Night of the Comet

Night of the Comet is currently available on instant Netflix.

Night of the Comet (1984) – Rated PG-13

“Earth has been ripped to shreds after a run-in with a killer comet, and those who have survived are in a fight for their lives in this campy cult classic. Valley girl Reg (Catherine Mary Stewart) and her sister (Kelli Maroney) discover they’re two of the lucky few. But scientists are after them, and now they must run. Why? Because the researchers believe they need the blood of survivors to concoct a drug that can save them all from further ruin.”

“Don’t be an overachiever. You’ll fit in better with your age group.”

Okay serious apocalypticos need not apply. Night of the Comet is more in the nature of a comic zombie movie and predates Shaun of the Dead by two decades. It even arrives a full year before Return of the Living Dead would turn zombies into a figure of fun, although Return would popularize the zombie need for brains.

Night of the Comet is all over the map – science fiction, romance, horror, comedy, buddy picture, female empowerment and it ties all of them up in a nice zombie romp package. Thom Eberhardt is both writer and director here and his sole credit before this was the not bad low-budget shocker Sole Survivor (1983).

Yes it is cheesy but Night of the Comet is funny, intelligent, charming and has strong female characters. As always, seeing a city without people moving around is quite eerie. There is great use made of a Tempest arcade machine and Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun that set the tone for the movie.

Robert Beltran receives top-billing here as Hector. While he is fine, I am not sure why the top-billing as he is not the star and had only been in a few movies before this, though he was Raoul in Eating Raoul. He would go on to television fame as Chakotay on Star Trek: Voyager.

The stars here are clearly Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelli Maroney as sisters Regina and Samantha. Never mind that the 25-year-old and 24-year-old play high school students, they are still wonderful together. They have a real bond with Regina being the serious older sister and Samantha the young flighty one.

Cult actress Mary Woronov had previously worked with Beltran in Eating Raoul. Here she plays a mysterious scientist named Audrey. Veteran character actor Geoffrey Lewis (Maverick, Salem’s Lot) shows up as another scientist, Carter. The much despised Buck from Kill Bill, Michael Bowen, plays Larry.

The film opens with a 1950s-style science fiction narration about the upcoming comet. Speaking of which, we are getting our own comet, the newly discovered comet 2012 S1 (catchy name isn’t it?). If the sun doesn’t do much damage to it, we could see the end of the world, I mean the comet late next year. Meanwhile have some fun with Night of the Comet.

The House of the Devil

The House of the Devil is currently available on instant Netflix.

The House of the Devil (2009) – Rated R

“A cash-strapped college student named Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) takes a babysitting job during a full lunar eclipse and ends up fighting for her life. She soon discovers that her employers, Tom (Tom Noonan) and Mary (Mary Woronov) Ulman, are hiding a wicked, sick and twisted secret. Ti West (Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever) writes, directs and edits this terrifying film set in the early 1980s. Greta Gerwig and AJ Bowen co-star.”

“During the 1980s over 70% of American adults believed in the existence of abusive Satanic cults…another 30% rationalized the lack of evidence due to government cover ups…the following is based on true unexplained events…”

The House of the Devil is clearly a very personal project for Ti West. West writes, directs and edits this ode to 80s filmmaking. The House of the Devil rewards patient viewing. There is no over-the-top gore nor are there ‘kills’ spaced every fifteen minutes to keep you interested. This is a slow character-driven movie about a babysitter who gets in over her head.

Those of you who miss the 80s (and who doesn’t? I met my wife in 1982 and married her just as soon as the 80s were over) will find plenty to love here. Kudos to the costume designers, hair dressers, and set decorators for their fine attention to detail. The movie is filmed in 16mm (common in the 80s, especially for horror films) and features a lot of film grain. The attention to detail visually and in the script is amazing.

Even West’s cast is a throwback to 80s genre films. Underrated character actor Tom Noonan is wonderful as the creepy Mr. Ulman in The House of the Devil. In the 1980s he played serial killer Frances Dollarhyde in Manhunter, the Frankenstein Monster in Monster Squad, and Varrick in F/X.

Cult actress Mary Woronov, also wonderful, plays opposite Noonan as Mrs. Ulman. She spent the 1980s Eating Raoul (couldn’t resist) and also appearing in Night of the Comet, Chopping Mall, and Black Widow. Dee Wallace is excellent in a brief role as Landlady. For those who weren’t around in the 80s, she starred in E.T., The Howling, Critters, and Cujo.

Obviously the younger characters cannot be played by 80s stars. Jocelin (The Burrowers) Donahue does a good job of carrying the film as our young babysitter, Samantha. Greta Gerwig (No Strings Attached) does a fine job as her best friend, Megan. AJ (The Signal) Bowen rounds out the Ulman clan as Victor Ulman.

Ti West not only captures an early 80s mood but also the mood of an early 80s film. When The House of the Devil was released on DVD, Ti West also had it released on VHS in an old clamshell-style case. VHS had not had a major movie release in four years by that time. That is dedication!

People Watch: Writer and director Ti West has a cameo as favorite teacher. Assistant director Kamen Velkovsky also has a cameo as a demon.