NIGHT OF THE COMET (1984) dir. Thom Eberhardt

5/29 @ HFA


Hassle readers may be familiar with the sisterhood jib-jab that, like most rehashings of classic counter-cultural convictions, comes from the intersection of high fad-value and nostalgia-volume at any given time, returning as a kind of undeveloped opinion-accessory, a perfunctory trinket, “this is my crystal head of Baphomet multi-finger ring, and here’s my signature mention of sisterly kinship.”

Which is in part what’s so appealing about something or someone that practices and depicts a more compelling version of the fem story; that is, something thoughtful, honest, something done in greater detail, and not without humor. Thom Eberhardt’s Night of the Comet achieves such a chemical balance, although the fem bonds it contains are, by and large, underappreciated. Please join me in correcting for that oversight.

First, let’s take a loog at Reggie and Sam, two cusp-of-adulthood sisters who fortuitously survive the comet that sweeps over Earth, pulverizing or zombifying all exposed flesh within its radius. Not at all disheartened by the bizarro turn of events, the sisters set out to make the most of their post-apocalyptic circumstances. Over the course of the film, they meet Hector, a truck driver and fellow survivor; blood-hungry comet creeps; infected mall sadists; and a team of scientists only partially protected from the comet’s scourge, hellbent on procuring for themselves a way to combat the decay of comet-sickness.

Eberhardt doesn’t gloss over the biosocial tensions of woman-woman competitiveness for the wishful artifice of a more pure sisterhood, as when Sam is let down by her sister’s flings with men that she herself is interested in. That’s there in all its human vainglory. But it doesn’t undermine their bond, nor does their covenant hinge on a sort of sexless overdetermination of themselves, or on subordination to the distinguishable alpha female. Though other old-line configurations of human relationships are reinstated in the film post-apocalypse — e.g. its restoration of the mother-father-in-love nuclear family unit — the girl twosome hits home with an acuity and authenticity that rarely turns up among its Reagan-era teenage SF disaster-scenario ilk.

Kelli Maroney (Sam) and Catherine Mary Stewart (Reggie) are pitch-perfect sisters together, but perhaps the most powerful performance and character in NotC is Mary Woronov as Audrey, a disenchanted scientist whose colleagues are trying to mechanize the blood-harvest of non-infected comet survivors. While the rest of the adults portrayed in the film are put off by the gleeful frivolity of the sisters’ Valley Girl shtick, Audrey is the lone midlife vigilante able to read their gumption and merit. If you’re feeling at all blase about the outcome of this relatively low-budget screwball cult classic, stick around at least for Audrey’s final scene, a gloam-induced peace-out delivered with the same smoldering self-possession that brought the artist/actor/maven to underground fame decades before around the time of her appearance in Chelsea Girls.

Night of the Comet
dir. Thom Eberhardt
95 min.

Part of the HFA’s ongoing series: Ben Rivers’ Midnite Movies: The Witching Hour Part 3, “Because You’ve Never Known Fear Until it Stabs You in the Eye with a Rusty Nail”

Click here for screening info.

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