50 Movies for 50 States Part Two – The `80s: #5 – California, Film – Night of the Comet

#5 – California, Night of the Comet

Night of the Comet (1984), a Thomas Coleman and Michael Rosenblatt production in association with the Film Development Fund and distributed by Atlantic Releasing Corporation, written and directed by Thom Eberhardt, with Catherine Mary Stewart, Kelli Maroney and Robert Beltran, cinematography by Arthur Albert, original music by David Richard Campbell, edited by Fred Stafford, filmed in Los Angeles, California

The plot: A mysterious comet passes by the Earth, causing most of the human population into red dust. Two sisters — 18-year-old Regina and 16-year-old Samantha Belmont – manage to survive the disaster. They set out to look for help and others uncontaminated by the comet’s effects, which turn people into crazed zombies whose bodies deteriorate until there’s nothing left but dust. Along the way, Regina and Samantha meet a young man named Hector – another survivor – and a team of scientists looking for a way to reverse damage caused by the comet. They also meet some nasty zombies. Luckily, Regina and Samantha’s father is a military man who has trained both his daughters in the use of automatic firearms and another weaponry.

Girls – one of whom is a cheerleader and the other is a video-game geek – and guns? (Not to mention, zombies!) Well, I guess you’ve hit all your points. Let’s wrap things up and call it a day.

Not so fast. Night of the Comet is more than your garden-variety undead shoot-em-up. There’s some serious questions being asked here. For instance: how would it make you feel if you were a girl and the guy you hooked up with the night before in the projectionist’s booth of the local movie house was brained with a wrench and then drug off to become zombie food? Sad? Relieved? A little of both?

Here’s a better question: what if you were a girl and you and your sister were the last two women on Earth and there was only one man left with which to repopulate the planet? Would you take turns for the greater good of civilization or would that be too weird?

What if a comet wiped out everyone on the Earth? What would be the first location you’d loot?

Well, duh. This is 1984. Next stop: the mall!

Night of the Comet is not your standard zombie kill-fest. It’s barely a zombie movie. It’s a campy, comedic sci-fi pot-boiler. Regina and Samantha do meet zombies (and pretty good-looking ones at that. My hats off to the film’s FX crew.) Indeed, the ladies do shoot zombies. However, the movie doesn’t really have the type of huge set pieces one would expect from a typical zombie apocalypse film (the opening at the apartment building or the scenes at the mall from the original Dawn of the Dead, for example.) The mood here is less frantic than it is tense and atmospheric. To zombie fans, Night of the Comet is more Day of the Dead than Dawn. For example, after the comet hits, there’s a creepy montage abandoned streets, all filtered through a red haze. There’s something particularly unnerving about an empty city street. (The kicker is the additional scenes of an automatic sprinkler and the filter on a pool which start up automatically on a timer. It’s as if to point out that, even after all living things on this planet are wiped out, the machines will keep doing their jobs.)

The movie is never boring, even without constant action, thanks to its two leads. Catherine Mary Stewart (The Last Starfight, Weekend at Bernies) and Kelli Maroney (Chopping Mall), as Regina and Samantha, have a good chemistry and are believable in their role as sisters, straddling the line between valley girls and the girl-next-door. Robert Beltran, as Hector (Eating Raoul), is a bit of a dead weight next to his co-stars, but he doesn’t really hurt the film much since it’s really the girl’s show. Maroney, especially, is impressive in her ability to pull off even the most ridiculous of dialogue and still make it work and gets some of the film’s best lines.

Fashion-wise, the characters of Regina and Samantha will give any person who grew up in the 1980s, not just those who grew up in Southern California, some serious nostalgia. Samantha’s hair practically dwarfs her tiny head and her cheerleader outfit fits her character’s personality as well as it does her petite frame.

The pop soundtrack, on the other hand, leaves something to be desired and – with the exception of a cover version of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun – none of the music really stands out.

On the other hand, the minimalistic synthesizer score, on the other hand, works well and serves to heighten the tension. David Richard Campbell, the film’s composer, is more known for being a conductor and has worked on a lot of high-profile projects including Dead Man Walking and Brokeback Mountain.

Director Thom Eberhardt got his start within the sci-fi/horror genre, but aside from his debut film, 1983′s Sole Survivor, has stuck to more mainstream fare. It’s a shame that we never got any more out of him. Still, he brought us Night of the Comet – and for that, we are grateful. Night of the Comet is familiar enough to be comfortable and fun but different enough to stand out. It’s one of a kind and a movie that fans of the 1980s, sci-fi, horror, and comedy alike owe it to themselves to see. (The entire movie is streaming on YouTube, btw…)

From the soundtrack — “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” by Robert Hazard, performed by Tami Holbrook

Next week: Colorado


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