One doesn’t expect to hear Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” during a sci-fi movie set in a post-apocalyptic setting, but one also doesn’t expect a film in which civilization has turned into piles of dust or eyeless zombies to feature a shopping sequence, either. Indeed, Night of the Comet is one of the best sci-fi parodies ever made, but let’s not forget how magnificently weird it is — just because satire and curveballs are on full display doesn’t mean that we can’t praise it for having the balls to present its satire so unconventionally.
Rather than pulling the usual stunt always recurring in post-apocalyptic movies where the only survivors are badasses (I don’t care how mad Max is), Night of the Comet twists the ankles of the norm and gives the under-appreciated stereotype of the Valley Girl a chance to dress up as a road warrior for once in their materialistic lifetime. Shame that the world’s smartest men and women didn’t survive — the girls of Night of the Comet just so happened to be in steel encased rooms during the disastrous titular event.
In the film, our heroines are Reggie (Mary Catherine Stewart) and Sam (Kelli Maroney), sisters with a well-matched taste for the more shallow things in life. Being a teenager in 1980s California is not a strenuous living, and so their worries are little: Reggie works, apathetically, I might add, at a local theater, hooking up with a coworker in the projection room on a regular basis; Sam, a cheerleader, is more concerned about which nearby boy toy might succeed as a future suitor. It’s a coincidence that family members can survive a devastating event without any prior coordination, but I’m not taking any chances questioning the logic of the film.
As previously mentioned, the only remnants of the Earth’s population are scattered piles of dust surrounded by clothing (ick); but, if lucky, survivors continue to live on as zombies who don’t seem to be the brain-eating kind, instead a gaggle of pale-faced sadists roaming around the area. Such an atmosphere might be frightening for the typical Valley Girl, but Reggie and Sam aren’t so average. As if planning for the apocalypse during their childhood, their father, a Green Beret, made sure not to teach them about the joys of dollies and makeup but of automatic weapons and using them effectively. A strange place an ‘80s sci-fi movie is.
In the meantime, underground scientists who seem to be behind the incident or, at the very least, parties who knew of the possible damage but didn’t share such details, discover Reggie and Sam’s whereabouts and step out into the wilderness to bring them back for tests that could end in their demises. Good thing the girls come across another survivor (Robert Beltran) — then they’d really be done for.
Night of the Comet has a few frustrating issues with pace and story (it lacks energy one would expect in such a tongue-in-cheek film, and the subplot involving the secretive government officials is a middling attempt to add intrigue into the movie’s mix), but it is a product of the times so nostalgic, humorous, and appealing that we can appreciate it for the way it doesn't take itself seriously while still managing to work as general science fiction film.
Stewart and Maroney are vivacious, and Thom Eberhardt’s direction and writing is ceaselessly lip-smacking — one-liners are just as strong as moments of action. And let’s not forget about the neon set design that sometimes frequents the premises. Is it not the perfect touch a film as much of a throwback as this one needs?
Flawed is Night of the Comet, but bad it isn’t. It’s a cult film deserving of more followers — maybe the teens who take a liking to Clueless will discover this gem sooner or later. Let’s just hope they don’t get to Tank Girl first. People should experience the joys of a film where the survivors of a natural disaster figure going on a shopping spree is the best medicine. B+