Night Of The Comet
Undoubtedly there are many ways to achieve a hybrid genre. Among the most popular are the action/adventure, suspense/thriller and the science fiction /horror but there is one category of film that is so ubiquitous that it has been blended with every other genre possible, comedy. The film examined here, ‘Night of the Comet’ is a delightful mélange of science fiction, global destruction, horror comedy. While this might seem so complicated to somehow properly express the distinctive elements of each constituent them while making it work as a whole the filmmaker for this movie, Thom E. Eberhardt not only succeeded he created something that remains a cult classic that actually possesses cinematic merit. It must be noted that like many movies this one is akin to a piece of prehistoric amber trapping a particular time and place forever frozen in time. Made in 1984 it reflected much of the prevalent attitudes and social structure of that decade, at least in the fashion it was manifested in this country. The sexual freedom of the sixties had left its make on our culture resulting in a youthful abandon. This was a period when love, peace and understanding gave way to a period of unbridled consumerism. The emergence of the shopping mall was elevated beyond a centralized place to shop; the youth adopted it as a gathering place to hang out after school and on weekends. The soda shop had been supplanted by a multilevel accumulation of big chain outlets, trendy boutiques, Cineplex theaters and food courts. The valley girl, made popular in song and movies rose up as a new defining archetype dominating this new landscape. ‘Night of the Comet’ views the end of the world from a pair of such mall dwellers and their need to survive and hang out another day.
Scientist intently scanning the night skies has confirmed the approach of a comet. Although this is a fairly routine celestial even the last time this particular object approached our planet was about 65 million year ago coinciding with a global mass extinction that rendered the then dominant form of life, the dinosaurs, extinct. On the night determine to be the closest passage of the comet to the earth crowds of people all over the world head outside to observe what should be a spectacular sight. This well heralded event is not at the pinnacle of everybody’s attention. Case in point is 18 year old Reggie Belmont (Catherine Mary Stewart). She has a shift at work as an usherette in the local movie theater. She had planned a passion night with her boyfriend, Larry (Michael Bowen), the theater’s projectionist. Reggie is quite proud of her acumen with the video game in the lobby of the theater- her initially have held all six positions in the top scores list, her crowning achievement. Much to her chagrin that night the sixth place now read, DMK. Reggie is determined to regain her exclusive ranking, after sex of course. The projectionist booth is lined with steel in order to keep extraneous light and sounds out, a perfect location for her planned tryst. Little Reggie know but that construction would soon save her life. Elsewhere Reggie’s sixteen year old sister Sam (Kelli Maroney) had a major fight with their mother, Doris (Sharon Farrell) culminating with Sam punching her mother in the face.
In a classic trope perhaps best deployed in ‘Day of the Triffids’, the exciting event most everyone watched was deadly. Every person in contact with the effects of the comet was reduced to the elemental components of a human body, a pile of red dust. Reinforcing this catastrophic aftermath the sky is a slickly red haze. Waking up alone Reggie goes looking for Larry only to find him being feasted upon by a zombie. In a state of shock Reggie runs run and discovers Sam has survived both fates; neither a pile of red dust nor a cannibalistic walking dead. After the fight with their mother turned physical Sam spent the night in the steel utility shed in the back yard. The sisters are understandably frantic to locate other survivors. Their hopes are lifted when they hear a disk jockey still on the air on a local radio station. Rushing there those hopes are dashed as they realized it was nothing more than a prerecorded message.
Soon they do come across a fellow human being, Hector Gomez (Robert Beltran), a truck driver. Tired from a long haul he pulled over and slept protected by the steel of his semi. Now that the rag tag trio has been established it’s time to move on to the antagonist. Some government research scientists were protected in their underground facility out in the desert. Drawn by the same recorded message the girls heard. One of them, Audrey White (Mary Woronov), is anxious to get rid of Sam after she was determined to be infected. Audrey is despondent and after pretending to kill Sam she turns on her colleagues dispatching them instead. The research team had predicted the comet’s deadly effects but inadvertently failed to close off the ventilation ducts. Infected members of the team have been hunting the survivors to harvest the blood t they require to stave off the infection. The downside is this procedure renders the survivors brain dead.
This movie does in many ways exemplify the eighties, the decade of excess. There is an extinction level natural disaster, quite appropriate since the word disaster literally means bad-star, believed to be a reference to comets. Compounding that are mad scientists, and, the ever popular post-apocalyptic menace, the horde of infectious zombies. The humor is, for a large part, based on the near perfect parody the film presents of the horror films that were popular around this time period. The remainder of the comedy is derived from the exceptionally peculiar of these standard horror and Sci-Fi archetypes juxtaposed against the epitome of the ridiculously silly embodiment of the eighties youth driven conspicuous consumption, the mall girl. A standard trope of horror films is a character prototype referred to as the survivor girl. When girls having sex and smoking weed are getting killed off in incredibly bizarre ways there is a young woman that manages to summons the intestinal fortitude, perseverance and determination to elude the killer, survive until the end credit typically standing over the lifeless body of the monster responsible for the mayhem. Reggie and Sam are a delightfully crafted variation of this character with extremely effective and funny precision. As is so often the case this movie ran into legal roadblocks preventing the digital media release. Fans of the movie have had to make due with worn video tapes but now we have a nicely remastered high definition Blu-ray to travel back to the eighties and revisit a mall under siege by zombies.
Audio Commentary and Interviews With Stars Kelli Maroney, Catherine Mary
Stewart, Mary Woronov, and Special Make-Up Effects Creator David B. Miller