Girls Just Wanna Survive the Apocalypse
DIRECTED BY THOM EBERHARDT
There’s a famous line from Season 1 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Well, famous among Buffy fans, at least). Faced with yet another warning of impending doom from her Watcher, 15-year-old Buffy responds brightly, “If the apocalypse comes, beep me.” After watching Night of the Comet it does not surprise me to know that Joss Whedon cited it as a “big influence” in the creation of Buffy. Night of the Comet has not one, but two Valley Girls who, like Buffy, face down evil with bravery, wisecracks, and flawless hair.
My biggest question about Night of the Comet is how I missed this movie in the ’80s. It’s from the producers of Valley Girl (1983) and was an attempt to follow up on that movie’s popularity. Night of the Comet crashed at the box office, no pun intended, but it’s found its way as a cult classic over time. But somehow I only saw it just recently. I’ve watched it twice now and my fondness for it is increasing. It’s not a good movie, exactly, but it’s got some really wonderful visuals and, considering its age, a shocking amount of respect for its young female lead characters.
Regina (Catherine Mary Stewart) and Samantha (Kelli Maroney) are teenage sisters, stuck with their evil stepmother, Doris (Sharon Farrell) while their Green Beret father is in Nicaragua. Doris is really and truly bad, both cheating on her husband and abusing her stepdaughters. When Samantha, the sassy younger sister, confronts Doris about her adultery, Doris punches Samantha in the face hard enough to knock her across the room – at a party, in front of a crowd of adult friends! (This is our first clue that most of the adults in Night of the Comet are going to be either malevolent or useless).
While Samantha is a bubbly cheerleader, 18 year old Regina is a sullen movie theater employee. Not a dedicated employee, really, since she spends her time playing Tempest (she’s very good), swiping candy, and sleeping with the skeevy projectionist, Larry. She is, in fact, in the steel lined projection booth with Larry when a comet passes near the earth. Samantha, hiding out from Doris, has spent the night in a steel garden shed. This is important, since being inside a steel structure is critical to surviving the comet’s destruction. Those with the misfortune to not be encased in steel are turned to a fine, red powder. Trying to convince Samantha of what’s happened, Regina holds up Doris’s dress. “Here’s Doris!” she says, “and here’s Chuck!” (the neighbor with whom Doris was having a dalliance), Regina adds, dumping powder out of a man’s shoe. In one of Night of the Comet’s most iconic lines Regina follows up by shouting, “It’s Saturday morning. Where are the kids? Where are the goddamn kids?”
The rest of the Night of the Comet follows Reggie and Sam as they try to make contact with other survivors and encounter the good – Robert Beltran as a handsome truck driver; the bad – scientists who are killing survivors to harvest their blood for a cure; and the ugly – zombies. Yes, there are zombies in Night of the Comet. Those who were not turned to a fine powder are morphing into a violent, brain-dead horde. In perhaps the movie’s most entertaining episode, a lighthearted trip to the mall is interrupted when Reggie and Sam are attacked by a crew of half-zombified stockboys, still on the job and heavily armed. The stockboys have a Bauhaus kind of vibe. Their gaunt, grinning leader looks like early 80s Ric Ocasek. Sam, scrappy kid that she is, responds to a hail of gunfire by hunkering down in the footwear department and hurling women’s dress shoes at the stock boys.
Reggie and Sam are “rescued” from the mall by scientists who have nefarious plans, but the girls are ultimately aided by a sympathetic female scientist (Mary Woronov). Of course, it’s hard to have a happy ending when humanity is very nearly dead, but Night of the Comet comes close – in large part because of the unfailing toughness and pluck of Reggie and Sam. If humanity has to start over it could do worse than with these two (and, of course, a couple of conveniently handsome young men).
Night of the Comet is a very silly movie, but it’s well executed visually. The red haze and empty streets make you truly feel that L.A. has been decimated. It took a lot of craft and cunning to pull that off on a low budget. The sisters themselves have a wonderfully 80s look going, with their gloriously feathered hair and rad clothes. Sam spends much of the film in a pink and blue cheerleading outfit (did I mention that she inspired Buffy?). Stewart’s Reggie is strong, no nonsense, and capable but Maroney steals the film as the wittier and more emotionally complex Sam. Only the bright and bubbly Sam could get away with the dark jokes she makes as she briefly serves as a radio DJ in an other of the film’s memorable scenes. And the 80s neon decor in that radio station is glorious!
Night of the Comet is a blast to watch and well worth finding.
Most Typical Teen Movie Moment: A montage of Reggie and Sam trying on clothes and dancing through the mall as the soundtrack plays “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”.