‘Tis the season to revisit an ‘80s gem; Night of the Comet. The recent announcement that a remake is in the works would be enough of a reason to give this a watch, but Night of the Comet also happens to be an entry in Christmas horror that gets overlooked every year in favor of more traditional options.
Originally released in November of 1984, the plot sees the Earth passing through the tail of a comet 11 days before Christmas. The event is a huge deal, as the last time it happened it wiped out the dinosaurs, and almost everyone decides the smart course of action is to have comet watching parties outdoors. The comet successfully wipes out most of humanity, leaving valley girl sisters Regina and Sam to readapt to a post-apocalyptic world of zombies and mad survivors.
Set in southern California, Night of the Comet doesn’t have the usual Christmas movie aesthetic. There’s no snow or winter wonderland. This is what Christmas looks like in a warmer climate. Our intro to 18-year-old heroine Regina (Catherine Mary Stewart) is set against a decorated Christmas tree in the movie theater where she works, while she maintains her high score on the theater’s Tempest arcade game. Her 16-year old sister Sam (Kelli Maroney) is stuck at home with their wicked stepmother, who’s hosting a holiday-turned-comet watch party. Both sisters manage to spend the night in steel encased rooms, sparing their lives from the comet’s genocide. After fighting off a talking zombie in the alley, Regina makes her way home across the empty city, and passes abandoned cars still playing Christmas songs on the radio.
The presence of Christmas perpetually looms over Regina and Sam’s journey as they take shelter in a radio station, meet fellow survivor Hector (Robert Beltran), and embark on a girls-only shopping spree set to Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” The latter of which involves the sisters dancing in front of a large department store Christmas tree. A major turning point in the movie sees Hector returning from a trip to find his family, and discovers Regina has been taken by mysterious scientists. He’s dressed fully in a Santa Claus suit and bearing gifts for the girls. The third act, while set in an underground research facility, takes place on Christmas day.
The unconventional take on the major holiday is appropriate of a wholly unconventional post-apocalyptic horror film. Writer/director Thom Eberhardt eschewed the bleakness that usually saturates the sub-genre in favor of upbeat lightheartedness (which also feels seasonally appropriate). The zombies in this movie retain their humanity and have the ability to talk, at least for a while. Regina and Sam are tough girls when faced with opposition, and their valley girl persona hides unexpected intelligence. It means their adversaries continually underestimate them. Regina and Sam served as inspiration to Joss Whedon when creating iconic vampire slayer Buffy Summers.
Night of the Comet is a tongue-in-cheek sci-fi horror movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously, though it does place emphasis on family. It’s distinctly ‘80s, so it’ll be exciting to see how Orion Pictures and writer Roxanne Benjamin update it for modern audiences. As it stands though, this ‘80s gem makes for a fun Christmas treat that gives a rare glimpse into the sunnier side of the holiday, and an entertaining blend of humor, adventure, and horror.