Sunday, 17 June 2018

THE LEIGH SPENCE MOMENT: NIGHT OF THE COMET


73. “It’s Saturday morning, where are the goddamn kids?!”



17/06/2018




Halley’s Comet will next appear in 2061, when I will be approaching eighty years of age, so until then, I have randomly chosen what appears to be a more modern (well, modern for 1984) version of one of those teenage drive-in sci-fi films.

Having spent the first ten or so minutes setting up the characters and situation, the main event, the flash of a comet in the night sky (but not Halley’s – that wasn’t until 1986) seemingly turns all the spectators to a red dust, apart from Catherine Mary Stewart’s character Reggie, her boyfriend, and a zombie, who appeared behind a door that had a poster for the film “Red Dust” attached to it.

The film itself is a testament to what can be done by applying to cordon off a few areas of a city, and adding a red filter top the top half of the camera lens: instant desolation. Having established what pervades the sky throughout the entire film, the characters that survive – Reggie, her sister Sam, another man, Hector, and two children – behave very matter-of-factly, with the kind of stiff upper lip more often found in a British war film. You have moments when they realise who they have left behind, but they have no option but to move on, making the shifts from gun target practice to trying out clothes in a shopping centre almost necessary.


The science in this film is also just about right for a drive-in-type plot – those that survived were in structures that contained steel, which repelled the cosmic effects of the comet. That’s pretty much it – because the location is Los Angeles, you imagine the skyscrapers would still be teeming with people, but because it was Christmas, and outside of business hours, everyone would have been outside watching the comet.

A scientific institute, based underground, has also been affected by the cosmic dust they breathed in via the air-conditioning system, making them as much of a threat to the survivors as the more obvious zombies above ground – they heard the survivors on the radio, after they turned up to find out why it was still playing music (a back-up tape was still running). One of the scientists, White, played by Mary Woronov, is almost grandstanding in her display of how fed-up she is by the reasoning given by her colleagues to a completely irrational situation, for she is the one who sacrifices herself when she sees no help for herself, after killing a colleague that could threaten a survivor.

I was surprised to find this was a rather thoughtful film, with no evidence of the shlock I would have expected to find. The writer/director of “Night of the Comet,” Thom Eberhardt, had surveyed teenagers about what they would do in a post-apocalyptic situation, and once it was clear that the sticking point would begin with dating, the matter-of-fact tone must have made itself clear. The film also was inspirational in the creation of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” another situation where hero has no option but to get on with it.

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