Since before recorded time, it had swung through the universe in an elliptical orbit so large that its very existence remained a secret of time and space. But now, in the last few years of the twentieth-century, the visitor was returning. The citizens of Earth would get an extra Christmas present this year, as their planet orbited through the tail of the comet. Scientists predicted a light show of stellar proportions. Something not seen on Earth for 65 million years. Indeed, not since the time that the dinosaurs disappeared, virtually overnight.

– Narrator’s introduction to Night of the Comet

After the tail of a passing comet has turned everyone directly exposed to its radiation into red carbon dust, two teenage sisters awake the following morning to discover that they are two of the last people on Earth. In addition, those who were inside, and therefore not directly exposed, are disintegrating slower, becoming flesh-eating zombies in the process.

The girls travel to a local radio station where they meet another survivor, Hector, a truck driver who was lured to the station, like them, in the belief that the transmission was live. It isn’t, but the girls use the station in an attempt to attract help.They attract the attention of a group of scientists, who, realising that the last time the comet passed Earth, the dinosaurs disappeared, had locked themselves away in their underground facility until it passed.

Hector leaves the girls to fend for themselves while he goes back home to see if any of his family have survived the comet. But can they survive in the zombie infested world until he returns?

Released in 1984, Night of the Comet is an affectionate homage to the sci-fi B-movies of the ’50s and ’60s; an end-of-the-world science fiction/horror, presented with the perfect balance of action and comedy. While the tone does get progressively more serious over the film’s 95-minute running time, it still retains its sense of fun, and the wonderfully witty dialogue, much of it quotable, holds out to the end.

Comet is actually quite hard to classify; as mentioned, it’s part horror, part drama, part comedy, but mostly it’s fun. I think part of the film’s enduring charm can be put down to the fact that it is hard to classify and that it plays with several standard film-making conventions.

For a start, the two main leads are both female, and teenagers. And they are teenagers who get on fine without the adults around them, indeed, things only start to get worse when the ‘responsible adults’ turn up. The third lead, Robert Beltran is an Hispanic. How many other films of that era can claim an ethnic minority lead actor?

When we first meet Reggie, she’s shown to be promiscuous (she misses the comet show because she’s in the projection booth sleeping with the projectionist whom she’s not in a serious relationship with). Yet, we don’t think any less of her for it. In any standard horror film, sex = death, yet in this case, it’s the male partner who ends up on the wrong end of a wrench.

I first saw this film on 9 July 1989 when it was shown as part of BBC2’s Moviedrome, introduced by Alex Cox (shown below).

As the film was being shown at night – and probably on a school night – I had recorded it to VHS. I’m so glad I did. I have never grown tired of it, and I’ve lost count of the number of times I watched that tape. With the film now finally available on both DVD and Blu-ray, hopefully it will find an even wider audience, and a new generation can discover the film.