The time seems forever ripe for the 1980s and horror remakes these days, but here’s an extra fun one for everyone to chew on. The fantastic women-centric ’80s cult classic Night of the Comet is getting redone by Orion Pictures, the company behind the upcoming Child’s Play reboot and the Bill & Ted sequel. What’s even better is who’s been tapped to get the ball rolling.
According to Deadline, filmmaker Roxanne Benjamin, who is best-known for penning and helming creepy segments in the anthologies Southbound and XX, will write a new version of Thom Eberhardt’s horror-comedy. Not much else is known about the Night of the Comet remake for the time being, but Deadline’s report determines that the film will indulge in its horror and sci-fi sensibilities a little more than any of its more comedic elements.
Led by two absolutely kick-ass female characters, Night of the Comet is a post-apocalyptic wonderland of a movie. Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelli Maroney play sisters Reggie and Sam Belmont. When everyone else seems to have literally vanished after a rare comet passage, leaving nothing but dust in their wake, these girls wind up being the survivors of a sudden apocalypse. Reggie and Sam soon learn that if you weren’t dusted by the comet, you were zombified. However, both sisters have some tricks up their sleeve (which often have to do with firepower) that give them an edge over their adversaries.
Night of the Comet is very much a pastiche of sci-fi tropes and plot devices rolled into a dizzying final product. The premise is ridiculous enough for the scares to skew more amusing than frightening, but that’s part of its charm. Regardless, the film soars due to incredibly heartfelt moments between the siblings at its core.
Reggie and Sam are delightful characters. They are heroes who hold their own against the weirdly sentient zombies of this universe, but they also happen to exhibit very human concerns as teenage girls. Night of the Comet tries to prove this by having them think about and fight over boys. But just watch me ignore any budding love story here, because Hector (Robert Beltran)? He’s boring.
The camaraderie between Reggie and Sam is what’s golden in Night of the Comet. They can butt heads at times thanks to sibling rivalry, but they can definitely depend on one another. For example, that mischaracterized shopping montage set to Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” is actually glorious in light of what the sisters have had to go through during their new survival regime. When they get to have a break from the reality of the world ending, the movie simply gets extra magical.
The cult status of the immensely likable Night of the Comet then comes as no surprise. It has certainly led to the movie’s fair share of pop culture references, the most notable of which being that Buffy Summers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame is reportedly based on Sam. The Vampire Diaries — a show known for replicating Buffy plots as it is — has an episode named after the movie. Other TV vestiges like Psych have verbally referenced the film in the past, too.
Hence, it’s a great idea to bring Night of the Comet to a modern audience. Nevertheless, imagining a more serious version of the film is admittedly a tough task. The original is such a hit because of the earnest and hilarious gusto with which Reggie and Sam deal with the abject ludicrousness of their circumstances. The film revels in as many tropes as it possibly can in order to subvert them, and watching Reggie and Sam succeed is thus so rewarding.
All that said, trusting Benjamin to come up with a reliable vision for this remake is actually easy. Initially making a name for herself producing the V/H/S series of horror anthologies, she has since been able to flex her chops behind the camera. Benjamin has written and directed her own shorts for years, and her efforts have finally culminated in a debut feature film, Body at Brighton Rock (which is currently in post-production).
Although she has only been hired to draft the screenplay for the Night of the Comet remake, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Orion brings Benjamin on as director of the film as well. A movie featuring two heroines deserves a woman at the helm in general, but Benjamin proves herself capable of crafting legitimately scary and unsettling films. Her segments in Southbound and XX are some of the best ones in those respective anthologies. They demonstrate the different kinds of stories that Benjamin excels at telling.
Of her two writing contributions to XX, “The Birthday Party” comes across as the more effective one. That is partly because of its much lighter tone, and the fact that the narrative exists in a heightened setting that allows an easy suspension of disbelief. Importantly, the segment is filled with tiny inflections and details that hint at deeper characterization for Melanie Lynskey’s frantic leading lady. Yet, of course, she has to be more intently focused on the harrowing task at hand: what does one do when they find their husband suddenly dead at home right when their daughter’s birthday party is about to begin? For all my expectations regarding a “challenge” like that, “The Birthday Party” exceeds them all and is buckets of fun.
In contrast, “Don’t Fall” more heavily relies on gorier scares, which are extremely functional if not for the four painful main characters at the story’s center. The effort to draw connections between each relationship dynamic is there, but none of the actors actually carry the segment beyond being obnoxiously dislikeable. Of course, their narrative decision to camp out on sacred land is pretty side-eye worthy, so maybe we aren’t supposed to empathize with any of them. Nonetheless, the emotional payoff of this short feels more muted and unsatisfying. Still, the visual confrontation of “Don’t Fall” is skilfully handled.
To end on an unequivocal high note, Southbound is the personal favorite here. In Benjamin’s section, “Siren,” she expertly weaves a generic plot — three women unexpectedly falling in with a macabre cult — into a wholly compelling horror experience. Benjamin is effectively economical with the limited time frame she has to work with, casually dropping in important hints of characterization without losing the flow of her narrative. Benjamin’s script, which was co-written by Susan Burke (Smashed), anchors its plot on elements that exist outside the cyclical terrors of the Southbound format. The use of photographs and anecdotal memories work to make the scares more impactful because these protagonists feel real.
Overall, Benjamin seems to care about the characters she puts on screen, which is her most vital asset as a filmmaker. And while she is clearly a talented writer, she also deserves to get in the director’s chair for Night of the Comet, given how keenly she understands the dramatic beats of an impeccable horror story. So, even if some of this cult classic’s iconic hilarity will probably be missed, there’s no one better than Benjamin to contribute to a redo of Night of the Comet.