult pedigree. Without giving anything away, one of the most striking things about the film is the portrayal of desertion, something again so fantastically illustrated by 28 Days Later. Here though there is no damage to anything and Los Angeles is perfectly preserved, just empty. It’s really quite eerie especially as the meteor shower has left a big smog which has the camera spectacularly viewing it all through a red tinted lens. It kind of reminds a bit of Richard Stanley’s seminal Hardware (1990) prior to the radiation setting in.
Another thing that is somewhat odd is that this is a movie that simply does not know how to classify itself. It’s a teen flick, it’s a comedy, it’s a sci-fi film, a horror picture, an action movie and even a bit of a social commentator harking back to the old monster movie paranoia films of the 50’s and 60’s. It’s not bloody in the slightest (it is however bloody cheesy in places) meaning it’s not a film for the gore fans and it’s probably too girly for those wanting to see something serious. One minute it leaves you laughing along and the next it gives you a real jolt drenching you in near tragedy. Perhaps that is how it works as although it is quite character driven, there are at the end of the day very few characters in it. Still it managed to keep me engrossed throughout and even though it has quite a minimalistic approach Night Of The Comet is far from boring and does have scenes that linger in the memory despite the fact I had not viewed in for around 20 years.
There are plenty of extras and if you are inclined to spend 4 ½ hours you can sit through no less than three commentary tracks with cast and crew. After this are the featurettes; first is Valley Girls at the End of the World with stars Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelli Maroney, and pretty much does what it says on the…. They look back fondly on the experience and talk about how they got the parts. One obvious thing mentioned is the fact that the characters that drove the script are female and it was a very empowering film to star in, especially as the 80’s was a time when many female stars were left standing around screaming in genre films. There’s some amusing anecdotes shared such as the homeless lining up at their catering track thinking it was for them and the difficulties involved in making the streets look so deserted. Naturally they had great fun shooting up things and breaking stuff. It’s great to note both actresses are still in the business today playing small roles in cult films and on TV. So too is The Last Man on Earth Robert Beltran who went on to be particularly notable as Chakotay in Star Trek Voyager. He gets a segment to talk about his time as Hector. At the time he had just played the lead in Paul Bartel’s cult classic black comedy Eating Raoul (along with Mary Woronov). Apparently they wanted him to play the part like Raoul and he turned it down twice not thinking it was right for the film wanting to play a more Gary Cooper hero type character and eventually getting his way. He also wants a sequel written hmmmm.
This had me wondering about a remake and I went searching for any news on this. Proving how popular the film is I stumbled across a whole website dedicated to it showing that the film is still very much alive today. Someone has even unearthed the lost songs from the soundtrack; ye gods!
Last up apart from various slideshows and trailer as far as this release is concerned is a ‘Curse Of The Comet’ piece with David B Miller effects supervisor on the zombies telling you about the process creating the look of the creatures.
So plenty to keep fans new and old riveted here and as far as Night Of The Comet is concerned watching it again definitely proved that it’s a film worthy of reappraisal now and a fun addition to a good cross section of movie fans and AOR fanatics collections. Grab it now and keep watching the stars, this film could save your life in the event of a comet catastrophe that is unless any other method of zombie reanimation doesn’t kill us all off first.