31 Screams in October, Vol. 2, #10: Night of the Comet (1984)

Posted: October 11, 2015 in Movie Review
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Night of the Comet (1984)

Director: Thom Eberhardt

Starring: Catherine Mary Stewart, Kelli Maroney, Robert Beltran, Sharon Farrell, Mary Worornov, Geoffrey Lewis

Don’t we ALL just wanna have fun? During a month when scary, suspenseful, and especially gory films are the norm, it’s nice to be able to just put your feet up and enjoy a few laughs along with the doom-and-gloom scenarios. To that end, “Night of the Comet” is quite the healthy diversion. Made during a time when the Cold War was still ongoing, we needed this lighthearted take on the Apocalypse after such brutally serious films as “Testament” and “The Day After” (both of which, technically, don’t belong to the horror genre) had legitimately scared the crap out of theatrical and television audiences only a year before. That we’re able to laugh so easily this time is no small feat, since the downfall of society is taken out of our hands and is left up to an emotionless force of nature. In keeping with the theme of fun, who better to pick up the pieces than a couple of valley girls?

We begin with a narration which explains to us that the Earth’s orbit is moving us directly into the path of a passing comet, something which hasn’t happened in over 65 million years. It’s also mentioned that, although Average Joe Public won’t make the connection, our more observant scientists have already been planning behind the scenes for the possibility that we’re about to join the dinosaurs in extinction. Meanwhile, somewhere in Los Angeles, California, teenager Regina ‘Reggie’ Belmont (Catherine Mary Stewart) is an usher at a movie theater who would much rather obsess over an arcade game than have Milk Duds tossed at her head by insolent kids. The arcade game is so important to her that she won’t rest until she has cleared the high score list of anything but her own initials. Rather than come home to watch the comet with Doris… her evil, adulterous bitch of a stepmother… Reggie has elected to spend the night with Larry (Michael Bowen of TV’s “Breaking Bad”) the projectionist, and asks her younger sister Sam (Kelli Maroney) to cover for her. This includes a heated argument between Sam and Doris that leads to the two striking one another.

The comet passes, and the next morning everything is covered in a red haze. Eerily, the streets appear deserted, as though everyone has vanished. This does not include Reggie and Larry, although the latter is killed the moment he steps outside by what appears to be a zombie wielding a wrench. Reggie narrowly evades the zombie herself and heads home to find that Sam had spent the night in a lead-lined shed, which recalls an earlier discussion Reggie had with Larry over the subject of Superman and the fact that he can’t see through lead. She suspects that they are alive for the very same reasons. Everyone else, it seems, has not been so lucky, judging by the dust-covered piles of clothes strewn about everywhere outside. Not exactly everyone. The radio still works. Heading down to the radio station expecting to find the disc jockey, they instead see that all the equipment there is set to automatic. However, they do meet with a fellow survivor named Hector Gomez (Robert Beltran, known to “Star Trek” fans as Chakotay from “Star Trek: Voyager”).

While fiddling around with the radio controls, Sam alerts a team of scientists to their existence and whereabouts. It seems that the zombies out there represent those who were only partially exposed to the effects of the comet, and are destined to turn to dust just like the others. The scientists listen in as Reggie, Sam and Hector plan what to do next. Hector wants to check to see if any of his family has survived, even though he knows they likely haven’t (and he’s right). Meanwhile, the girls head to the mall, where they are met with a gang (on the verge of becoming zombies) who engages them in a firefight. They’re almost done for when a rescue team arrives just in time, takes out all the gang members, and takes Reggie back to the base with them. Two scientists stay behind with Sam, who is believed to have been exposed. One of the scientists, Audrey (Mary Woronov), fakes giving Sam a euthanization (instead injecting her with a sedative), and shoots the other scientist dead. Knowing that the trio was supposed to regroup back at the radio station, Audrey brings Sam there and waits for Hector, whom she fills in on the situation before committing suicide.

The scientists, in the process of ensuring they wouldn’t suffocate while hiding from the comet, had doomed themselves by leaving their ventilation system open. Since then, they’ve been capturing anyone unaffected, rendering them brain dead, and harvesting their blood in the hopes that it might reveal a cure before they all become zombie dust. With an assist from Hector and Sam, Reggie rescues two children, releases the too-far-gone victims from life support, and escapes. The next day, a rain shower washes away the dust and clears the skies, allowing the survivors to begin anew. Samantha, now feeling like a fifth wheel, runs off with a boy her age. The vanity license plate on his car reads “DMK,” the same as the initials that had so annoyed Reggie on her arcade game.  You didn’t think they’d leave that little thread hanging, did you?

“Night of the Comet” approaches its subject matter with a knowing wink and nod. For instance, the movie posters in the theater all have titles that reference the forthcoming events, such as 1932’s “Red Dust.” The soundtrack, which almost exclusively plays only when a radio is present, mixes the song lyrics up with the action quite well. My favorite is “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” (sung by Tami Holbrook, not Cyndi Lauper) which features during the mall sequence. The three leads are all quite good, especially Catherine Mary Stewart. However, it is Kelli Maroney’s Sam who “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” creator Joss Whedon credits with serving as a partial inspiration for Buffy Summers. Released in 1984, “Night of the Comet” was one of the very first movies to receive the then-new PG-13 rating. Sadly, this means that the zombie action is kept to a bare minimum. The upside is that I can recommend this absolutely silly movie to anyone looking for a break from R-rated, blood-soaked horror.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    I’d love to see this movie just to watch good old Robert Beltram.in something besides Star Trek Voyager. Lighter fare is a nice break…a few giggles… sounds watchable! Another good review!!

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