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Reviews Favorites: The Apocalypse

Night of the Comet

Night of the Comet

Thom E. Eberhardt

USA, 1984

Credits

Review by Josh Bell

Posted on 14 August 2013

Source MGM DVD

Categories Favorites: The Apocalypse

For the teenage protagonists of Night of the Comet, the apocalypse is just another adolescent inconvenience, albeit blown up on a much larger scale. Sisters Regina and Samantha Belmont both survive the movie’s inciting apocalyptic event thanks to typical teenage shenanigans: for 18-year-old Regina, it’s having sex with her boyfriend in the projection booth of the movie theater where they both work, and for the younger Samantha, it’s spending the night in a lawn shed after deciding to run away following a fight with her stepmother. Because both sisters were protected by steel enclosures when Earth passed through the tail of a deadly comet, they avoided the fate of nearly every other person on the planet (being reduced to a pile of reddish-brown dust).

The movie opens with an omniscient narrator (who’s never heard from again) describing how the comet’s last visit led to the extinction of the dinosaurs, and news reports in early scenes indicate that something may have gone wrong in Newfoundland, where the comet is first sighted. But otherwise the perspective is fairly narrow, focusing on Los Angeles residents Regina and Samantha and the handful of other people they meet. “Do you think whatever happened happened everywhere, like in Burbank and places like that?” Samantha asks once Regina has explained to her that there really was an apocalypse, and it’s not just that none of her friends will answer her phone calls.

Being (nearly) the last people on Earth gives Regina and Samantha an excuse for teenage carousing, but one of the best things about Night of the Comet is the way it balances goofy, parents-are-out-of-town fun with serious introspection. Regina and Samantha’s distant, cold father (presumably killed by the comet, although it’s unclear since he was in another country at the time) is a source of both angst and inspiration for the sisters. His obsession with military training gives them an edge when it comes to arming themselves for the post-apocalypse (“Daddy would’ve gotten us Uzis,” Samantha laments when they have to make do with substandard firearms), but it also contributes to their abandonment issues, the way they cling to each other as the only real family they have (both before and after the end of the world).

All of the exuberant humor and genuine emotion of the movie is captured in the mid-film scene that finds the two sisters romping through a department store in a shopping montage set to a knock-off cover version of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” (performed by Tami Holbrook). Free of adult influence and the burdens of financial obligations, Regina and Samantha pillage the shelves at a local mall (“Where would adolescents with nothing to do go?” ask the government scientists who are tracking them down), setting their machine guns down amid high heels. Immediately after this celebratory moment, basking in the freedom of a world in which they are among the only people left, the sisters are captured and nearly killed by a band of thugs who are suffering the comet’s lingering after-effects, making them into zombie-like psychopaths.

The band of scientists attempting to return some semblance of authority to the world (or at least to Southern California) are suffering from the same fate, and the movie’s final third finds Regina and Samantha (as well as truck driver Hector, whom they discover and befriend the morning after the comet hits) pitted against the slowly zombifying researchers. Again, serious danger is treated as a teenage lark, with Regina reminiscing about a mono infection and a pregnancy scare while being interrogated, and complimenting Samantha on her outfit when she shows up to rescue her sister. That upbeat adolescent attitude turns out to be one of the sisters’ greatest assets (and the movie’s, too). They end the movie as positive and exuberant as ever, Regina playing at marriage and parenthood (to a couple of kids who survived the comet) with Hector, and Samantha finally meeting a cute boy. “The whole burden of civilization has fallen upon us,” Regina admonishes her sister, but their version of civilization looks like a blast.

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