Growing up in the 80’s was a great time for horror fans. It felt like every weekend there was another 90-minute B-movie crapfest to be seen; titles like Re-animatior, Sleepaway Camp, and Happy Birthday to Me to name a few. The Rube was a lucky one, not only did I grow up with these soon to be cult classics, but I did it in Los Angeles. Most weekends we would go to either the drive-in, Westwood Village (at the time, a movie mecca near UCLA) or Hollywood Blvd. where there were tons of “mini theaters.” Yeah, you could be a sucker and go to The Chinese, The Egyptian, or at The Cinerama Dome for openings of new slasher/sci-fi/horror gorefests, or you could wait a week and see a double feature (sneak in a Oki Dog* or giant slice of pizza) down the block for only a couple of bucks.
In the 80’s there were too many horror movies to count, I could literally spend days telling you all the horror movies that I’ve seen in my lifetime, but there’s only a handful that still feel like time capsules of the period that they were filmed in or filmed at (Los Angeles). I think my three top favorites from that genre would have to be The Terminator, Repo Man, and (of course) Night of the Comet.
Night of the Comet starts with very haunting narration about a red-tailed comet that passes the Earth every 65 million years. Most of the world sees it as a celebration, but some see it as a doomsday device that killed off the dinosaurs.. and others would rather just play Tempest all night. From there, most of the film revolves around Regina “Reggie” Belmont (Last Starfighter’s Catherine Mary Stewart) and her cheerleader sister, Sam (Kelli Maroney). After a long night of half-assing her movie theater job (El Ray Theater on Miracle Mile, Los Angeles) and dealing with her unhealthy Tempest video game addiction, Reggie ends up spending the night in the steel projection room with her boyfriend/projectionist for the amount of $15… hey, she might be cheap but NEEDS the quarters for her digital illness.
On the other side of town (San Fernando Valley, a.k.a The Valley), 16 year old Sam gets in a heated argument with her step-mom during her Comet Night/Sushi Party. Slapping ensues and Sam decides to make her step-mom pay by doing pretending to runaway and spends the night in the steel tool shed. The next morning the sisters come out of their protective steel shelters to a crimson sky, due to everyone turning into red calcium dust… well, mostly everyone.
After narrowly escaping a homeless guy “that doesn’t look so good” Reggie hops on her motorcycle and takes off for home, dodging empty cars and dust piles along the way. After meeting up with Sam – who is sooo late for cheerleading practice – Reggie tries to explain that everyone is gone (“It’s Saturday morning, where are the God damn kids?”). After a moment of freaking out, swallowing gum, and pondering what to do next, they hear a DJ’s voice on the radio. Could it be another survivor?
The girls go to the radio station just to find a recorded DJ’s voice on a timer but bump into a truck driver named Hector (Star Trek Voyager’s Robert Beltran). While Reggie and Hector try to piece together what happened to the human race, Sam starts to play DJ and asks for fans to call in their music requests, and to their surprise someone does… a Government Think Tank that tells them to stay put and everything will be fine (how many times have we heard that in a B-movie, huh?).
For low budget movie, Night of the Comet did very well and soon turned into a cult classic. Thom Eberhardt does a great job at directing with an equal balance of suspense and comic levity and even interjected a lot of horror for a PG-13 movie. The two funniest scenes in the film involve a shopping montage which turns into a new wave zombie shoot’m up at a nearby mall (scored with a boot-leg version of Cyndi Lauper’s hit, Girls Just Want to Have Fun) and the other is when Hector battles a zombie child in his mom’s East LA home. Beyond that, there are plenty of funny lines, the most memorable one occurring while the girls are doing some defensive target practice. Sam’s Mac-10 jams up on her and she turns to Reggie with a sour face and says, “Daddy would have gotten us uzis.”
Night of the Comet is available on DVD, but if you get a chance to see it on the big screen as a midnight movie – maybe at the New Beverly Cinema, on Beverly near La Brea in Hollywood – then I would definitely recommend it.
*Oki-Dog is 2 foot-long hot dogs, wrapped in pastrami, covered in chili and cheese and wrapped in 2 oversized flour tortillas and only found at World Famous Oki Dog in Hollywood (www.oki-dog.com). The trick is that you have to eat it fast so the bottom doesn’t turn into a solidified solid brick of yummy goodness! God, just typing about it makes The Rube want to fly back to Los Angeles to get one!