Night of the Comet (1984)
I’m going to keep my review of Night of the Comet rather informal, because that’s the type of movie it is. It’s a loving tribute to B-movies, particularly in the sci-fi and horror genre, that ends up transcending its confines with a fun plot, and some surprisingly well-rounded acting. Those who don’t enjoy camp or cult movies, you probably will find Night of the Comet incredibly cheesy and stupid; thus the basis of its appeal.
The citizens of Los Angeles are preparing for a comet to come by, and are having the party of the decade to celebrate. Regina (Catherine Mary Stewart) and her sister Samantha (Kelli Maroney) decide to celebrate in steel-lined rooms. How lucky for them then that the comet has wiped out everyone. As they struggle to survive, they realize that a small percentage of the population have turned into violent zombies. As if things can’t get bad enough…an unlucky group of scientists hope to find healthy humans in order to harvest their blood.
So, a lot happens in Night of the Comet. I think that’s the one unfavorable element of the movie, because screenwriter/director Thom E. Eberhardt doesn’t seem content with what he likes, and abruptly drops what doesn’t stick. The core plot device of surviving the apocalypse is consistent, but the rest of it vacillates between being about zombies and corrupt scientists. Furthermore, I can’t definitively state whether we’re meant to see the aforementioned zombies as such. I mean, they talk, and we don’t necessarily know what they’re planning (although the zombified stock boys mention “things so unspeakable” they can’t talk about them). Really, it doesn’t matter because they entirely disappear around the thirty minute mark. The third act involves the aforementioned scientists, which is a far more intriguing route to take, but I believe the narrative tries way too hard to be a super-hybrid of various genres.
Okay, I got the negatives out-of-the-way. Let’s praise what’s awesome about Night of the Comet. A title like that should indicate the light-hearted tone the movie takes. It combines babes, bullets, and blood like any good 80s movie should. The prologue sets up a serious tone that belies the humor underneath. An ominous voice introduces the fact that this particular comet was last seen 65 million years ago (I wonder what happened then?), and that people today should be freaked out. You can actually hear the eye-roll in the narrator’s tone of voice as he flatly says that “most didn’t” care for their own demise. From that point we meet our two leads, Sam and Reggie. Night of the Comet does a pretty decent job of subverting gender roles, like having our female heroines have male first names. Plus, the script mentions that Sam and Reggie’s absentee father is a military man who taught them to take care of themselves, so these ladies aren’t damsels in distress (although that doesn’t stop them from having a zany 80s fashion montage). These girls know how to shoot, and they know what guns they like. As Sam says, “Daddy would have gotten us Uzis.”
Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelli Maroney are fun to watch, even if there’s no way to believe they’re teenagers. A few stray lines of dialogue come off painfully false, but I think that breeds a certain self-awareness. When Reggie petulantly tells her stepmother Doris (Sharon Farrell) that “I’m like 18, and I’m going to watch the comet wherever I want to watch the comet” you laugh A) because it’s a horribly stupid, albeit true, line that a young girl would say, and B) yon don’t believe for a second that Stewart is 18. Hell, Stewart herself says it with contempt for it. Kelli Maroney is adorable as the little sister Sam. She’s brassy, and she doesn’t like to cross during the light (if you watch the film you’ll get the reference). Have to give a special shout-out to schlock queen Mary Woronov who plays the scientist Audrey. Woronov is a staple in genre cinema. I actually reviewed House of the Devil and praised her acting. She plays a scientist who has a conscience, whereas the other scientists don’t. She has hidden motivations that unfold organically, and she ends up being another hero to the story. We also see Sharon Farrell as the evil stepmother Doris. You might remember Farrell from when I reviewed the original It’s Alive. The only weak link in the cast is Robert Beltran as Hector. I understand we need some type of love interest in this movie, but he seems like a poor Elvis wannabe (which could be a character trait). He’s not that compelling compared to the ladies, and he makes some really stupid decisions in this film. Instead of kicking a zombie’s ass, he just shuts the door and runs away. And he has a gun to shoot it with!
There are a few effective scares in the movie as well, such as the two dreams sequences Sam has. Really, Night of the Comet is a pastiche of different 80s genres that makes for a fun ride. Sure, there are things that don’t always make sense. My biggest pet peeve is that rain apparently washes away the dangerous red dust, but what about the rest of the world? What about the places that don’t have rain? I think Night of the Comet’s greatest failure is in establishing a sense of scope. Los Angeles is a major city, but the scenes feel like the scientists live right next door. You lose a sense of distance. Again, that’s a nitpick because I adore this movie.
Night of the Comet isn’t for everyone, I understand that. But if you enjoy genre cinema, cult films, cheesy 80s sci-fi, than you can’t do any better; a must-see for fans of young girls, guns, and the end of the world.
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Kristen Lopez View All
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.
Nice post. After reading this and hearing you all talk about it on The Lambcast. It made me want to seek it out again. I agree the love interest could have been removed and I would have liked it more
It’s definitely a forgotten gem. For an 80s movie, the roles for women are greatly expanded too!
Excellent review! Really enjoy this movie. It’s a great example of a fun, under appreciated 80s flick. Love Stewart and Kelli Maroney.
Seems I’m not quite as alone in my love for this as I thought! Might have to see a few more of Kelli Maroney’s 80s “gems.”
Check out “Chopping Mall” if you haven’t already. Stars Maroney.
I intend to! I’ve heard that while Chopping Mall isn’t as fun as Night of the Comet, it’s still a good foray into 80s cheese. Thanks for reading!