The Night Before

December 11, 2012

nightbefore2_5“I was supposed to have her home by midnight. Instead, I sold her to a pimp.” Such is the existential lament of the high-school hero of The Night Before, a nerd who’s lost his date on prom night.

The only reason the popular cheerleader (Lori Laughlin) is going out with the school pencil-neck (Keanu Reeves) is that she lost a bet, and is stuck with his company. But the nightmare doesn’t really begin until they’re deep into the inner city, having taken a few wrong turns along the way. There, with unerring dimwittedness, Reeves manages to misplace his car, his wallet, and his date.

At a club called the Rat’s Nest, Reeves has been served a Mickey, in the form of a tequila and ginger ale. In this state, he unknowingly sells the cheerleader for $1,500 to a pimp (Trinidad Silva). A bystander notes that Reeves should’ve held out for at least $3,000. The rest of the movie has Reeves trying to recover the girl before she is sold into white slavery and shipped off to Morocco.

This movie shoots itself in the foot right away, since it begins with the night already half over and Reeves piecing together the preceding events in flashback. This device effectively halts any healthy narrative development, not that there is much to begin with.

Director and co-writer Thom Eberhardt piles on the bad news for our hero, but the inner-city disasters pale next to the recent model for such nightmare comedies, After Hours.

Reeves, who was the kid with a conscience in River’s Edge, gives an utterly graceless performance here, although that appears to be what the director wanted. Laughlin spends the entire movie in an attitude of perpetual (and occasionally amusing) disdain. The only performer to strike an interesting note is Theresa Saldana, who plays a good-natured lady of the evening. Other than that, this film is best consigned to that burgeoning population of films that are soon to be seen at a video store near you.

First published in the Herald, March 15, 1988

Eberhardt had directed Night of the Comet in ’84. Trinidad Silva should be fondly remembered for his ongoing role as the gang leader in “Hill Street Blues”; he died in a car accident a few months after The Night Before came out. Saldana had, earlier in the decade, been attacked and seriously wounded by a deranged man. Nobody remembers this movie.

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Night of the Comet

August 1, 2011

Night of the Comet is one of those weird Day After movies in which a few earthlings have to re-construct the trappings of civilization following a world-wide disaster. This sort of scenario had a heyday in the 1950s, when the world trembled in the shadow of the Bomb. Cheap science-fiction movies stepped in to offer their versions of post-apocalypse life.

As the title suggests, Night of the Comet presents a disaster of natural, not nuclear, causes. A hitherto unrecorded comet veers by the Earth and turns 99 percent of the population into little piles of red dust. The only people spared are those who happened to pass the time within steel enclosures.

Our heroine (Catherine Mary Stewart), for instance, spend the evening cuddling up to the projectionist at the local movie house. They camped inside the projection booth itself, and because the booth is made of steel (to comply with fire regulations), they survive.

For the projectionist, it’s a short-lived stay of execution. He’s waylaid at the theater door by a skuzzy semi-human. It seems the people who weren’t turned into dust became zombies who try to kill normal survivors. It doesn’t really make much sense, but you’ve got to give the survivors some challenges.

The girl gets back home, where her sister also made it through the night (some coincidence) by sleeping in the tool shed, or something. So the two of them roam about the city raiding the shopping malls and taking a little target practice on parked cars; they’ve stocked up on guns so they can dispose of the bothersome zombies.

Somewhere, buried out in the desert, is a think tank of scientists who expected the disaster. They start scrounging around for survivors, but not for humanitarian reasons; some bonehead left the ventilation system on during the comet’s appearance, and the scientists know they are about to turn into zombies, too. Unless, that is, they can find an antidote in the blood of the survivors.

All of this nonsense is delivered in an utterly loopy fashion, stuffed with jokes and bizarre behavioral detail, as though the filmmakers knew perfectly well how absurd this all was. In a way, Night of the Comet reminded me a little of that outrageously violent Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, The Terminator. Both try to combine humor with action, and both are proud of their exploitation-film status.

Also, while neither film is any great work of art by itself, both promise much from their young directors. The man who wrote and directed Night of the Comet, Thom Eberhardt, has barely made a mark even in cheapie cinema, but he may yet put it all together. What he tries to do here is get a blend of comedy and horror much in the spirit of Gremlins. It doesn’t all come off, and sometimes the combination of tones is jarring. But it’s a promising effort.

First published in the Herald, November 22, 1984

Those of you who put your money on James Cameron rather than Thom Eberhardt, collect your winnings. Eberhardt’s IMDb “trivia” says he worked in public-TV documentaries before turning to features, and he’s listed as a production assistant on Steven Spielberg’s Amblin’. Whatever goodwill Eberhardt built up with this movie definitively ended for me with the dismal Captain Ron, a really terrible experience. This movie was near the beginning of the Eighties run of Catherine Mary Stewart, one of the tri-named starlets of the era (I interviewed her around the time of Mischief, another review I must dig up). By the way, the projection-booth apocalypse-survival gag was recently used in Brad Anderson’s Vanishing on 7th Street, a movie far less fun than this one.