Awesome ’80s in April: Night of the Comet (1984)

night of the comet poster

While working on my list of movies I wanted to watch during the Awesome ’80s in April I headed over to Letterboxd, turned on their giant list of all films, filtered out everything but movies made in the 1980s, sorted it by highest rated, and systematically made my way through the entire list. I was looking for movies I had never seen, but had always wanted to watch. Or movies I’d never heard of but that looked interesting (one of the cool things about Letterboxd is that it lets you see how your friends rated any film, and read any reviews they might have written).

Night of the Comet falls into the latter category. I’d never heard of it before, but it was rated pretty highly by people whose thoughts on movies I respect and the plot sounded interesting.

Honestly, even after all of that, I expected something much cheesier. The plot synopsis sounds like Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Night of the Living Dead at the end of the world. But what I got was something more thoughtful, and well-made than that synopsis makes you expect.

An opening salvo tells us that a huge comet will be passing by Earth for the first time in millions of years. Everybody is excited. Parties are being held outside to watch the comet pass. The whole world is outside watching. The whole world except for Reggie (Catherine Mary Stewart) and Larry (Michael Bowen). They work at a movie theater and Larry has convinced Reggie to help him rent out a reel to some guys who will illegally duplicate it. Reggie really wants to see the comet pass by, but Larry is willing to pay her a whole $15 bucks and that’s hard to turn down.

They wind up spending the night in the steel-lined projection booth. The next morning they wake up to find that the comet has turned everybody (well, almost everybody) into red dust. A few people did survive but they seem to have been turned into brain-eating zombies. Larry meets his end pretty quickly and Reggie returns home to find her sister Samantha (Kelli Maroney) is still alive. Turns out that after an argument with her mother Sam slept in the steel-lined shed.

Together, they do what any red-blooded American teenager would do after a zombie apocalypse – they head to the mall. Actually, they head to the radio station first because a DJ’s voice can be heard playing records and they figure finding another human alive would be a good thing. The DJ is actually just a recording on a tape, but they do discover Hector (Robert Beltran) at the radio station. Hector almost immediately leaves the girls as he needs to find out if his mother is still alive (he’ll come back to the movie a little later). That’s when the girls go to the mall.

There are some scientists types who survived by hiding in an underground bunker. They must now try to rebuild humanity and that begins by running tests of the few other humans who survived to see if there is a chance at finding a vaccine to counteract the effects of the cosmic rays.

Night of the Comet does a great job of blending comedy with horror and thriller elements. The Buffy mixed with Night of the Living Dead elements I mentioned at the beginning of this post are more apt than I thought. Although it is more like Dawn of the Dead since a great portion of the movie is spent inside a mall. But it is a much better film than that synopsis might indicate. It was made on a tiny budget, but they put every dollar they had to good use. It is funny and thrilling, and has a nice sense of what it’s trying to do.

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