“Who’d want to eat a live cat?” – Night of the Comet

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Tonight the World is preparing for Christmas and a sighting of a rare comet. Sixty-Five million years ago was the last time the comet passed Earth, near the extinction of the dinosaurs. People are lining the streets the world over. Comet parties are raging in every major city.

Regina Belmont is ‘working’ at the local movie theater. ‘Working’ consists of keeping up every high score on the Tempest game in the lobby and sneaking off to be with Larry the Projectionist. Someone named ‘DMK’ has taken spot number six and Regina is annoyed. After dodging her boss, she meets up with Larry to spend the night with him in the steel projection booth. Regina calls home to have younger sister Samantha cover for her with their stepmother, Doris. Sam and Doris get into an argument about Doris’ ‘close’ relationship with neighbor Chuck. Doris punches Samantha. Sam runs away and spends the evening in the metal tool shed.

The comet passes over Los Angeles bringing neon lightning and cartoon clouds. Larry wakes Regina with his loud ranting. He rented a movie reel to a friend that was supposed to return it that morning. The friend has not shown up. When Larry leaves to track down the print, Regina heads to the lobby to take care of her Tempest problem. She successfully removes DMK from her scoreboard and steps outside to have a look around. All she finds are piles of clothes, red dust and the fact that she is now locked out. Heading to the alley behind the theater she finds Larry’s keys and bike are still here. Regina calls to him but instead, attracts an angry, zombie-like creature instead. The zombie appears to have been munching on Larry. After trying to talk her way out of the situation, Regina kicks his ass and escapes on the motorcycle.

Riding through the city, Regina finds it empty except for more clothes and red dust. At home, Regina finds a thankfully intact Samantha. After spending the night in the shed, Sam returns home to get ready for cheerleading practice. She’s had no luck getting any of the girls on the phone. Regina demands that Sam call someone, anyone, else and Samantha, suitably freaked out declines. They head outside where Regina continues to try to make her point. She points out clothes, calling out their former owners. Finally demands to know that for a Saturday morning, where are the children? The girls take the argument indoors, but stop short when the radio DJ makes a broadcast.

Unfortunately, the DJs voice was a recording. They do meet Hector. He pulls a gun on them, thinking they might be some of the ‘freaks’ he’s run into outside. Once he finds that they probably don’t want to eat him, he apologizes and explains why he’s so jumpy. Heck used to have a traveling companion, she ran off when they first saw a zombie eating a cat. When he caught up to her, she had been torn apart by zombies. Regina runs off to be sick, finally realizing what must have happened to Larry. Hector goes to check on her. Alone, Sam decides to play DJ. She spins a few tracks and invites callers to give her a ring. Someone calls. She’s so shaken, she can only remember that they are some kind of research group in the desert.

Sam realizes the Regina is probably going to snake the last guy in the world out from under her and she goes for a drive. As Sam is enjoying a cold beer and a joyride, she is actually relieved to be pulled over. Until the cops get to her window. They’re zombies! Sike! She was dreaming. Sam heads to the bathroom to wash up in the sink a little. While in the bathroom she is attacked by another zombie cop. Sike again!! She was still dreaming, she wakes up screaming bring Regina and Hector to check on her.

Now that they’re awake Regina and Hector do some more bonding. Hector says he needs to head to San Diego to see if his mother and sister made it. Regina advises Hector against it but his mind is made up. While Hector is gone, the girls do some target practice. They have a sisterly squabble over Hector and head to the mall for some retail therapy. Meanwhile, the scientists arrive at the radio station. They’ve been exposed to the comet and are on the way to becoming zombies themselves. The group wants the blood of the healthy teenagers to make a syrum  to reverse the effects. One scientist, Audrey, is not comfortable killing people for something that may not even work. The psychologist of the group works out that the mall would be a likely place to look for the girls.

Hector makes it to San Diego and finds his family gone. He encounters a child zombie that he doesn’t have the heart to kill. After he gathers some photographs, he races back to the city. Regina and Sam are blissfully shopping until they encounter a group of half-zombie stock boys. The girls put up a valiant effort in the ensuing shoot out but they are captured. Just as the round of one-sided russian roulette is about to come to an end, they are saved by the scientists. Audrey convinces the rest of the bunch that Sam has been exposed. Most of the group leaves with Regina, Audrey stays behind to deal with Sam and wait for Hector.

Audrey gives Sam an injection and she quietly slips off. The other scientist suggests they go wait for Hector at the station. Audrey shoots him. When Hector returns to the station he finds Audrey, she’s not doing well. While she still could wrote down everything Hector would need to know to save Reggie. With that done, Audrey gives herself an injection and dies. At the undisclosed desert location, Regina is being questioned about her medical history. She sees two children and coupled with the line of questioning realizes something is very wrong.

Hector arrives and with some help from the totally not dead Sam, they take out the guard. Hector sets to work booby trapping a truck and Sam runs off to rescue Regina. Regina has the same idea and begins bashing her way through the guards but she’s captured again. Luckily, Sam cuts the power and in the resultant chaos Regina is able to escape. Sam and Regina are reunited while rescuing the children. They rendezvous with Hector outside. The scientist pile into the booby trapped truck to give chase and are blown to bits.

Los Angeles is bathed by a healing rain storm. The sky returns to blue, the dust and clothing are washed away. Sometime later the new family are taking pictures in their Sunday best. Hector and Regina are teaching the kids not to cross against the light, which Sam thinks is ludicrous. To prove her point, she crosses the street. Sam is almost mowed down by Danny Mason Keener, he apologizes and asks to take her for a ride. She happily agrees and as the car pulls off we see his vanity plate says DMK.

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Bobi Lobotomy:

Night of the Comet is one of my all-time favorites. It’s probably the biggest reason I’m doing this today. I saw it for the first time when I was around twelve and I was blown away. In Regina and Samantha, I found unlikely but highly relatable horror movie heros. This was the first movie to show me girls had a place in horror beyond screaming and dying. Is this the best horror movie I’ve ever seen? No. Are the effects fantastic? What effects? Are there boobs? Nope. Are there plot holes you can drive a buick though? Yes, of course. This movie kicked the door open on B horror for me and I love it dearly.

Judging by the looks of Los Angeles, the body count for this one is something like 99% of the population. Which is pretty respectable. We’re left with a dumbish cheerleader, somewhat slutty ($15 in exchange for sex???) movie usher and a kinda helpless truck driver. The burden of civilization is upon them. That might be what is so much fun about this movie. You can either relate to one of the characters to see how well you do in a post-human world, or realize how much smarter you are than they are and map out how you’d take over the west coast.

I think this was the first piece of post-apocalyptic work I’d ever encountered, and thanks to Night of the Comet I’ve never lost my fascination for it. Being alone in the world didn’t look scary, the power still worked and they could go to the mall. Yeah, yeah, they were captured by zombies but really they only ran into about seven zombies the whole movie. Those are pretty good odds.

Reggie and Sam made the biggest impact on me. They were tough and resourceful. Hector didn’t show up and immediately become the hero. The girls got in gun fights, beat the crap out of zombies, saved the children and outsmarted the think tank geniuses.Reggie and Sam were also real, they fought over boys and went shopping at the end of the world.  I’m not alone, Joss Whedon has said part of his inspiration for Buffy was Samantha. They both turn horror movie logic on its head, the blonde cheerleader dies in the second act. Here, she helps save the day and gets a boy of her own.

How does Night of the Comet stand up to adult scrutiny? I still really like it. The girls are funny and still pretty badass. Don’t think too hard about the plot or the science. Both get a little thin under the microscope. There’s not too much in the way of horror and nearly no blood. I’d say other than the girl’s hair, it stands up pretty well. I’m going four and a half killer comets on this one.

Alisa Ramone:

Night of the Comet is a witty, refreshing post apocalyptic sci-fi film with the least likely, but most likable heroines I have ever seen. Night of the Comet breaks the mold by taking a light-hearted, almost wholesome approach to life during and after the apocalypse. This is one of the rare times that I enjoy the fact that comedy often overshadows tragedy. There is very little nudity, blood/gore, but the film still holds its own among the 80’s cult classics with fantastic dialogue, great acting and unpredictable lead characters. It also has a killer new wave soundtrack.
Throughout this film, we follow two teenage sisters dealing with the aftermath of a comet that wiped out most of humanity and turned the rest of them into zombies. These aren’t your ordinary teenagers; they were trained by their Green Beret father to fight and shoot guns. Regina (Catherine Mary Stewart), an usher at El Rey theatre, and her sister Samantha (Kelli Maroney), a cheerleader with a chip on her shoulder, are among the last few survivors and normally this idea would devastate someone, but they have a military father who is never around and a wicked step-mother who treats them badly and hits them. Their mother ran away when they were young so it’s been just the two of them taking care of each other for a long time.  My favorite  Regina and Samantha scene is when they decide that instead of mourning over the loss of humanity, they should go to the mall – because what teenage girl wouldn’t want to go shopping without having to worry about having the money to pay for anything.
Even though I really loved both of these characters, Reggie really had a deep impact on me. I really love that whenever she is faced with someone trying to hurt or kill her, she tried to negotiate with them before resorting to violence, but if it comes to punches or gun fire, she is able to hold her own. She’s also smart – Reggie is the one that figures out the being in a steel enclosure is what saved them from becoming dust or zombies. She was able to rescue and care for two children and escape from an underground lab and she takes care of Sam, emotionally and physically. (I was surprised though that her desire to win over Hector was for sibling rivalry and not to repopulate the earth, but what eighteen year old would be thinking about that). She is an incredibly atypical heroine, which is refreshing.  I love the fact that these two girls weren’t just eye candy that was waiting to be rescued. They took an active role in their own survival. Standard gender roles are a little blurry throughout the film. I started to notice the difference when the first zombie we see kills Larry, the man, instantly and Regina, the woman, fights off the same zombie that and gets away.  When Hector shows up, it is clear that he is not meant to be the hero of the story. He takes a secondary role to two teenage girls, he even gets a small handgun, while the girls get a semi-automatic weapons. I’m impressed that all of the women in this film are strong, nonconforming characters. In most horror movies Reggie and Sam would be dead in the first half hour, but in Night of the Comet they get to not only survive, but exceed the audience’s expectations.
On a side note – I was really intrigued by the zombies. They aren’t the main enemy; in fact they were almost an afterthought and we only see a few throughout the entire film. These zombies are unique though, in that they are not just flesh eating monsters; they are capable of intelligent thought for awhile after they start to turn. They can talk, use weapons and banter with our heroines. I’m a huge zombie fan, so part of me wishes we had just a little more zombie interaction. The mall zombies were great though!
Regina, Hector and the children choose to normalize life even though they are among the last few people on earth. They formed a patriarchal family unit and follow conventional rules. “The whole burden of civilization lies with us.”Sam feels excluded and has less regard for the rules now that all the people are gone, which is apparent when they argue about crossing at the crosswalk against the light. At the end of the movie, after DMK drives off with Sam, I’m left wondering how they will survive. They chose to drive/walk into the proverbial sunset instead of dealing with the problems of long term survival. Night of the Comet takes a lighter approach to a dark situation. Instead of gathering supplies and food, these two girls go to the mall to get a new wardrobe. The film never addresses how they plan to survive or what will happen to them in the future. The girls deal with everything moment by moment, which is a refreshing realistic take on the apocalypse from the perspective of a teenager. I love this movie and give it 4 killer comets!

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25 responses to ““Who’d want to eat a live cat?” – Night of the Comet

  1. Well it’s official….I’m old. I remember seeing this one in theaters. It was 1984 and I might have dropped acid that day with some of my fellow radio broadcast school friends….I might have eaten a cat as well, I’m just not sure.

  2. I saw this movie in a theater when it first came out. It was one of my very first dates. Loved it then, still love it, for the same reasons the two you list. Well, that AND the fact that I felt extremely cool after seeing it because I owned a shirt very similar to the one Reggie was wearing. (That asymmetrical, button front.)

  3. I watched this one at the drive-in theater the weekend it opened. As I remember, it was the very first PG-13 movie. My buddies and I were all excited because, being the first ever PG-13 movie, it had to have boobies in it … right? Nope.

    Oh well, it was campy and a little weird (those were zombies right?) and yeah, I always wondered how the power stayed on …

  4. Heh. I also saw this on its initial release and liked it (I recall me and my friends being Catherine Mary Stewart fans afterward because she was such a strong character and not the usual chick victim stereotype).

    I’d also recommend looking up 1987’s I Was a Teenage Zombie for a nice (and lower-budget) counterpoint to this. It’s got a killer soundtrack, is pretty funny and has some nice gore moments (which surprised me because of that bouncy main theme by The Fleshtones)

  5. I remember watching this movie years ago on Sci-Fi before it became SyFy. Pretty funny and entertaining cheesy movie where the salvation of mankind is in the hands of Vally Girls. Now there’s a terrifying thought.

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