1984 was a good year for quirky sci­ence fic­tion film­mak­ing.  The pop­u­lar­i­ty of the gen­re in Star Wars-size block­buster form made it pos­si­ble for film­mak­ers to try out off­beat con­cepts at the box office, result­ing in a string of films like Dune, The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai, Repo Man and The Brother From Another PlanetNight Of The Comet was anoth­er sci-fi entry from this year and it became a small-scale hit, doing sur­pris­ing­ly well at the box office and going on to a long life on home video and cable t.v.  Like the afore­men­tioned films, it mix­es sci­ence fic­tion con­cepts with a quirky treat­ment that gives them a nov­el spin.

Night Of The Comet presents a sce­nar­io in which the world’s pop­u­la­tion is dec­i­mat­ed when it comes in con­tact with the path of a comet that has lethal effects on the Earth’s atmos­phere.  However, it is tak­en from a unique point-of-view, envi­sioned through how it affects a pair of teenage Californian sis­ters.  Regina (Catherine Mary Stewart) is a movie the­ater employ­ee and Samantha (Kelli Maroney) is her younger cheer­lead­er sis­ter, whose life of hunt­ing for boyfriends and argu­ing with their bitchy step­mom comes to an end when the comet strikes.NOTC-pos

They quick­ly dis­cov­er there are dan­gers to their new way of life — some peo­ple who escape the ini­tial blast trans­form into “comet zom­bies” at vary­ing speeds — but they find a fel­low sur­vivor in a truck dri­ver named Hector (Robert Beltran) and do their best to adjust.  Unfortunately, they are being mon­i­tored by the sur­viv­ing mem­bers of a sci­en­tific think-tank led by Carter (Geoffrey Lewis) and Audrey (Mary Woronov), and they might not have the nicest plans for our teen heroes.

Night Of The Comet became a sleep­er hit because it pur­sues its gen­re agen­da in a savvy way, mix­ing its quirky ideas with a crowd-pleaser sen­si­bil­i­ty.  Writer/director Thom Eberhardt would lat­er become a direc­tor of Hollywood come­dies and he brings a breezy wit to his end-of-the-world sce­nar­io, play­ing it as a teenage fan­ta­sy come to life.  Indeed, the film’s most famous sequence has the hero­ines invad­ing an emp­ty depart­ment store and hav­ing the ulti­mate dress-up par­ty while “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” plays in the back­ground.

That said, the teenage fan­ta­sy angle of Night Of The Comet has some barbed edges that allow him to work in hor­ror and action ele­ments: Eberhardt pulls off an effec­tive night­mare dream sequence that owes a debt to An American Werewolf In London and the afore­men­tioned depart­ment scene is fol­lowed up by a sus­pense­ful yet wit­ty shootout in the same loca­tion.  The film also clos­es with a nifty siege set­piece that mix­es sus­pense, action and tongue-in-cheek humor with equal mea­sure.

Best of all, Eberhardt pop­u­lates his “apoc­a­lypse on a bud­get” sce­nar­io with unique, wit­ty char­ac­ter­i­za­tions that the actors bring to life with a con­ta­gious sense of enjoy­ment.  Stewart and Maroney were reg­u­lars in come­dies and gen­re flicks dur­ing this era and their roles here allow them to use both skill sets at the same time: Stewart is fun as a tough yet roman­ti­cal­ly vul­ner­a­ble arche­type, Maroney brings screw­ball com­e­dy tim­ing to a sendup of the Valley Girl sen­si­bil­i­ty and the two have a win­ning, believ­able chem­istry.  Beltran makes a like­able back-up hero while Lewis gives a sly treat­ment to a sin­is­ter role and Woronov has one of her best sup­port­ing roles as a tough, clev­er sci­en­tist whose ques­tion­able alle­giances keep the audi­ence on its toes.

In short, Night Of The Comet remains a lot of fun thanks to its smart, gen­re-bend­ing approach to famil­iar sci-fi con­cepts.  No ret­ro­spec­tive of off­beat ‘80s sci-fi is com­plete with­out it.