It seems fitting today to invoke a post-apocalyptic movie, albeit one of the most non-threatening post-apocalyptic movies ever made. Night of the Comet (1984) is a sci-fi-comedy about two teenage sisters from the Valley, Reggie (Catherine Mary Stewart) and Samantha (Kelli Maroney), who appear to be the sole survivors after a comet strikes Earth right around Christmas. Since the film takes place in Los Angeles, Night of the Comet captures the already other-worldly feeling of spending your holiday season in a warm climate, where the Christmas carols and decorations feel completely incongruous (a feeling I’m accustomed to as a native Floridian). In one scene, Reggie is riding a motorcycle through downtown L.A. the morning after the comet, still unaware of the fatal change that has taken place; she stops at a red light, next to a Mercedes, inside which the radio croons “Jingle Bells”, only with no driver in the car to listen to it.
This complicated comet only pushes life further into the extreme. While there are a few survivors who, like Reggie and Sam, seem totally fine (including Hector, a handsome, resourceful guy—played by Robert Beltran—who happens into their lives unexpectedly), almost everyone else has been reduced to an orange dust. (Think Trump, if he were a Kool-Aid mix.) Others, meanwhile, have been turned into “freaked-out zombies,” slowly dissolving into the Trump dust, but in the meantime, doing the usual work of zombies. There’s also a cadre of malicious scientists (headed by Geoffrey Lewis and Mary Woronov) trying to find a serum that will cure people who’ve been “partially exposed.” Essentially, everything you could possibly want from a movie of this kind.
So while Night of the Comet isn’t much more than a cherry-picked mélange of every memorable sci-fi and horror film of the 1950s and '60s, it does offer its share of delightful surprises, namely the fact that much of the movie revolves around these two girls, Reggie and Sam. It’s rare that a horror/sci-fi picture cares about two women hanging out, but the genre in the '80s was surprisingly open to such possibilities, given that so many films from that period revolved around teenagers just hanging out. The difference is that, unlike movies such as Fast Times at Ridgemont High and even Valley Girl, which feels like Comet’s spiritual cinema-sister, Night of the Comet hinges on the bond between Reggie and Sam, and their ability to survive in this Twilight Zone-esque new reality, rather than on a budding romance. (Although there is a budding romance, and it’s somehow both hipply modern, in that Hector is Hispanic and Reggie is white, and also strangely conventional, because they wind up turning into a banal married couple, adopting two surviving kids into the bargain.)
The scene I’ll briefly describe involves a shootout between the girls and a handful of angry zombie stock-boys at a downtown shopping mall. (These zombies, unlike those in the George Romero world, talk and move like regular people; they function more like homicidal maniacs with sunken eyes and pale skin.) Reggie and Sam have broken into a department store, trying on bad '80s outfit after bad '80s outfit, while a knockoff version of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” plays from a nearby boombox. But the stock-boys are pissed that Reggie and Sam would dare steal merch from their store, even in a world with “nobody, I mean no-body!” (to quote Reggie) to enforce the old rules. (These stock-boys have taken on a sense of capitalistic ownership that feels completely apropos, both then and now.)
Earlier, we see Reggie and Sam familiarizing themselves with machine guns they’ve somehow managed to get hold of (their dad was in the Marines and taught them how to shoot). So this gunfight is between equals, and Reggie proves smart and fearless, while Samantha is cheeky and impulsive: the right combination for any duo. Reggie dodges sprays of bullets and fires back with the confidence of a double agent (dressed in a snazzy black leather dress). And while the scene is exciting and tense, it also seems to be perpetually sloughing off the reality of its world, lost in a teenage haze of deluded euphoria.
The director, Thom Eberhardt, never takes the apocalypse too seriously. And why should he? Post-apocalyptic movies are usually so dismal, another reason I find the fluffy, playful tone of Night of the Comet totally endearing. This movie fills me with a warm, glowy nostalgia, and if I survive the end of the world, I’d like to join up with these two plucky, smart women. (Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelli Maroney, if you are reading this, I’m totally down for some “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” karaoke.)
*Editor's note: As the above video states, that's the entire movie. We've got it set to start at the beginning of the scene and it ends around 1:01:14. Feel free to keep watching, however! :)