Director Thom Eberhart's NIGHT OF THE COMET had somehow eluded me in the years following its 1984 release, despite earning a decent cult reputation due to heavy rotation on late night cable. Having finally caught up with it I can't say I'd been missing much.
COMET is certainly quirky enough to garner an underground following, juggling elements of science fiction, comedy, and horror and drawing inspiration from everything from post-nuke films to George Romero. Even it's premise, in which a passing comet reduces the world's population to piles of red dust, rampaging zombie mutants, and a handful of survivors, sounds like a can't-miss. But it's what it does with these elements--or rather, what it fails to do--that kept me from getting sucked into its story.
Perhaps it was because of budgetary restraints, but Eberhart doesn't do much with his end-of-the-world scenario. The zombie-like creatures, easily the most interesting aspect of the plot, are kept largely off-screen, used mostly for cheap shock effect when utilized at all. There's some humdrum involving a vaguely scientific group that includes Mary Woronov and Geoffrey Lewis that eats up an inordinate portion of the running time; it's bad enough the movie slams to a halt each time this subplot recurs, but the heart of the film's plot lies in this interminable material. And though the film tries to attempt some sort of commentary (and has plenty of material to work with, given the vapid SoCal leads), the best it can do is a feeble remark on consumerism set in a mall as the protagonists go on a shopping spree. Might this sound strangely familiar?
NIGHT OF THE COMET can't help but feel a bit dated, especially in the music and wardrobe departments, but this nostalgic quality kept it from being totally worthless. Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelli Maroney are an appealing pair, and not just for the obvious reasons, preventing the film from going completely under with energetic performances. Still, even their particular brands of effervescence can't save a movie that has all its best moments in half-assed dream sequences.
Best reserved for a case of '80's withdrawal.