Wednesday, April 7

Some quick thoughts on Night of the Comet (1984)

After a highly anticipated comet sweeps across the Los Angeles skyline to massive crowds, two so-called valley girls find themselves waking up to a once human population of red dust piles and white-eyed cannibalistic mutants. Meanwhile, a secret underground facility attempts to reach the girls while they bounce around the city and are eventually taken hostage by armed, alive-but-diseased punks interested in their blood.

I hate when my reaction to a little known cult item is nearly totally cold. Writer/Director Thom Eberhardt's Night of the Comet falls squarely into this category, despite having its own extremely comprehensive fansite from its niche popularity. I know it's a horrible thing to enter into a virginal film with expectations, but I at least expected a fun schlocky romp out of this '80s curiosity. I sorta received that, but instead of the manic Disneyland of other era horror comedies like Return of the Living Dead or Night of the Creeps, the experience was more akin to Texas Billy's Redneck West Kiddie Park n' Ride. The genre elements in Eberhardt's PG-13 film feel slapdash and scattershot; almost as if the director's initial treatment had even less and the financiers demanded a scant number of scenes with man-eating ghouls to sell it to an audience. What we're left with is a flighty assemblage of sequences with no real feeling of lurking danger or any caring for the fates of the characters for most of the duration.

An example of this aloofness being early on when the girls decide to travel to a radio station after the calamity when hearing a DJ's voice. Upon arriving they discover synchronized pre-recorded reels instead of any personnel besides another survivor who had the same idea. Eventually things get relaxed and one of the girls decides to go live on-air. At this point, it's respectable to surmise this would be a sudden beckon for all ghouls within earshot to descend upon the station. We even get a long shot of the radio tower outside with the girl babbling on. Yet no, after receiving a call from the underground facility (that's handled very sloppily on-screen), the survivors leave the safety of the building to roam the city once more. The girls even practice taking a loud Uzi to an abandoned car in broad daylight on a city street--with no zombie threat whatsoever. One of the girls also dreams of mutants attacking, used to spice up what's otherwise tedium, despite not having any encounter with the cannibals up to that point.

This leads to another overarching issue with the characterizations of our "valley girl" protagonists in that they act against the stereotype from the beginning. The stunning Catherine Mary Stewart as Regina immediately becomes an ironclad woman tigress badass while her somewhat ditsy sister Samantha (Kelli Maroney) is supposed to be bubble-headed yet comes off more homely and much less "well, yeah, like, yeah" the whole valley girl personality entails. This helps the sense of sibling rivalry between them, but like everything in Night of the Comet, seems several beatings with the revision hammer away from having any impact. Same thing goes with the vague on-and-off internal tensions between the nefarious researchers, that look and feel ripped from another film a decade earlier, attempting to find survivors for their own ends.

The proceedings do pick up nicely in the last half hour and the photography is effective, but Night of the Comet can't quite roll with the many superior cult items of the mid-'80s. In terms of post-apocalyptic flicks, I'd much rather visit an oiled up, barrel chested Chuck Heston batting blind afro-wearin' cultists whist making wild interracial love or Michael Sopkiw wielding the very definition of "laser blaster" driving a combat-ready Pinto so gaudy even George Miller wouldn't accept it for a Mad Max picture. Its mild MPAA rating is also painfully on its shelve and in comparison the R-rated Return of the Living Dead is like an restored unrated director's cut. Not every film of this breed need be a stupid gore picture, but Eberhardt turns the dial down to 2 on every aspect with none of that ol' magic.


Jeremy [Retro] said...

i just love this, silly jaunt... it is one of my favorite 80's things... like pennies in my shoes, and movies being like 6 bucks... ah the memories...

thanks for your insight!

J. Astro said...

MY quick thought is "fuck this movie". I thought it was retarded, and not in the "good" way.

I Like Horror Movies said...

Ive never been a fan of NotC, I can appreciate the scope that they took on for the small budget, but for my money I prefer Night of the Creeps hands down

Franco Macabro said...

Agree with ya every step of way, this movie felt very much like watching a T.V. movie from the 80s. Was it a T.V. movie? Or did this one go theatrical?

It just feels like a pilot episode for a zombie T.V. show from the 80s.

Still it has an 80s charm to it, you see it, and you just know its the 80s. Like that scene where the girls go shopping to the mall to the tune of Cindy Laupers "Girls Just want to have Fun" was it?

The ending was pretty weird too, as if the film lost steam somehow and they didnt know how to end it or something and came up with that ending on the last minute.

Ive seen better low budget zombie movies then this one.

KFelon said...

I really think you've over analyzed this one. By no means a perfect film but come on it has some of that 80s charm to it.

To me it's one of those films that just goes great with a lazy weekend afternoon when you want to turn your brain down to vegetate.

Anthony1138 said...

I'm with KFelon on this one. It's not a classic like Night of the Creeps, but it's a fun and goofy '80s romp. Dumb fun, but fun none the less.

Morgan said...

I really do love this movie, but I can understand your point of view.

Anonymous said...

good review..i saw it recently and being a lover of 80's cult movies i was really looking forward to it..i actually felt pretty underwealmed by the end of it, and now can hardly remember a the recently purchased night of the creeps is another story..i loved it!... you dare tread upon the staircase?

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