Thursday, 25 September 2014

Night of the Comet (1984)

For a short while in the early 1980s, movies dealing with the theme of survival post-apocalypse became so plentiful as to form a subgenre all their own. This was in part due to the political climate of the time (if you weren't there believe me, the potential imminence of nuclear devastation was actually pretty terrifying), but mainly because of the huge financial success of movies like MAD MAX (everywhere but the United States) and MAD MAX 2 aka THE ROAD WARRIOR (retitled in the US - you've probably guessed why). 

          Suddenly post apocalypse movies were in, with everything from movies with the worthiest of intentions (Barry Hines' THREADS) to simple money earners (virtually everything else) being churned out everywhere (unsurprisingly, Italy made quite a few). However, while almost all of these portrayed a nihilistic future of broken societies, gang warfare, and ridiculous hair, only one grabbed the last of these three essential elements, cast two personable young actresses as the leads, and ended up with quite possibly the most good-natured post-apocalypse movie ever made, if not the only good natured apocalypse movie ever made.

        Whereas MAD MAX 2 suggested we would be living in a wasteland ruled by petrol-obsessed muscle men dressed in bondage gear, and THREADS predicted we'd all be too busy throwing up from radiation poisoning to do anything other than tend our burned-beyond-recognition loved ones and have mutant babies, NIGHT OF THE COMET suggested that in the wake of worldwide disaster all you really might want to do is shop and listen to Cyndi Lauper covers.

It's the early 1980s in a world where video games consist of little more than blips and pixels, film is still something you run through a projector when it's not on quarter inch videotape, and if your hair isn't as big as your shoulder pads you're just not styling it right. It's a place where everyone wears leg warmers - especially lady scientists who work in underground bunkers, and where even the radioactive mutants have the right kind of sunglasses. When a series of DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS-like cosmic flares turns most of the population of Los Angeles to dust, eighteen year old Regina (Catherine Mary Stewart) and her younger sister Sam (Kelli Maroney) find themselves having to fight off zombie mutants while still finding time to shop at their favourite department stores. Meanwhile in evil scientist land, Geoffrey Lewis, Mary Woronov and others are trying to find a cure but instead are draining healthy people of their blood to keep themselves going. Soon Regina and Sam are on their hit list, and with Robert Beltran busy dressing up as Father Christmas the girls realise they're going to have to save the day.

It's completely unfair, but still rather fun, to compare Thom Eberhardt's NIGHT OF THE COMET with THREADS, if only because they were made the same year on different sides of the Atlantic, and that they illustrate nicely the tremendous gulf there was between the kind of television I grew up watching in the 1970s and 1980s and the eternally optimistic, upbeat way in which I imagined Americans of my age must view life. I'm not saying either was right or wrong because neither is, but in the relentlessly depressing atmosphere that was much of what counted for British television and cinema of that period, movies like NIGHT OF THE COMET were a breath a fresh air.

And they still are. NIGHT OF THE COMET remains a bouncy, silly, good natured SF film with a witty script and enough nods for genre fans (including its casting) that's it's almost impossible not to like.
Arrow's Blu-ray transfer is their usual excellent job, and there are plenty of extras as well. These include no less than three commentary tracks - one with writer-director Thom Eberhardt, a second with stars Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelli Maroney and third with production designer John Muto. There are brief interviews with the two female leads in 'Valley Girls at the End of the World' and it's good to see both have fond memories of the project. Mary Woronov is her usual delightfully off-kilter self in her interview 'End of the World Blues' and in 'The Last Man on Earth' Robert Beltran talks about turning his leading role down several times before finally accepting it. There's also an interview with makeup artist David B Miller, a theatrical trailer, and the usual Arrow reversible sleeve and booklet. A very pleasant package for a very pleasant film.

Arrow Films released Thom Eberhardt's NIGHT OF THE COMET on Region B Blu-ray on 22nd September 2014

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