Night of the Comet (1984)
Rating: 3 1/2 Stars
D: Thom Eberhardt. Robert Beltran, Catherine Mary Stewart, Kelli Maroney, Sharon Farrell, Mary Woronov, Larry Bowen. 95 mins. (MGM) 3/07
The entire world is joined in celebration when a comet makes a return pass over Earth for the first time since the extinction of the dinosaurs. At a Comet Night movie marathon, Regina (Stewart) calls home to get permission from wicked stepmother Doris (Farrell) to stay out all night. Little sis Samantha (Maroney), who has been arguing with Doris all day, relays the message and another fight ensues. Regina spends the night in the theater's projection booth with Larry (Bowen), while Sam finds refuge in the tool shed in the backyard. The next morning, Regina awakens to a quiet world and soon encounters a deranged comet zombie jonesing for a blood fix. Regina makes it to the suburbs and springs on her sister the fact that everyone in the world is gone, turned to dust by the comet. The girls get the idea that someone might be at the local teenybopper radio station but when they arrive they find the station on auto pilot. Sam hits the airwaves ("I'll be taking requests from all you teenage comet zombies on the hot-line") and eventually truck driver Hector (Beltran) finds them. Next, our sisters do what any red-blooded American girls would in a time of crisis-they raid their military dad's deadly arsenal, use greater L.A. as a shooting range, then go shopping at a deserted mall. Their spree is temporarily cut short by a group of disgruntled zombie stock boys. Soon several zombie-affected scientists make the scene and eventually decide that one of the girls would make a perfect "blood donor" until they can find a serum to reverse the effects of the comet. Guns, action and big explosions follow. While not a blockbuster during its initial release, Night's popularity steadily grew through cable showings and the burgeoning video revolution. Boasting a nice balance of horror and humor, this PG-13 sci-fi terror tale tells its story primarily through its quirky characters, focusing on their struggle to survive in the new comet zombie wasteland, without gratuitous gore and bloodletting. (The filmmakers also set up a joke early on and then close the film with its amusing punch line.) Our heroines, Stewart and Maroney, are fantastic, lending the film real heart and soul, while cult actress Woronov brings pathos to her scenes with Maroney and Beltran. Night of the Comet delivers one terrific shock jolt and a fabulous '80s soundtrack. After much anticipation over the film's DVD release, MGM fumbles the ball and releases the fan fave sans extras, not even a trailer.
~ Rob Freese
Kelli Maroney: Drive-In Icon!
As Told to Rob Freese
For many science-fiction movie fans, the name Kelli Maroney instantly conjures the image of a cute, blond, Uzi-toting cheerleader who means business. Born in Minneapolis, Kelli moved to New York and immediately landed parts on various daytime soaps. Her first film roles include Slayground, with Peter Coyote, and the teen comedy classic Fast Times at Ridgemont High, where she portrayed a frustrated pom-pom shaker alongside Pamela (Sister of Bruce) Springsteen. It was Night of the Comet, though, that made Kelli an iconic hit with sci-fi and horror-movie fans. She followed the film with the enjoyable Chopping Mall, which was filled with such B-movie players as Dick Miller, Gerrit Graham, Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov. She would also appear in Chopping Mall director Jim Wynorski's subsequent films Big Bad Mama II, Not of This Earth, Transylvania Twist and Hard to Die. After a brief hiatus, Kelli is back with a vengeance. In addition to starring in a number of upcoming genre pictures, she has also added "producer" to her credits with Shadowland and Nightmare Carnival.
Kelli was gracious enough to take time out from her hectic sked to talk with me about comet fiends and killer 'bots.
ROB FREESE How did you come to be involved with Night of the Comet?
KELLI MARONEY I was in L.A. "testing the waters" to see if I should relocate from NYC. My agent told me that I should come to L.A., so I visited and some auditions were set up. One of them was Night of the Comet. I went in and asked the producer, Wayne Crawford, if I could read for Regina. He said, "No." Apparently [director] Thom Eberhardt had mentioned that the "Spirit Bunny"-me-from Fast Times at Ridgemont High would be good for Samantha. But it by no means sealed the deal. I heard that Heather Langenkamp was close to getting the part, but the Comet producers said, "Yeah, but which girl could you picture shooting an Uzi?" So I got it. I auditioned for A Nightmare on Elm Street for her part as well. So we each got a part. I don't think we ever met, though.
RF What memories can you share from making the picture?
KM I remember laughing the hardest the first day on set when Cathy [Catherine Mary Stewart] held up that giant white loafer and dust spilled out of it and her line was, "Look! Here's Chuck!" I got the giggles and couldn't stop cracking up, which made her, and everyone, laugh too. I always look at that shot of me closing the door and remember that I was still trying to keep a straight face and probably still giggling after it closed. Robert [Beltran], I remember, was pretty serious and my scene with Mary [Woronov] was serious. She was great to work with and very "motherly" in our scene where she gives me a shot to make it look like I'm dead. Thom was like a real dad to us. He was really sensitive because he had a daughter who was not even a teenager yet. Geoffrey Lewis cracked us all up completely when we shot the part about him slowly getting the zombie stuff from the comet and he was walking down the hallway just yelling at everyone and getting all cranky. Also, Michael Bowen, who played Larry, Reg's guy in the projection room, was hilarious. The crew was young. Our First A.D., Gordon Boos, had a bunch of catchphrases that stay with me to this day. Like, "C'mon, people, this is location, not vacation." He later went on to be a director.
RF Did you receive any special training for the firearms you used in the film?
KM Before shooting, they took us to a real shooting range and taught us how to shoot. I had already shot guns in Slayground and on Ryan's Hope, so it wasn't my first time and I was a good shot.
RF Did you have any daily exercise routines since it was such a physical role that required a lot of running around and action?
KM We didn't exercise or anything special for the parts. We were kids! I don't remember how old Cathy was but we didn't have any problems with stamina or strength. I mostly do my own stunts, if possible, so the camera can get my face.
RF How much fun was it getting to run around the deserted department store with Catherine?
KM The department store was a little break for us because we had just shot a bunch of pretty intense scenes and we got to be goofy for a night. There was some comedy in our fight with the stock boys.
RF What are some of your favorite Comet scenes?
KM I like the scene on the cop car where I tell Reg about the boy I liked and my friend and I'm realizing that everyone I care about is gone and that life is all over. I like the mall stuff and the radio station stuff. I also like the shot where Hector blows up the scientists' compound and we all watch it go up and I'm holding the little girl. Well, I love the whole movie!
RF Did you get to see the film in a theater with an audience to react to it?
KM I never did get to see it in a theater! I ran out of money while waiting for the film to come out so, against my better judgment, I took a contract role on One Life to Live back in NYC. Then the film came out and I was stuck in New York. It was an awful experience, the timing of it, and I still regret not just hanging out in L.A. no matter what.
RF I find it interesting that Night of the Comet was released wide exactly one week after A Nightmare on Elm Street's 300-theater limited release. There was a nightmare sequence in Comet involving your character and a cop that would today be considered cliché because of Wes Craven's Nightmare, but at the time it was still fresh and surprising. At that point, people hadn't seen Freddy Krueger pull the same gag dozens of times.
KM It's weird how we had the nightmare sequence. I never questioned it. That sometimes happens in film. A couple of writers or directors come up with the same kind of concept at the same time. We had no idea that they were doing that and I'm sure they didn't know that we were either.
RF Did you hang out at malls to see how Samantha should act or did you have her down as soon as you read the script?
KM They told us not to bother with the real high-school girls or the mall because in reality the kids were so sophisticated and made-up, they came off as a lot older than we were supposed to be. The same thing happened on Fast Times. Samantha was pretty much completely me.
RF Did you recall your own high-school memories for the part? Were you a cheerleader like Samantha?
KM I never was a cheerleader and I had been working and not in school since age 16, on the soaps and the two films I did, Slayground and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. So I didn't have my school experience to draw on in that way. When I was in school I was concentrating on getting through it as fast as possible so I could pursue my dream. I guess I was quiet.
RF You brought an incredible amount of energy to the character.
KM I think Samantha's energy was the energy that I had about playing such a good role.
RF Why do you think Night of the Comet has such a lasting appeal?
KM Comet hits home in people's hearts and reality because it's about the people in the situation and not just the situation itself. It sure is a time capsule of the '80s when you look at those styles, but many films are. I think it's a film with a lot of hope and heart. Maybe that's why. The first draft of the script had Samantha really dying. Then later on, Regina finds a baby. Wayne Crawford said, "No way. Babies are too hard to deal with on a set. But the big reason we're not doing that is because if we kill this character, the audience will walk out of the theater." So Sammie lived and Mary Woronov became a true hero, which is more in line with the idea in the script about people looking out for each other when the chips are down.
RF Considering the massive list of films being remade these days, how would you feel about a Night of the Comet remake?
KM I would just hate a Comet remake. Why, to add a lot of "cool" special effects? What's the point? I hate remakes in general, but I would totally hate watching them try to recast Samantha and Regina.
RF So no way you'd play the wicked stepmother in a remake?
KM I wouldn't play another role in it, no! Me play Doris? Are you crazy?
RF What about continuing the story in a sequel?
KM I wanted to produce a sequel and had some plans for that, so I had my lawyers contact MGM about getting the rights. They informed me that they had them. Then the very next week they told us that the rights were not for sale and that MGM wanted to "develop" the project themselves now. Hmm-I probably just tipped them off. At least now there is a DVD available, which was the first thing I was planning to do anyway. With extras, though.
RF Would there have been any deleted scenes in your DVD release of Comet?
KM Let me say right here and now, there were no deleted scenes that didn't make it into the film. No, Cathy did not have a nude scene that was cut. No, I didn't either. I have heard that rumor and it is completely false.
RF You displayed some pretty impressive comedic skills in both Night of the Comet and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. You could have easily made a career in comedies. After Comet, did you get offers for only the horror and sci-fi roles or did you choose the roles in those types of films?
KM One question that always makes any intelligent actor laugh, unless they believe their own publicity and are full of themselves, is, "How do you choose your film roles?!" You don't. You get cast, and if you can afford not to and don't want to do the film, you don't have to, but you usually have to take what you get. I love doing comedy but I haven't gotten a chance to do many comedic films, it's true. Maybe in the future, hopefully. The popular way to get into comedy parts is to do stand-up but I so far have not had the guts. Even watching my friends do it makes my stomach jump. I studied at Second City in L.A. when they were first starting up here, and The Groundlings, too, to get into improvisation. Many really gifted comedians that I know came up through improv, so I was following their lead.
RF My next favorite film of yours is Chopping Mall, a fun flick that set the slasher genre on its ear by substituting the blade-wielding psycho with three short-circuiting mall security robots. How did you come to be involved with the film?
KM I auditioned for Chopping Mall while I was still shooting The Zero Boys, so I came first thing in the morning, right off the set. I was so tired from being up all night that [director] Jim Wynorski loved how "relaxed" I was! I wasn't so relaxed in subsequent callbacks and Julie Corman actually liked another actress better for the role. But it turns out that she didn't want to do any films with swearing in them, so I got it. Wynorski knew that I was popular after Fast Times and Comet and I bet he thought it would be good to have me for Chopping Mall, which was then called ROBOT. We had no idea that the name was going to change.
RF You never really fit the mold of the '80s "Scream Queen." More times than not you were the heroine who saved the day.
KM I never thought of myself as a "Scream Queen" at all either, although I'm a pretty good screamer. I always got the heroine parts, thank God. I had and have a personal rule about not dying onscreen. I was a tough kid. I did play Mark Harmon's suicidal mom in flashbacks in an episode of Chicago Hope to see what it would be like, and it was so depressing that I went back to my original feeling of not playing the victim. Because I learned the technique on the soaps of being able to cry, many casting directors called me in for victim roles and I always wanted to shout, "Have you ever seen my work?"
RF Is it liberating getting to play the heroine? Do girls fantasize about being superheroes too?
KM I think all people identify with the part inside them that rises to whatever challenge they have to face. Boys or girls. Does anyone really want to be helpless? I don't think so.
RF Did you get to meet any of the B-movie veterans who made guest appearances in Chopping Mall?
KM I met those actors really briefly but I wasn't in any scenes with them, unfortunately, and they were busy working. Jim Wynorski shoots fast and efficiently. There isn't too much hanging around on set, if he can help it.
RF What was it like working with the spiders and snakes in the pet shop scene?
KM If you look, a lot of Chopping Mall is homage to older films. Peckinpah's Sporting Goods Store, etc. For the Rogers' Little Shop of Pets scene, they brought in the snakes, tarantulas and a scorpion. Wynorski said that he wouldn't put anything on me that he wouldn't put on himself, so the bug wranglers dropped the scorpion on his crotch. That was the end of the scorpion. It was as big as a lobster, too. The bug [spider] wrangler just came up to me and said, "This old gal's name is Dolores. She's been in the business for years, worked with all the greats. She'll show you the ropes." So, I wasn't scared, just grossed out when it got close to my face. Dolores was probably grossed out by my '80s hair herself. The snakes weren't so bad because I was freezing and they were warm. I kind of forgot about them because of Dolores. Plus, on The Zero Boys set I'd had a boa constrictor on me and I knew how warm they were and well trained and probably tranquilized, who knows? Yipes! I was glad to be done with that shot in any case. Jim later put the "squish, squish" sound in post when it looks like I'm stepping on them as I leave.
RF After Chopping Mall you worked with Jim Wynorski on a number of films. What can you tell us about Jim that might shock us?
KM He yells a lot but the truth is that he is a really big kid just having a lot of fun. He just hates it when someone around him cramps his style or slows down the fast shooting that he's famous for and prides himself on. His favorite expression currently is, "Wear something low-cut." It's just a joke. He'll say, for example, "Meet me at wherever. I'll wear something low-cut." Many of the one-liners that he tosses around are actually lines from films, usually obscure. Good thing you aren't looking for dirt, though, because I don't have any. Except for this: He hates paying actors, especially me, anything. This is public knowledge, I think, but if not, now it is.
RF Any chance of you re-teaming with Wynorski for a future film?
KM He's shooting a film with Tony Todd and I was going to be in it. I get a call from his producer giving me my call time and stuff. I call Jim and ask him, "What am I playing? What are you paying me? We didn't discuss anything yet." He says, "Oh, you're Nurse #1 and it pays 200 bucks." I said, "With everyone asking us when we are going to do another film, that's what you come up with? Is it too late to ask you to get another actress? I'm not gonna do that." So he got Tony Todd's assistant to do the part. We've known each other so long by now I am not pissed off, insulted or surprised. But now when it comes up again he'll most likely say he tried to put me in a picture but I wouldn't go for it!
RF There was a time through the '90s that you seemed to stop making films altogether. What did you do with yourself during this time?
KM I took a break from acting for a couple of years because I was getting discouraged with the constant struggle of it. That's not the right attitude. You have to be lionhearted about it. So I did a lot of soul searching and spiritual work, if you will, and finally came to the realization, "Who am I kidding? Get back to work. Yeah, it's tough. So what?" So here I am again. Also, a song was written about me to the effect that I should get back onscreen. It's on my website now. (www.KelliMaroney.com)
RF What films should we look for you in?
KM I did a noir film with Thom Eberhardt called Face Down, with Joe Mantegna and Peter Riegert. I play a split personality and it's a great part. I believe it's playing now in the U.K. and Germany. Hopefully, Showtime will run it.
RF What about future films?
KM Currently I'm producing and starring in Nightmare Carnival, which is a genre film. We are in pre-production now. I can give you a hint about it-think of films like Freaks and Something Wicked This Way Comes and David Lynch stuff, but make it weirder and you will have an idea what we're going for with it. I am also producing and starring in Shadowland, with David Marshal from Twin Peaks. You'd think I'd get offers to do sci-fi and horror but no one is knocking my door down. I don't know why. I'm professional and I am pretty sure I have a "name" in the genre, but it's a fact.