Christmas, 1984: A comet is scheduled to pass close to the Earth. In Los Angeles, the streets teem with revelers, caught in the grip of comet-mania.
When it comes, the comet turns the skies red with poisonous dust.
It obliterates most of the world’s population instantly, transforming everyone into sad little piles of red powder. Those who don’t die become… well, they’re not true zombies exactly, any more than the crazed, virus-infected Londoners in 28 Days Later were zombies, but let’s face it: Night of the Comet, written and directed by Thom Eberhardt, is a zombie film.
And a mighty fine zombie film it is, too.
Pre-apocalypse, teen arcade whiz Regina (Catherine Mary Stewart) works at a movie theater, where the manager does a brisk side business selling comet-themed deely-boppers. Deely-boppers! I haven’t thought about deely-boppers since… well, since 1984, I suppose. For those not in the know, deely-boppers are headbands with twin antennae-like springs, usually topped with whimsical shapes. Everything old becomes new again, and if other ephemeral and absurd 1980s fashions like jelly shoes and rubber bangle bracelets can experience a cultural renaissance, we should probably brace ourselves for a deely-bopper revival in the immediate future.
While the rest of the world throws a wild party to celebrate the comet’s arrival, Regina spends the night with her boyfriend Larry in the theater’s steel-lined projection booth, shielded from the deadly dust. When Larry ventures outside the next morning, a dust-crazed, red-eyed, man-eating zombie slaughters him, then sets his sights on Regina. His mistake: Regina kicks the crap out of him, then hops on a convenient motorcycle and drives off at top speed.
As she zips through the deserted streets toward her home, the full impact of the devastation dawns on her. Obviously, Night of the Comet didn’t have a lot of extra cash to spend on special effects, but the scenes of the comet-devastated city--empty streets, piles of red dust everywhere, an ominous red sky--do the trick: They’re effective and evocative.
Regina meets up with her younger sister Samantha (Kelli Mulroney), who, following a fight with their bitchy stepmother, spent the night protected from comet dust in a metal gardening shed. Samantha, who hasn’t yet grasped this whole the-world-has-just-been-annihilated business, wonders why none of her pep squad mates are answering the phone to let her know if they’re still meeting for practice. Is this pretty much just an excuse to have Samantha run around in a cheerleading uniform for the whole movie? Of course it is.
Regina breaks the news to her sister. “Do you think what happened here happened everywhere?” a worried Samantha asks. “Like, in Burbank?”
Ever practical, Samantha and Regina loot a deserted police car and arm themselves with automatic weapons--which, as it happens, they know how to use quite well. Their Green Beret father, currently off fighting the Sandinistas in Central America (now there’s a sentence that firmly anchors this movie in a particular moment in time), provided the girls with a crash course in survivalist training during their formative years, including lessons in hand-to-hand combat and optimal use of firearms. In the event of a zombie attack, Regina and Samantha are exactly the team you want on your side.
Following the signal of a still-broadcasting radio station, the girls head downtown, where they cross paths with hunky fellow survivor Hector (Star Trek: Voyager’s Robert Beltran), a truck driver who avoided the effects of the comet by shacking up with a woman in the back of his semi. You know in horror films how the promiscuous teens are always the first to get offed? In a nifty inversion, both Regina and Hector survived because they were having sex.
Hector leaves for San Diego to check on his family, promising to return as soon as he can. Samantha feels glum about how everyone in the world is dead--and how Hector, apparently the last man on Earth, only has eyes for her sister--so to cheer her up, Regina takes her to a deserted shopping mall. The girls dress up in cocktail dresses and lingerie, try on makeup, and bop around to “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” then get into a big, messy shootout with a fierce band of gun-toting zombie stock boys.
In case phrases like “gun-toting zombie stock boys” aren’t enough to tip you off, I’ll just state it outright: This movie is sort of awesome.
Regina and Samantha get captured (gratuitous bondage alert!) by the zombie stock boys, but members of an elite think tank, led by genial scientist Audrey (perennial cult favorite Mary Woronov), burst in and rescue them. Alas, the think tank folks are up to no good: They’ve been exposed to the red dust and are slowly turning into zombies, so they’re rounding up uninfected survivors and draining their blood to make a cure. Samantha stays behind in Los Angeles to await Hector’s return while Regina, unaware of their evil intentions, accompanies the think tank members to their desert compound.
Hector returns, having had no luck in finding his family, and teams up with Samantha to rescue Regina from the think tank. I don’t want to ruin the ending, but here’s a hint: Automatic weapons get fired, stuff gets blown up, and zombies die.
If you’re thinking all this seems like pretty scanty material to make into a full-length motion picture, you’re right. The plot of Night of the Comet is… let’s just say it’s unfettered by an overabundance of twists and turns. It’s fine. It works. It’s short and sweet and to the point, and hey: It’s a B-movie about killer zombies. Nobody can reasonably ask for anything more.
The charm of the film mostly lies with the two leads: Regina and Samantha make a couple of cool, charming, competent, unflappable heroines. As Hector, Beltran is an amiable hunk, willing to provide capable backup support and set off a few (mild) romantic sparks with Regina. He’s overshadowed by his flashier female costars, but heck, he’s supposed to be. This is their movie, and he’s just along for the ride
(Of interest to fans of science fiction and horror movies, or fans of cheeseball 1980s films, Kelli Maroney also starred in 1986’s Chopping Mall, a cautionary tale about a group of horny teens who stage an all-night party in a mall where the security guards have been replaced by malfunctioning killer robots. If you enjoyed Night of the Comet, there’s a better than average chance Chopping Mall will be up your alley as well.)
Night of the Comet establishes a fun, interesting universe--a post-apocalyptic world where teen girls in cheerleading uniforms run around with automatic weapons, kicking zombie tail--and it’s a shame audiences had to bid farewell to Regina and Samantha after just one adventure. The film really deserved a sequel, or maybe even a spin-off television series, featuring the weekly adventures of Regina, Samantha and Hector as they make their way across a comet-devastated world, fighting zombies, finding other survivors, and rebuilding society. I’d watch it, while proudly wearing my comet-themed deely-boppers.