Written and directed by Thom Eberhardt
Starring Catherine Mary Stewart (Regina Belmont), Keli Maroney (Samantha Belmont), Robert Beltran (Hector Gomez), Mary Woronov (Dr Audrey White), Geoffrey Lewis (Dr Carter), John Achorn (Dr Oscar Silverman), Peter Fox (Dr Wilson), Michael Bowen (Larry Dupree), Ivan E Roth (Willy), Sharon Farrell (Doris), Janice Kawaye (Sarah) and Chance Boyer (Brian)
The world is preparing for the spectacular display that will light up the night sky when a comet passes overhead. The comet had last crossed paths with the Earth at the time of the sudden extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years earlier. Regina, who works at a local cinema, elects instead to spend the night with Larry, the projectionist. Her sister Samantha, a cheerleader, sneaks out of a party at home after an argument with her stepmother. The next morning Regina and Samantha discover that a red smog hangs heavy in the air, nearly everyone seems to have been reduced to a red dust, and they are harassed by flesh-eating zombies. They encounter another survivor, Hector, at a local radio station. He is on his way to search for any surviving members of his family. In the meantime, Regina and Samantha have come to the attentions of a group of scientists who had predicted the effects of the comet and hidden in a secret underground facility.
‘Night of the Comet’ is a low-budget 1984 film that pays homage to other low-budget genre movies. The classic 1953 film ‘It Came From Outer Space’ is mentioned early on, but a more obvious reference point would be ‘Night of the Living Dead’ and, I thought, ‘The Day of the Triffids’, as well as ‘The World, the Flesh and the Devil’, a 1959 Harry Belafonte film in which he is trapped by an underground cave in and when he escapes he discovers that the world is deserted and he appears to be the only person left alive.
The film’s writer and director Thom Eberhardt has claimed that the production budget was just $700,000, although $3 million has been quoted as a more likely figure. The film grossed a little under $14.5 million at the domestic box office. It has an 83% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes from 18 reviews and has an established cult status, even being described as a masterpiece of its genre, although one dissenting reviewer was extremely critical of the film and particularly scathing about absurdities in the plot, which is perhaps missing the point when the film so obviously has its tongue in its cheek.
Its protagonists, the heroes (or, I should say, heroines) of the film, immediately make it stand out, although I am not quite sure why in the opening scenes when Regina and Larry have sex in the projection booth she apparently does so on the promise of $15, which he doesn’t pay. We are supposed to glean that she is tough and independent, capable of looking after herself, but this doesn’t seem to serve any purpose whatsoever, other than being slightly demeaning. Much is made of the film’s humour. It is of a type and I didn’t find it particularly funny. The line “Daddy would have gotten us Uzis” spoken by Samantha when the mechanism on the machine gun she is firing jams has been quoted as an example of the witty dialogue.
The film is undoubtedly clever, subverting the genre and paying homage to it at the same time. I did find it rather stilted in general and some of the acting leaves a lot to desired, but I found myself, if not actually liking it more, than certainly disliking it less as it went on. In the end, it’s a film that appeals to a certain audience, has a website devoted to it and even an online discussion board. I didn’t find it as fun or engaging as I had hoped, but that is probably fairly meaningless. It would be interesting to know what influence if any the film had on Joss Whedon.
Thom Eberhardt went on to direct the Sherlock Holmes spoof ‘Without a Clue’, starring Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley. Robert Beltran played Commander Chakotay in 171 episodes of the television series ‘Star Trek: Voyager’. Kelli Maroney’s other films include ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ and ‘Chopping Mall’. Geoffrey Lewis, the father of Juliette Lewis, is a veteran of 200 or more films of varying quality.
Review posted 19 January 2010