' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Wednesday's Old Fashioned: Night of the Comet

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Friday's Wednesday's Old Fashioned: Night of the Comet

In “28 Days Later” (2002) when zombie apocalypse has broken out, Cillian Murphy awakes in an empty hospital. In “Night of the Comet” (1984) when zombie apocalypse has broken out, Catherine Mary Stewart awakes in a movie theater. That’s a crucial difference. The former yearns to take things seriously. The latter yearns to take things blithely. Neither approach is right or wrong, both movies are highly enjoyable, yet wildly different even if they possess a few notable similarities.

Earth is on the verge of passing through a comet’s tail. Narration tells us the last time this occurred was 65 million years ago – you know, when the dinosaurs up and went extinct. This seems like a harrowing coincidence but no one appears concerned. Perhaps because this is 1984! And Reagan has just laid the smack to Mondale! It’s Morning Again In America! Passing through a tail of a comet?! Ha! What could POSSIBLY go wrong?!

Most everything, as it turns out. As the comet passes everyone that has taken to the streets to watch is literally scattered to dust – red dust, that is. Everyone else exposed to the comet from cozy confines elsewhere eventually mutates into a zombie. The lucky few spared only were on account of being shielded by steel, it seems, people like Reggie (Stewart) who spent the night enclosed in a bunker-esque projection room at the local theater “making it” with her boyfriend (Michael Bowen). And when he exits the theater door (bearing a poster for the 1934 Gable/Harlow film……wait for it……“Red Dust”) he learns it is morning of the living dead and goes down for the count.

Reggie manages to high-tail it outta harm’s way and tracks down her sixteen year old cheerleader sister Sam (Kelli Maroney) who evaded mutation on account – in my favorite lines in the whole film – deciding to run away from home only to realize she had nowhere to go and, thus, settled on spending the night out back in the family’s shed. Armed with legwarmers and uzis (their dad taught them to use firearms) and a ghetto blaster, they eventually cross paths with Hector Gomez (Robert Beltran) who claims to be a truck driver but who we really know was in town to audition for “CHiPs.”

A few insightful scientists, meanwhile, are holed up underground having deduced the comet means trouble. Unfortunately, their insight only goes so far and they fail to account for their facility’s ventilation system. Blimey! They have been exposed! On the verge of mutating into zombies themselves, they decide to concoct a counteractive serum by pilfering the blood of healthy survivors. Which is why they decide to go after the 2 Valley Girls & Ponch.

When people discuss surviving hypothetical Zombie Apocalypses, the discussion typically centers around the zombies themselves. “Night of the Comet”, much like “28 Days Later” and assorted others, goes to show that even during Zombie Apocalypse a human being’s greatest enemy remains fellow humans. This is not to suggest writer/director Thom Eberhardt’s film is an insightful analysis into the human psyche, not at all, though it is, frankly, a pretty bitchin' time. It goes to show just how much can be accomplished with a lower budget, with paying attention to mood and tone - lighting L.A. as if it were the red planet - without resorting to just banging loud chords on the soundtrack over and over and throwing buckets of blood at scripting and/or production problems.

Deaths, for instance, don't always have to be gory. I haven't seen an episode of "The Walking Dead" but I'm willing to bet it doesn't include a death that occurs in shades while smooth jazz purrs on the soundtrack.

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