Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Movie – Night of the Comet (1984)

Return with me, if you will, to the early 1980s (aka the Valley Girl Ages).  Frank Zappa’s song Valley Girl had been a big phenomenon and had captured a moment in time of “teen speak” from his southern California daughter and her friends.  It became a bit of a social phenomenon and even Hollywood jumped on the bandwagon.  There were a string of movies about empty-headed valley girls.  Towards the end of this run the movie Night of the Comet hit theaters.  Long before Joss Whedon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame had the thought “what if a monster follows a pretty blond girl into an alley and she kills him?” this film made two valley girls the seemingly sole human survivors of a global catastrophe.  They weren’t empty headed, though, and their military man father had trained them in self defense and how to fire a weapon.  The result was a very tongue in cheek film – one that most horror fans were not ready for.

Regina, played by Catherine Mary Stewart (The Last Starfighter), is a teenager who works in a cinema.  Her boyfriend runs the projector.  Her boss isn’t the greatest to either of them, so they feel like they can do what they want when he’s not around.  That night Earth is going to pass through the tail of a comet and everyone is going to be watching it.  As a teenager what’s more important – a comet or having sex?  The decision is an easy one and she spends the night in the steel-lined projection booth with her boyfriend.  This saves her life (long before the movie Scream made jokes about having sex in a horror movie always gets you killed.)

Meanwhile Regina’s younger sister Samantha, played by Kelli Maroney (Fast Times at Ridgemont High), has gotten into a fight with their stepmother (Sharon Farrell) and decides to run away.  She doesn’t get very far; she sleeps in their steel garden shed.

Regina and her boyfriend wake up the next morning.  He goes outside and gets killed by, well, might as well call it a zombie.  (The working title for the film was Teenage Mutant Horror Comet Zombies – before anyone had ever heard of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.)  While she is waiting for him to return Regina plays a video game because she is pissed that someone with the initials “DMK” has beaten her high score.  I mention this because you should watch for a funny call back to “DMK” at the end of the movie.

Regina finally goes looking for her boyfriend and also gets attacked.  Because she knows self defense she is able to fight off the zombie, get to her boyfriend’s motorcycle, and get away.  While riding home she sees the streets covered with empty clothing and all kinds of red dust blowing around.  She doesn’t see anyone.  She finally gets home and finds only her sister Samantha still alive.  Regina tries to explain that everyone else is dead.  The comet must have been the cause. 

They hear a DJ still broadcasting on a radio station and head downtown to find what they think is another survivor.  It turns out the station is automated, but they do run into Hector, played by Robert Beltran, who many years later would play Chakotay on Star Trek: Voyager.  Hector is a truck driver and had spent the night in his steel trailer having sex with a woman he had met.  (Once again, sex saves lives – in a horror movie, no less.)  The woman had panicked the next morning, run off, and been killed by a zombie.  He heard the same broadcast the girls did and had gone to the station for the same reason.

The three decide to broadcast live from the station, asking anyone still alive to contact them.  Soon a group of scientists call and let them know what happened.  The comet did turn everyone to dust, but those who were only partially exposed are turning into zombies – how fast depends on how exposed they were.  The scientists will send a rescue team to pick up the three the next morning.  With a night to kill Hector decides to drive to his parents’ house to see if they are still alive.  What would Valley Girls do to kill time?  Why raid a military armory, of course.  Oh, and they also go to the mall.

There’s a funny scene where Samantha (still in the cheerleader outfit she was wearing when she spent the night in the garden shed) is firing a machinegun at a car to test it.  She very professionally tries to clear a jam, then turns to her older sister and accusingly says, “That’s what’s wrong with the Mac-10.  Daddy would have gotten us Uzis.”  Regina, in order to cheer up Samantha both about the guns, and about the fact that Hector only has eyes for Regina, takes her younger sister to the mall.  Cue a montage scene where the girls are wearing fabulous clothes they would never have been able to afford, set to the strains of the quintessential early 80s pop song - Cyndi Lauper's Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.  (This is just one of the many scenes in the film that fried the brains of horror fans because they had never seen anything like it in something that was supposed to be a horror film.)

I won’t go into too much more detail, but being at the mall isn’t the safest place to be, and these scientists have more up their sleeves than they originally let on.  There’s a great line from one of their nurses – “I love working with children” – in a context that is really twisted.  Naturally, I laughed quite a bit at it.

Both Stewart and Maroney do great jobs as the teenage girls who are both initially horrified by what has happened, but quickly become ecstatic about what they can do to have some fun.  For example, while broadcasting on the radio station Samantha announces that “as one-third owner of the greater Los Angeles basin” she is lowering the legal drinking age to 12.

This is a fun, “totally awesome, for sure” movie – if you are in the right mood.  If you are looking for more serious horror fare then you will probably want to skip this.  On the other hand, if you are looking to have some fun while two valley girls save the world, then this is definitely a movie you will want to see.  I recommend you give it a try.

Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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  1. I like this film a lot. There are fun homages to other great horror films here--that they go to the mall makes sense based on the characters, of course, but certainly serves as a wink to Dawn of the Dead as well.

    Yes, it's goofy and weird, but it has a really fun vibe to it. I've got this on one of my horror lists, and I'm really looking forward to revisiting it.

    1. I thought you might have seen it and wondered if you had liked it. After I wrote this review I took my own advice and popped in my DVD of it. I didn't watch the whole thing, but I picked the best scenes. I had forgotten a funny sequence right at the end about crossing against the light (not that it would have had a place in the review anyway.)