Night of the Comet (1984)

“I hate days that start like this.”

An ultra low-budget B-movie that doesn’t pretend to be anything other than an ultra low-budget B-movie, Night of the Comet stands out as both a decently conceived science fiction story which also playfully mocks the rest of the genre’s entries from the early 80’s. It’s a stupid, rather air-headed affair, and it’s easy to look past those inequities because the film never shies away from this fact. Being super silly and a little lax is part of the DNA, and this cult classic owns those traits as it tells a familiar story with just enough seriousness and farce to make it worth watching, and maybe even revisiting.

Taking place in the last few weeks before Christmas, Night of the Comet feels a lot more like a New Years Eve story. Folks are partying in the streets, hosting viewing parties, looking up at the sky in anticipation as the Earth travels through the tail of a comet. Reggie Belmont (Catherine Mary Stewart) spends the night in a theater’s projection booth with her boyfriend (a tremendous little detail is a poster for 1932’s Red Dust hanging on the wall). Her little sister Sam (Kelli Maroney) camps out in the backyard shed after a tiff with their stepmother. Then Reggie awakens and stumbles upon piles of clothes in the streets, lying there with mounds of red dust scattered about. There’s no one, nor a single body, in sight.

Reggie finds Sam back at home, oblivious to the outside events. She’s more concerned with pouring her breakfast cereal than with the strangely empty house. For whatever inexplicable reason, the comet wiped out the folks in the streets, turned others into temporary zombies, and only left those completely sheltered unharmed. Night of the Comet has a familiar conceit, like a less scientific The Omega Man with a few valley girls desperately running around Southern California in search of help. It’s a hit or miss affair, but even then, the low points are more intriguing than they are boring.

The movie loses some of its edge when the girls meet fellow survivor Hector (Robert Beltran). It was one of Beltran’s first acting gigs, but I have to say that his performance here is one of the worst I’ve ever seen in a film; it’s more frightening than anything else in the movie. There’s also a subplot with scientists that doesn’t work because it’s so damn undeveloped, and the ending is as cheesy as they come. But somehow writer/director Thom Eberhardt used these moments to create a style that’s both smart and dumb, natural yet so totally manmade. Featuring some gorgeously red tinted wide shots, a screeching score so typical of the times, and an irrationally entertaining scene where the sisters raid a mall to Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” Night of the Comet is the kind of late-night movie you’d watch at a drive-in or catch in a dive theater. It has an unmistakable nostalgic vibe with a progressive attitude. And sure, the film is definitely a few bricks short of a full load, but that just allows it to sprint towards the finish line even faster.

“The whole burden of civilization has fallen upon us.”

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

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