The Cold War inspired many post-apocalyptic nightmares from Hollywood in the 80’s, but Haley’s Comet only inspired a couple- Lifeforce and Night of the Comet spring to mind. I happen to have watched both last week, so I’ll be inflicting reviews of both of them on you soon enough.
Night of the Comet is a silly post-apocalyptic teen fantasy about a comet wiping the Earth mostly clean of adults; well, except for a few survivors and of course, the inevitable zombies wandering the earth in a cannibalistic rage as the calcium in their bones is dissolved by comet dust.
It’s a good B movie and never tries to rise above it. It even feels like an old 50’s movie, beginning with Regina (Catherine Mary Stewart– The Last Starfighter), a spunky gal working in a movie theater when everyone else is out watching the comet graze the atmosphere.
She’s a video game junkie, playing my favorite- Tempest. She’s got her initials REG in all the spots except one, where a mysterious “DMK” has gotten one of the top scores. This makes her feel miffed, so she gets her angst out by going upstairs to make out with the projectionist. He likes to trade films like It Came from Outer Space with other film nerds; this lets us know what kind of movie we’re in for. When she wakes up in the morning, everyone has been replaced with a pile of red dust and clothes, and a scary black dude with a cap attacks her. This is nothing new for an 80’s movie, where he would fit the mugger stereotype, but he’s more interested in eating her internal organs than snatching her purse.
She wanders the city on her dead boyfriend’s moped, and eventually finds only a few people have survived intact- her ditzy cheerleader sister Samantha (Kelli Maroney- Chopping Mall), and a young trucker named Hector. Together they seek shelter from the few cannibals at the local radio station, which is still broadcasting. It’s pretty boring for them (and us) … So what would a few teenagers do if all the adults were dead? Go to the mall, of course!
The mall scenes are reminiscent of the much better Dawn of the Dead, emphasizing the emptiness of the consumerist lifestyle. It seems to have influenced the Dawn of the Dawn remake too, because they run into the rent-a-cops who once ran the place, still staking out their turf. In the meanwhile, we cut to a remote underground science lab where eggheads Audrey (Mary Woronov from Eating Raoul and Rock ‘n Roll High School) and Brian (Geoffrey Lewis from the Clint Eastwood orangutan movies) are discussing what to do with the survivors… they’ve heard the kids on the radio.
The story wobbles on the tightrope between a campy teen horror like Night of the Creeps and a more thoughtful movie like The Quiet Earth, where the allusions are much more clear. This makes it a little dull in spots, but the characters get to shine. Hector is sort of a typical heroic lunk, but he never does anything mean or stupid to further the plot; the girls are likewise realistic, with the older Regina a sharp tomboy, who reminded me of Linda Fiorentino in Vision Quest.
It comes off as a bit of a satire, and while it’s certainly trashy, especially when the scientists show their true colors, it doesn’t dip into exploitation at all. No gratuitous boobies here, and the violence is usually played for laughs. I give writer-director Thom Eberhardt credit for giving the movie its unique mood and tone, but wag my finger at the sloppy “DMK” payoff at the end- it’s too flippant, and he ends up with the wrong girl! Watching the teens turn into chiding parents was a nice touch, though. If you like 80’s movies, this is one of the lesser-known ones in the post-apocalyptic genre that is worth hunting down.
Beers Required to Enjoy: Two
Could it be remade today? No friggin’ way
Quotability Rating: Low
Cheese Factor: Sharp
High Points: Great premise and tone
Low Point: Weak ending
Gratuitous Boobies: Cheerleader in bra and panties