When "Zombieland" clawed its way to the top of the box office last weekend with a healthy $24-million gross, it proved that humans had an appetite for a movie that was not only funny and gory but also tenderhearted and romantic.
It also proved that a remarkably similar film, Thom Eberhardt's "Night of the Comet," was about 25 years ahead of its time.
The film went largely unnoticed when it was released in November 1984, halfway between the debuts of John Hughes' teen flick "Sixteen Candles" and George A. Romero's bloody "Day of the Dead." Whether the makers of "Zombieland" saw the movie or not, they owe it a few debts.
Both films are set largely in Los Angeles, for starters. The heroine of "Comet" is a valley girl (Catherine Mary Stewart) obsessed with the video game Tempest, while "Zombieland" stars Jesse Eisenberg as a nerd who plays World of Warcraft. Both characters come from dysfunctional families who don't survive the apocalypse. And both movies are surprisingly sensitive and sometimes downright romantic. Had "Comet" come out today, its Hispanic male lead (Robert Beltran) might have been allowed to get a little cozier with his white co-star.
"Night of the Comet" got a second life on VHS in 1985, which is probably how most people first saw it. Perhaps, in the Netflix era, this overlooked gem can once again rise from the dead.