Wouldn’t it be nice if when the zombie apocalypse came, we could just pretend everything was fine until it was? Well, a deep dive into Night of the Comet shows us it wouldn’t be as nice as it sounds.
It is nearly Christmas, and the world is about to be graced with the appearance of a comet that has such a long path that it last was seen by dinosaurs. Nearly the whole world is outside to watch the comet pass by. Everything is fun and celebration until the morning comes and nothing is left but red dust, clothing, and a few zombies. Reggie (Catherine Mary Stewart) and Sam Belmont (Kelli Maroney) are among the few survivors in Thom Eberhardt’s Night of the Comet. But, this is not a typical zombie horror flick.
Reggie and Sam come from a military family with a father who taught his daughters everything there is to know about rapid-fire weaponry. Night of the Comet is a quintessential exploitation film. It forgoes plot in favor of extravagance that edges on pandering to the audience. In this film’s case, that is fulfilled by the fact that it features primarily young, attractive women who shoot high powered guns and talk openly about sex. All fulfill a certain type of viewer’s fantasy more so than their artistic craving.
This does not stop Night of the Comet from having immense value to its viewers. In the midst of all of the over-the-top presentation is a serious message that attentive viewers might discern. In the wake of a zombie apocalypse, Night of the Comet presents a story about two girls who virtually ignore their dire circumstances. It is not only in service of the plot, but it is a ghastly reflection on the real world and people’s reactions to dire circumstances that do not affect them personally.
Its Very Existence
Night of the Comet is a movie about two sisters who decide the best way to treat the end of the world is to act as if everything is normal. The viewer knows nothing is okay. Each scene is tied together by shots of the empty streets of Las Angeles encased in a menacing red glow. Red dust and empty clothing litter the ground everywhere. There is no sympathy for the girls’ cruel stepmother (Sharon Farrell) when she dies, but it is gruesome nonetheless.
The girls react appropriately at first. Sam begins in denial while Reggie mourns the likely loss of Larry (Michael Bowen), the boy she “makes it” with in the movie theater projection room the night of the comet. They are fortunate to have survived and are quick to recognize this. As with most people who witness devastation but are not directly impacted, they are considerably distraught at first.
But the feeling of distress quickly dissipates as the girls take account of their lot. They immediately seek normalcy. They go to the radio station in search of the voice they hear on the radio only to instead find another survivor, Hector Gomez (Robert Beltran). Hector is much more pragmatic in his approach to the end of the world. Rather than bask in his fortune, he is driven to search for his family in San Diego in spite of knowing that they have not likely survived. The stark difference in Reggie and Sam’s approach and Hector’s approach to the apocalypse is perhaps the scariest part of the movie. The girls seem to simply not care while the results of this doom is all Hector cares about.
I’m Not Crazy I Just Don’t Give A F***
Sam and Reggie provide some excuse for their apparent lack of interest in the fate of the world. Their father is out of the country and Reggie, who is the main protagonist, is portrayed as somewhat of a loner. She begins the movie playing an arcade game and ignoring her boss’s instructions, emblematic at the time of a girl who just does not care for her expected role. Nonetheless, their quick descent into ignoring the zombie dilemma reaches its peak as they decide to go on a shopping spree.
Some others had also survived the end of the world. The stockboys at the local department store have gone crazy with their newfound power and position. When Reggie and Sam begin taking things from the store, these boys cling to their old-world notion of power. They own the store, so the girls must pay. But, after a high-powered gunfight breaks out, both Reggie and the stockboys’ leader Willy (Ivan Roth) have a hostage. Willy has taken Sam and Reggie has taken one of the stockboys. Assuring Willy he has no chance of getting out of the situation alive, Willy refutes. He can’t let her hold one of them hostage. Willy shoots the hostage, Reggie declares him crazy, and Willy proclaims, “I’m not crazy, I just don’t give a f***!”
So much is revealed about humanity in this moment. The entire premise on which the stockboys’ fight with Reggie and Sam is based is that they own the store and thus the girls must pay for what they take. But, to shoot one of his own and make such a bold statement shows that Willy never really cared about the system, the “American Way” he goes on to explain belittlingly to his two captives. He just cared about the power and control that it provided him. The institutions his bosses held on to so dearly and regaled the stockboys with was an ideation they were no longer beholden to. With the confines of society dissipated, Willy no longer had to care about laws and norms. He could just shoot whoever he pleased and handle the situation however he saw fit.
The American Way… And Then This Happened
A mysterious group of scientists rescues Sam and Reggie. They seem to be afflicted by something degenerative that takes their memory and turns them into zombies. Audrey (Mary Woronov) wants just to ignore the survivors. The rest of the doctors want to take a few back to their base to experiment on. Audrey, however, comes to realize the same thing as Willy and as Sam and Reggie. The end of the world just happened. She no longer has to care about authority or any opinion but her own. She forgoes her orders to kill Sam, who has been affected by a rash that may eventually result in her zombification. She instead temporarily knocks her out, hoping the girl will wake up and take revenge on the evil scientists for their wrongdoings.
Some things never change though. In spite of Reggie and Sam being extremely competent individuals and Audrey having been the catalyst for making their success possible, the film’s one, mostly absentee male character is the ultimate savior. Despite having less screen time than either of the two female leads, Robert Beltran received top billing over both actresses and dominated a significant portion of their conversations together. This common affliction in cinema remains thematic in Night of the Comet nonetheless.
It is far more comfortable to ignore a problem than to try to solve it. Reggie and Sam elect not to seek out survivors and band together for survival. Instead, they briefly grieve and then move on to shooting guns going full cliche, dancing to Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun in an abandoned shopping mall. The men in the film, from Larry to Hector, to Mel the theater owner (Stanley Brock) and the male doctors, they are all about serious business. Sam and Reggie just want to have fun. Whether the masculinization of responsibility was intentional or not, the result is a subversion of the trope. Ultimately, the girls win. They kill the bad guys, escape from their lair, and get the boys. Their desire to take the end of the world less seriously, much like the minds behind Night of the Comet itself, was not a liability, it was an asset. Without it, they never would have had the guns they needed to survive, and the film would have just been a cheap zombie flick.
The world ended and then what happened was nothing changed. Nobody acted outside of their expectations. Yet, even while everything remained the same, something about human nature was revealed. Crises do not change people. They only reveal who they truly are. Most often, they are self-interested and seeking the easiest way to accommodate themselves. The scariest part of this movie is not the end of the world. It is not the zombies. It is that in spite of all that, humanity is still nasty, brutish, and short-lived. There is no thing new under the sun, or in this case, a comet. Even a subverted trope is just a subversion of expectations, not an anomaly in the fabric of reality.