Pop Culture Homework Assignment #10: Night of the Comet

You know what the best motivator for finally catching up on my Pop Culture Homework is? A notification from Netflix that something is about to expire. Something will be sitting on the list for months and months, to the point that I might not ever get to it, when suddenly, someone tells me I only have a week left, and I immediately start to carve out time to watch it. Pavlov's dog would be proud. One of these hurry-up notifications came the other day, and is what finally got me to settle in for the 1984 cult classic Night of the Comet.

Some preliminary work needed to be done. I knew that this was classified as a horror movie, so I fired off a tweet to the illustrious Hardcover Honey (AKA - my sister) for a report on how gory I could expect this thing to be. I remembered that it was a favorite of hers when she was younger, and figured she'd know if I could handle it or not. She scoffed, and told me that I'd be fine. No exploding skulls or stray viscera to worry about, here. A grim evening of terrible weather arrived a few days later, and I figured this was the moment to take advantage of a good doomsday flick.

I tend to like disaster movies and end-of-the-world stories, provided they're done well; my copy of The Stand has permanent oil spots from my thumbing through it so often. Night of the Comet is in the same vein. Some catastrophe has wiped out the majority of the world's population (in this case, the titular comet), and the remaining survivors struggle to adapt to the new world and the other people in it. The movie's protagonists are a pair of teenaged sisters, Reggie (Catherine Mary Stewart) and Sam (Kelli Maroney). Anyone who misses the big comet show and is protected by a layer of steel lives on, so Reggie is spared by having sex with her boyfriend in a projection room, and Sam by spending the night in a garden shed after getting punched by her stepmother. No, really!

People out in the open are turned to dust, but those who had minimal protection go through a more protracted downturn, marked by some mild zombie-ism. After Reggie's boyfriend is eaten by one of these skin-munchers, she and Sam head for the local radio station, where they meet another survivor, Hector (Robert Beltran). From there, the three of them face off against hungry zombies and evil scientists eager to drain their blood in order to find a cure for impending zombification.

Let's get two quick things out of the way. One, this is a very '80s movie. The clothes, the movie, the slang... All of it brings back fond memories of Lite-Brites and DangerMouse cartoons. There's even a shopping montage, because end-of-the-world be damned, this is an '80s movie, and OF COURSE THERE'S A SHOPPING MONTAGE. Secondly, you should know that everyone in this movie is an idiot. The heroes? Idiots. The villains? Idiots. The side-characters? Idiots. Surprisingly, the characters' idiocy detracted very little from the fun. That's probably because every niggling little thing that's wrong with this movie is counter-acted by the one thing it did very right.

This is a horror movie made in the '80s featuring female characters with actual agency. That's a deceptively simple idea, but it kept striking me over and over how refreshing it was to see a movie from this time period revolve around two girls navigating the apocalypse by being capable. Neither of them breaks down into hysterics. Neither of them goes running for a man to solve all her problems. When Reggie's boyfriend is eaten, she does not cower in a corner; she takes out the zombie with a wrench. I stand by my claim that both sisters are idiots, but at least they're idiots with senses of self-preservation, who clearly love each other and want to protect the other from harm.

I'm not quite sure what made this film catch on, and why it's considered a cult classic. It's a fairly simple story, with none of the gore that made the slashers of the '80s so popular. That said, I can certainly think of less deserving titles to become cherished. It's a silly movie, but at least it's silly and fun. It was, like, totally awesome! Oh, gag me with a spoon! I've become infected with '80s slang! Radical!

Night of the Comet: B+


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