Night of the Comet (1984)

Starring Catherine Mary Stewart, Kelli Maroney, Robert Beltran, Sharon Farrell, Mary Woronov, Geoffrey Lewis, Peter Fox, John Achorn, Michael Bowen, Devon Ericson, Lissa Layng

Directed by Thom Eberhardt

Expectations: Very high. Been looking forward to this for a while.


As my significant other said after it was over, “What a weird movie.” Not weird in a derogatory way, though, just weird in a multi-genre way. For me, these tonal shifts hold the film back from being truly great, but it’s not hard to see why this film is so well-revered by a fervent cult of fans. It truly has a bit of everything thrown in for good measure, from zombies to ’80s “Trying on clothes” dance montages. There’s a little something for everyone here, and it’s a film that should please many. Just know going in that it’s fairly low-budget and in the B-movie zone, not that those should detract or be considered negatives, they are just useful for properly setting those expectations.

Our hero Regina is an usher at the local theater on the night of the comet. Virtually everyone else seems to have party plans to hang out and watch the comet’s pass, but Regina is stuck working the theater’s midnight special comet show and decides to stay with the projectionist for some indoor fireworks. Turns out this was the right place to be because when she wakes up and ventures outside, everyone else is nothing more than red dust and a pile of clothes. Except for the zombie that just grabbed her beau!

Sounds pretty good, right? The problem at this point in the film is that now I’m ready and willing to watch an awesome, apocalyptic zombie movie, even one with a PG-13 rating. Instead of going this more obvious direction, the film never really becomes that zombie movie. For this reason alone it is an impressive film and one that stands out from the rest, I just can’t help but lament the fact that the potential for a kick-ass ’80s zombie movie just slipped through my grasp. I can’t harp on my dashed expectations for the rest of the review, though.

With a film as varied as this one, there’s a lot more to be thankful for than to regret. The acting from Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelli Maroney is above par and together they really hold the movie together. For all the tonal shifts in this movie, they both handle each one with ease, skillfully transitioning into each new mood without a hitch. The other actors do a good job as well (except those thugs in the mall, they were pretty awful), but none of them are especially memorable.

Night of the Comet does have its share of problems, though. Every one of them can be explained away with, “It’s an ’80s movie,” but for the sake of discussion I’ll take that excuse off the table (not that I think that’s an invalid excuse). My biggest question is this: are there really only less than 10 survivors in the greater Los Angeles area? I can understand only showing so many people due to the budget, but director Thom Eberhart kind of makes it a point to show us multiple cityscapes completely devoid of people AND zombies. Most people are dust, I get it, but I know there were more people inside sleeping who didn’t give two shits about a comet’s return flyby. The film wouldn’t have the same feel if those solitary city shots were filled with survivors or zombies, I’m just making a point that the film should have done more to confine itself to a localized area so questions like this couldn’t have the opportunity to come up.

Secondly, there’s a later plot point involving Kelli Maroney’s character staying behind when her sister continues on. Neither of them question this or fight the fact that they are being separated, and I think if I was trying to survive the newly formed post-apocalyptic wasteland with my sibling, I’d do what I could to stay with them. Is there really only one available helicopter seat? It feels incredibly contrived and done to allow the rousing climax to play out as it does. Of course the audience is along for the ride with Catherine Mary Stewart’s character, but I feel that this payoff doesn’t rub away the burn of contrived plot points.

You may ask why I’m being so critical and hard on these specific aspects of the movie? It’s simple. It’s because I feel that overall the film is a good one, a truly different, under-the-radar film (a forgotten flick, if you will), and it could have easily been a great one. Films that show incredible promise but squander some of that good will bother and frustrate me more than truly bad ones, and I therefore come across as more negative on these films that I like than I ones I am truly indifferent to. Night of the Comet is a good ’80s film and if you like such things, you’ll most likely have a good time with it. It’s not quite everything it could be, but it still remains entertaining and totally worth watching despite these nagging issues.

6 comments to Night of the Comet (1984)

  • Joel G. Robertson

    Hi Will,

    Excellent review! As much as I love NOTC, I can’t argue with the points you made without going down the “well, it’s an 80s movie” excuse chute. That said, one other “issue” that’s always plagued me (pun intended) about it: why exactly would being encased in metal (it had to be steel right?) protect you? And isn’t a toolshed a bit of a stretch? Despite all that, it’s a fun movie that I think really holds up well!

    Great review as always and thanks for the shout out! : )

    Best,

    Joel

    • Hahaha, yeah that must be some tool shed! For whatever reason that never really bothered me. I just laughed at it and moved along. It is ridiculous though, but I don’t care. It definitely holds up and is pretty fun overall. I love the red sky tinting too.

      No prob on the shout out, I was finally able to listen to that episode now that I’ve seen the movie! Glad you enjoyed the review.

  • Michael (@ScribeHard)

    Nice review, Will. This was one of my favorites in the ’80s, and an early indication of my (still) unexplained obsession with the possibilities of a post-apocalyptic world. 8 )

    And you are right about its “forgotten flick” status. Ask anyone to start rambling off a list of ’80s movies and this won’t be mentioned much.

    I need to revisit this soon!

    • Thanks for the kind words. The post-apocalyptic world will always fascinate me as well. It’s always interesting to see different takes on it. You should definitely check out Hell Comes to Frogtown if you haven’t already seen it.

      Yeah, there’s very few people talking about this one. I had heard of it before, but it wasn’t until I started talking with Joel and listening to his podcast, Forgotten Flix, that I got really excited to see it. He’s a big fan of it.

      Thanks for coming by and commenting!

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