Sunday, February 2, 2020


Halley’s Comet, last seen crossing our skies in 1986, will next appear in 2061. Until then, I watched “Night of the Comet,” a more modern version of one of those teenage drive-in sci-fi films – that is, modern for 1984.

Having spent the first ten or so minutes setting up the characters and situation, the main event, the flash of a comet in the night sky, seemingly turns all the people watching all the people watching it into to a red dust, apart from Catherine Mary Stewart’s character Reggie, her boyfriend, and a zombie, who appeared behind a door that had a poster for the film “Red Dust” attached to it.

“Night of the Comet” is a testament to the effectiveness of applying to cordon off a few areas of a city, and adding a red filter top the top half of a camera lens: instant desolation is created. Having established what pervades the sky throughout the film, the characters that survive – Reggie, her sister Sam, a man named Hector, and two children – behave very matter-of-factly, with the kind of stiff upper lip more often found in a British war film. You have moments when they realise who they have left behind, but they have no option but to move on, making the tonal shifts from gun target practice to trying out clothes in a shopping centre almost necessary.

The science in this film is also just about right for a drive-in-type plot – those that survived were in structures that contained steel, like a cinema projection room, a shed, or a truck, which repelled the cosmic effects of the comet, and that’s pretty much it. Because the location is Los Angeles, you imagine the skyscrapers would still be teeming with people, but because it was Christmas, and outside of business hours, presumably everyone was outside watching the comet.

A scientific institute, based underground, has also been affected by the cosmic dust they breathed in via the air-conditioning system, although what makes them a threat to the survivors, heard by them on the radio interrupting a pre-recorded show still playing from the night before, is their decision to take them for their healthy blood. One of the scientists, White, played by Mary Woronov, is almost grandstanding in her display of exasperation at the irrational rationalising of her colleagues, and she is the one who sacrifices herself when she sees no help for herself, after killing a colleague that could threaten a survivor.

I was surprised to find this was a rather thoughtful film, with no evidence of the shlock I would have expected to find. The writer/director of “Night of the Comet,” Thom Eberhardt, surveyed teenagers about what they would do in a post-apocalyptic situation, and once it was clear that the sticking point would begin with dating, the matter-of-fact tone must have made itself clear. The character of Reggie also inspired “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” the story of another hero who has no option but to get on with it.

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