Ever since George Romero turned the horror world on its ear with Night of the Living Dead, the words “Night Of The” have become staples of fright flick titles. Whether it’s a creature feature B-movie such as Night of the Lepus or a tense crime drama like Night of the Juggler, those three words can really let the audience know what they’re in for. Cinema Fearité has already sung the praises of a couple of these aptly-named movies – Night of the Creeps and Night of the Demons. And now, we’re doing one more – the 1984 horror comedy Night of the Comet.
Night of the Comet begins in Los Angeles on a night when, just as the title says, a comet is passing by the Earth. While everyone is out watching the sky show, sisters Regina (The Last Starfighter’s Catherine Mary Stewart) and Samantha (Kelli Maroney from Fast Times at Ridgemont High) end up stuck inside and miss the spectacle. Their misfortune ends up working in their favor, however, as the comet turns everyone who isn’t protected into red dust. Regina and Samantha wander around L.A. looking for signs of life, and they find it – in the form of mutated zombies. Those human who weren’t killed or turned into zombies are threats as well, as the girls quickly learn that no one can be trusted in the new post-apocalyptic world. But the biggest threat to the girl’s survival comes in the form of a shady government agency led by a pair of scientists named Carter (Geoffrey Lewis from Moon of the Wolf) and Audrey (TerrorVision’s Mary Woronov).
With Night of the Comet, writer/director Thom Eberhardt (Sole Survivor) has crafted a movie that falls somewhere between a George Romero dystopian nightmare and a John Hughes high school romp. The youthful exuberance of the script and the energetic performances of Stewart and Maroney give the film the definite air of a quirky teen comedy, but one that just happens to be set in a post-apocalyptic world which is populated by zombies and is overrun by a mysterious government conspiracy. The greater message of the film can be seen as an indictment of consumerism and a questioning of government authority, not unlike the morals found in other movies released around the same time like Dawn of the Dead, They Live, and The Stuff. It’s a little lighthearted when compared to other horror movies of the mid-eighties, but it still manages to pack a punch, and it’s plenty entertaining.
Just like most of the teen comedies from the era, Night of the Comet looks exactly like what it is: an eighties movie. The skirts are minis, the colors are hyper, and the hair is feathered. Regina works in a movie theater (that shows celluloid movies) and plays a stand-up arcade game. When she calls her younger sister, Samantha answers on a cumbersome brick of a cordless phone. At one point, the ladies end up at a radio station that is filled with actual vinyl records! The real kicker comes when the gals end up at a mall where they dance around the stores during a montage set to “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” While younger viewers might see Night of the Comet as silly and dated, those who remember the Decade of Indulgence will look upon it fondly as a time capsule of their past.
Night of the Comet isn’t all fun and shopping, though. The movie wears its horror influences squarely on its sleeve. Obviously, Eberhardt owes a debt to Romero’s original “Dead Trilogy,” but there are winks and nods to other canonical fright flicks as well. The first kill scene from Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is visually quoted, as is the infamous axe scene from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. There’s even a spooky clown outside of a deserted car dealership that could be construed as a subtle tribute to Hooper’s (or is it Steven Spielberg’s?) Poltergeist. For a silly teen comedy, Night of the Comet pays its respects to the horror classics whole-heartedly.
The cinematography in Night of the Comet was done by director of photography Arthur Albert, who shot other underground classics like The Boys Next Door before moving on to television shows like “ER” and “Better Call Saul.” Thom Eberhardt purposely dressed his heroines in bright and brilliant colors, and he conversely put their adversaries in dull and drab tones, all as a juxtaposition of good and evil. Albert takes this theme a step further by lighting the sisters’ scenes vibrantly with neon and dayglow, while the government think-tank and base scenes are washed in greys and…well, greys. The external scenes are shot with red and orange filters that make the sky look smoky and burnt-out, so the world appears as if it really has just ended. Arthur Albert and Thom Eberhardt worked tirelessly to give a definite and distinct look to Night of the Comet, and their efforts result in one crazily unique looking film.
The musical soundtrack to Night of the Comet helps drive the movie. The cinematic score, composed by David Campbell (who has a versatile resume that includes everything from the psychological thriller Mind Games to last year’s Oscar bait Joy), is mostly made up of plucky synthesized pieces that sound like they could have come from any golden age slasher. But, the real draw to the soundtrack is the pop songs that play throughout the movie. There are no hit songs in the film aside from “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” (and it’s Tami Holbrook’s cover, not the smash Cyndi Lauper version). Instead, there are period-perfect saccharine-sweet songs by artists like Revolver, Stallion, and Jocko Marcellino, among many others. The music is typically eighties, and it reinforces the nostalgia factor of the movie very well. Night of the Comet sounds just as dated as it looks, and that’s a compliment.
Because it is more of a comedy than a horror flick, Night of the Comet gets pushed aside by other movies of the era (particularly Night of the Creeps and Night of the Demons). But, when it comes to cool eighties fringe horror, Night of the Comet is as worthy of a look as any “Night Of The” movie from the decade.