Shadowvision: “NIGHT OF THE COMET”Columns,Fearful Features,Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
Welcome to Shadowvision, a regular column in which Fangoria.com revisits modern horror films in black and white. The purpose is to analyze these films through a new lens, seeing if the classically informed viewing experience will give a new angle to familiar images. If you’d like to watch along at home, it’s simple: go into your TV settings and desaturate the picture completely, then adjust the contrast and brightness to fit either standard or high definition.
I’m not a horror fan who screams and broods over the idea of remakes or reboots. Perhaps that’s my unfortunate optimism at work, or perhaps it’s the feeling that to judge a film before it’s released is unfair to the filmmaker. One reason that certainly factors into that approach is my fascination in seeing how old ideas translate through a contemporary lens. After all, when a culture clash is seen within a script, it leads to filmmakers becoming resourceful and enthusiastic to adapt an idea to a new surrounding.
Of course, a prime example of this is Thom Eberhardt’s NIGHT OF THE COMET, which isn’t a remake or reboot but rather takes a subgenre tied to ’60s sci-fi horror and applies it to the world of the ’80s. By taking the essence of tales such as THE LAST MAN ON EARTH or THE TWILIGHT ZONE and infusing them with lovable characters and the landmarks of ’80s pop culture, Eberhardt clicked into something much more fascinating and engaging. Above all else, he did it incredibly effectively, in a way that felt natural to the story, and it was this dynamic that interested this writer in examining the film in black-and-white.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that the intended colors in the film are absolutely amazing and crucial to that specific experience. From the red hue of the post-Comet world to the warmly-colored lighting in the neon-soaked scenes to even the bright fashion of the ’80s, the film carries the same pulpy dreamworld aesthetics of all imaginative ’80s filmmaking. In fact, the color palette of NIGHT OF THE COMET shows the film is actively trying to be more fantastic than real, even though the film’s latter half definitely falls into bleaker territory. Nevertheless, I knew that revisiting NIGHT OF THE COMET without color would be a risky proposition, and that I would lose much organic fun by robbing the film of such an integral element.
What I didn’t expect was just how well the film played in black-and-white, especially when it comes to the visuals. Prior to this column, I never noticed how many visual cues here are meant to homage post-apocalyptic nuclear sci-fi films, but in black-and-white, they are as clear as day. The scenes in which the protagonists travel via convertible are evocative of THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, and the wonderful make-up SFX feels much more like a callback to vintage alien and undead SFX than the Romero-esque take. Even the message of the film regarding humanity and science feels more apparent in black-and-white than in color, perhaps emphasized by the adjusted focus on the performance.
Of course, the film isn’t without its awkward or ineffective moments when translated into monochrome. For instance, the film did expectedly take an atmospheric loss without color, even if the world seems well-lit and shot for black-and-white photography. Despite the classic story, the voice of the film is still firmly lodged in the ’80s, and much of the vernacular and musical beats feel off-kilter when presented in black-and-white. In fact, the sequence set to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” is ironically less fun considering the scene is centered around indulgence, which falls unfortunately flat and into unintentional comedy when seen here.
Still, the filmmaking and performances on display are more than enough to compensate for those losses, offering much to love in the black-and-white version. By pulling off an incredibly cinematic world on a low budget, Eberhardt and cinematographer Arthur Albert’s style feels more epic in black-and-white, as the world truly feels as empty as presented. Furthermore, the film’s transition from the fun and more comedic first two acts to the more action-driven and creepy third is less jarring, likely on account of the visual continuity. And with more focus on the performances, the campy nature of the film feels all the more representative of a ’60s sci-fi flick, especially with Kelli Maroney and Catherine Mary Stewart’s “girl next door” appeal juxtaposed with their gun-toting attitude.
NIGHT OF THE COMET is a blast with or without color, but the black-and-white version definitely brings enough to the table to earn a recommendation. While the film doesn’t wear a completely different face, the narrative and visual influences on the film are brought even further into focus. And the tone and universe that the film establishes feels much more expansive and realistic when seen in black-and-white, which almost makes up for the losses in aesthetic and atmosphere. Above all, from the opening narration to the open-ended climax, the film is so indicative of a certain era of sci-fi that it almost screams for a look in black-and-white. Luckily for the more curious cinephiles out there, the film makes that new look worthy of your time.
Recommended for Black and White Consumption?: Yes.