Atlantic Releasing  96′
country: United States
director: Thom Eberhardt
cast: Robert Beltran, Catherine Mary
Stewart, Kelli Maroney, Sharon
Ferrell, Mary Waranov, Geoffrey
Lewis, Peter Fox, John Achorn
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This review is part of the CHRISTMAS
IN JULY ’09 B-movie roundtable,
hosted by yours truly.
It’s Christmas time in Los Angeles, but precious few people are around to celebrate after a mysterious comet [whose last approach was at the time of the great dinosaur extinction] does a close fly-by and turns most of the animal life on the planet – us included – into calcium dust. Those who received only partial exposure to the comet’s rays are rotting to dust as well, in a process that turns them, for however short a time, into dangerous flesh-hungry zombies.
Surviving the apocalypse are trucker Hector [Beltran] and valley girls Regina [Stewart] and Samantha [Maroney], the latter of whom received basic combat training from their military-minded father. Such training comes in handy when the group encounters zombie children, zombie homeless men, and mall-bound zombie stock boys with more than promotion to upper management on their minds. A band of scientists tucked away in the desert soon present themselves and begin helping the survivors, but their intentions prove more menacing than meets the eye. The burden of society rests on the shoulders of our three young heroes – can they out-live the zombies, out-smart the scientists, and jumpstart a new and groovier civilization? Like, totally!
I really, really love this, one of the last great hurrahs of the late 70′s / early 80′s surge of films made out of admiration for the B-movie sci-fi and horror programmers of old. NIGHT OF THE COMET wears its inspirations on its sleeves, with the disaster itself reminding of Wyndham’s DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS and the barren Los Angeles [as well as our heroes' temporary radio station housing] is evocative of THE WORLD, THE FLESH, AND THE DEVIL. The dust that the comet leaves behind is reminiscent of THE DAY MARS INVADED EARTH, especially when we see it swept away by rain. A rare 3-D print of IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE even figures prominently into the early third of the narrative.
But the screenplay, by director Thom Eberhardt [who had written and directed the spooky and underrated SOLE SURVIVOR the previous year], also pays considerable lip service to George Romero and the two zombie pictures he had made up to that point. When Hector first appears, he relates a story in much the same vein as Duane Jones’ from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and the zombie child he later encounters is of a similar ilk as the two Ken Foree fends off in sequel DAWN OF THE DEAD. Then, of course, there is the lengthy sequence in which Samantha and Regina amuse themselves at the local shopping mall . . .
Eberhardt keeps the tone of his end-of-the-world story remarkably up-beat – the world-wide disaster is nothing short of a dream come true for the valley girl protagonists, and even Hector is swayed once the prospect of a nice and quiet family life presents itself. Violence is kept off-screen for the most part [only a few obsenities push it into PG-13 territory], with the director focusing on the tongue-in-cheek humor instead of horror. Unlike many of his predecessors and contemporaries, Eberhardt opts to define his film by the time period in which it exists – no one eyeing the fashions or hearing the multitude of pop songs on the soundtrack will ever be confused as to which decade NIGHT OF THE COMET belongs. And that’s just fine by me.
Along with loads of popcorn entertainment value NIGHT OF THE COMET presents with considerable style. The lengthy sequences in the scientists’ underground compound that dominate the final third of the film are composed in a particularly creative fashion and with great Bava-inspired multi-color lighting to boot. Of all the things I was expecting when I first screened this, that it would be as well made as it turned out to be was never one of them.
The main cast is a reasonably accomplished lot, though they weren’t all that way at the time of filming. Robert Beltran is perhaps best remembered for his lengthy stint as Commander Chakotay on the STAR TREK: VOYAGER television series. Catherine Mary Stewart hit it big in 1984, with leading roles in both this and THE LAST STARFIGHTER, while Kelli Maroney was fresh from playing Kimberly Harris in 174 episodes of the soap opera RYAN’S HOPE. All three have led successful careers in television in film and continue to perform today. Writer / director Eberhardt has done reasonably well for himself, though his last major film was the 1992 comedy CAPTAIN RON.
NIGHT OF THE COMET itself has enjoyed something of a rediscovery in recent years, thanks largely to MGM releasing the rental store staple to DVD in March of 2007. While bare bones to the max, the inexpensive disc does present the film in a reasonable 1.85:1 anamorphically enhanced and progressive transfer. While the film deserves better treatment, the relatively low price [$7.99 at Amazon as of this writing] makes it a desirable release all the same. The captures for this review were taken from a DVD-R I recorded from the MGM HD channel in April – here’s hoping the fine HD master makes its way to Blu-ray at some point down the line, though I won’t hold my breath.
A serious rumination on life after the apocalypse this definitely isn’t, but as witty sci-fi and horror lite entertainment it’s tough to beat. Who knew that the end of the world could be so fun? NIGHT OF THE COMET comes highly recommended, and the MGM DVD, however sparse, is a must-buy for fans. So what are you waiting for – Christmas?
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