Distributor: Arrow Video
BBFC Classification: 15
Director: Thom Eberhardt
Starring: Catherine Mary Stewart, Kelli Maroney, Robert Beltran, Geoffrey Lewis, Peter Fox, Michael Bowen, Mary Woronov
Quite underrated when the subject of 1980s zombie movies comes up, 1984s Night of the Comet begins with a ’50s sci-fi-style narration that uses words like ‘orbit’, ‘space’ and ‘time’ in a way that sounds impressive but doesn’t actually mean anything – although the phrase “…citizens of Earth” was a nice touch – before we meet Reggie (Catherine Mary Stewart – Weekend at Bernie’s), an 18 year-old working at the local cinema and obsessed by an Asteroids-style arcade game in the foyer. The big news is that a comet is going to be visible in the sky one night and the whole city seems to be out on the streets to see it, but Reggie spends the night in the projection room of the cinema with her boyfriend and misses the event. The following morning Reggie goes outside to discover the streets are completely deserted and everybody seemingly turned into a strange red dust, except for the rampaging zombies that are now roaming the city streets, forcing Reggie and her cheerleader sister Samantha (Kelli Maroney – Chopping Mall) to team up with the few remaining survivors to try and escape the zombies and the scientists who knew the comet was coming but failed to completely protect themselves from its effects.
I say Night of the Comet is underrated because any list of 1980s zombie movies will always include Day of the Dead, Return of the Living Dead, Evil Dead (1 and/or 2) and Re-Animator for definite, and then you’ll get the lesser-known cult titles like Night of the Creeps, Neon Maniacs or The Video Dead but Night of the Comet doesn’t seem to get a lot of credit. Very much a product of its time, the film does borrow a lot from Romero’s Dawn of the Dead – the apocalyptic theme, characters going spending in a department store and even the make-up on some of the zombies has that blueish tint that Tom Savini gave to Romero’s shufflers – but has that jaunty style of storytelling that you only really got during the 1980s that feels a little at odds with the dusty, post-apocalyptic vibe that the movie relies on for its more serious moments.
And there are some serious moments here, mainly provided by Geoffrey Lewis (The Devil’s Rejects) as the leader of a group of researchers looking into the zombie plague, and when Reggie and Samantha are taken to the research facility – which is quite a large chunk of the film – the tone of the film changes from playful teenage B-movie in the style of The Blob into a bog-standard ‘escape-from-the-evil-facility’ movie that feels like an episode of a Saturday teatime action/adventure TV show from the era rather than a horror movie. Had the film stuck with the more lighthearted vibe of the first act then Night of the Comet would have been a lot more enjoyable than what it actually ends up being, which, after a very positive start, turns out to be a bit of a mess with no real direction or focus.
But before we get to the serious stuff there is the matter of the zombies that roam the empty Los Angeles streets and they do work quite well, even if one of them does talk – running zombies are acceptable, talking zombies aren’t (unless it’s saying “Send more cops”, of course). The make-up and gore effects have that slightly comic look that is reminiscent of the look of the monsters in Steve Miner’s House, and although the film is fairly light on gore it is fun when it does appear. The performances are also pretty good, especially when you consider the younger portion of the cast are having to play cheerleading valley girls with an intimate knowledge of automatic weapons and they do it quite well. Robert Beltran (Eating Raoul) plays Hector, the first survivor the girls meet, and is probably the weakest of the cast but he’s only really there for support, and it is Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelli Maroney who steal the show, with Geoffrey Lewis and Mary Woronov (Death Race 2000) as one of the researchers also getting the best scenes and making the most of them.
It isn’t that Night of the Comet is a bad film but it just feels too uneven and underdeveloped to really stand up against the big boys of the genre, and that is probably why it is not a film that is as fondly remembered as some of the previously mentioned zombie movies. It is worth a look if you have never gotten round to it before as there are some witty observations and metaphors amongst the carnage that will appeal to anybody with a love for ’80s teenage issues, and the zombie attack scenes are pretty good, but once the second act kicks in the film drops pace, changes tone and just cannot maintain the momentum that was built up in the opening scenes. Fun in places but just not for long enough.
Special Features: Audio commentary with writer/director Thom Eberhardt, audio commentary with stars Kelli Maroney and Catherine Mary Stewart, audio commentary with production designer John Muto, Valley Girls at the End of the World featurette, The Last Man on Earth? interview with actor Robert Beltran, End of the World Blues interview with star Mary Woronov, Curse of the Comet interview with special make-up effects creator David B. Miller, original theatrical trailer, reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin, and collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by James Oliver, illustrated with original archive stills and posters.
UK Release Date: 22nd September 2014