January 01, 2011
Night of the Comet
As the world is less than two years away from a complete apocalyptic breakdown, I thought it apt to start 2011 off with my favorite end-of-the-world flick. In Night of the Comet (1984), Regina and Samantha Belmont are sisters in the San Fernando Valley who are left behind after a comet passes through the earth's atmosphere and turns most of the population into dust. A few people that were partially exposed to the comet are rapidly degenerating--they've been turned into really pissed off zombies while their bodies disintegrate at a slower rate than people who were directly exposed. Reggie and her sister, we find out, were in the right kind of building structure (steel) to avoid any exposure, so they're hunky dory and can enjoy their newfound freedom roaming the streets of L.A. (provided they carry semi-automatic weapons to ward off unwanted zombie attacks). Reggie utters the incredibly bad line, "the Mac 17 was practically designed for housewives." I'm not sure what that's supposed to mean, but it smacks of one of those great bad movie lines that you can't help tossing around in conversation.
Night of the Comet is a 1950s movie set in the 1980s. Or rather, it's a 1980s movie that was made by people who grew up on the cheesy science fiction flicks from the 1950s. Actually, it's one of the purest forms of movie-making I've ever seen. It's completely contrived. The artificiality is what gives it its charm. The movie isn't scary--there aren't even enough zombies in it to pose a serious threat, especially since the ghouls have a rapidly approaching expiration date. The only real threat comes from a sinister cadre of scientists who were partially exposed to the comet and are looking for clean blood to extract a serum. But the valley girls, played by Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelli Maroney, are so disaffected and deadpan that we're not really all that bothered by the movie's superficial apocalypse.
Writer-director Thom Eberhardt has tongue firmly in cheek. The 1980s seemed to be marked by movies with too much sentiment and movies that were just too smart for it. Night of the Comet might fall into the second category but for its ending, which tries to establish Stewart as the new mother figure, set to repopulate the earth with a brawny Latino, Hector (Robert Beltran), who they meet at a radio station. (They're hoping to find a sign of normalcy but they discover the deejay's voice is only a recording). Hector is pretty much the only eligible bachelor left in L.A. Fortunately for Reggie he's a gentleman.
The movie's soundtrack--populated by lusciously synthesized rock anthems and a wonderfully campy score by David Richard Campbell--is heavenly in its 80sness. The movie is all flaws if you're turned off by the 80sness, but if you're into that, you find so many pleasures in Night of the Comet that it feels like the reckless pursuit of a good time. Stewart is a remarkably plucky actress who carries the film well, and Maroney works as the sidekick, who's less classically beautiful but has more of an attitude. There's a terribly constructed fight scene between Samantha and her step-mom (played by Sharon Farrell) which results in Samantha being decked by her, and it's certainly the worst staging in the movie. On the other hand, there's a wonderfully fluid scene of Reggie riding home on a motorcycle with the downtown skyline filling the background and an orange hue permeating the entire environment. It's residue from the comet, or something like that. It has a terrific effect, and it's the kind of contrivance I'm talking about that makes Night of the Comet either a delight or a dud, depending on your taste.
The movie has light touches of socio-political commentary. So light that they really don't say that much at all. It tries to repeat on George Romero's consumerist satire in Dawn of the Dead. The girls are accosted by zombie stock boys while trying on clothes at the mall, and they destroy the department store in a gunfight that's more like a music video (it's set to another of those anthemic 80s rock songs the movie is so fond of). The scientists are really just relics of society, still floundering, struggling to maintain control over the youth of America, who have been given the keys to the car, the jet, the office, and the mansion, and told, "the adults are dead, so you can party for the rest of your life." I think that's the real appeal of this movie. And the budding romance seems more obligatory than anything. But Stewart and Beltran make it work--you could see them going on a date in normal circumstances if they had actually met under such circumstances. It doesn't matter much for me, because my critical senses always manage to become intoxicated by this silly movie.
With genre favorites Mary Woronov and Geoffrey Lewis (as the leaders of the group of eggheads bent on their own survival, no matter the cost), as well as Michael Bowen in a small part as Reggie's pre-comet boyfriend.