Throwback Thursday: Women Lead in Night of the Comet

Throwback Thursday examines films from the past, “classic” films that might not be in the current cultural zeitgeist but can still be important, interesting, fun, or all of the above.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Hopefully, you’re reflecting on all the things for which you’re thankful and are ready for Black Friday, a day when stores throw out their best deals to get their sales numbers into the black side of the ledger. With crazed shopping season fast approaching (hopefully, you’re not falling prey to it today), I thought it would be great to look at a film featuring a mall shopping frenzy during a zombie apocalypse. No, I’m not talking about Dawn of the Dead (even though it’s great). I’m talking about 1984’s Night of the Comet.

Movie poster for 1984's Night of the Comet

The theatrical lobby poster for Night of the Comet hides the gender of the lead.

The plot is a solid send-up of B-horror movie tropes with a tongue-in-cheek delivery. That’s not to say it’s a spoof: it takes itself and the genre too seriously for that. However, it does feel like writer and director Thom Eberhardt spent his childhood watching Saturday afternoon films on TV. (Eberhardt isn’t a household name, but he had some modest success with this cult film, along with the Matthew Modine vehicle Gross Anatomy, Kurt Russell’s Captain Ron, and writing the sequel Honey, I Blew Up the Kid.)

When the Earth passes through the tail of a comet, people vaporize into red dust or mutate into zombie-like creatures. It wouldn’t be much of a movie without human protagonists: those who happened to have been protected by steel during the moment of impact are spared mutation. Reggie (Catherine Mary Stewart), for example, spent the night with her boyfriend in a steel-lined projectionist booth. Her sister Sam (Kelli Maroney) just happened to have slept in an old shed. (It being the ’80s, this perfectly plausible, kind of like in the ’60s when crouching under your desk would save you from nuclear annihilation. Ludicrous? Yes, but just go with it.)

Blonde struggling with zombie cop in Night of the Comet.

Zombie cops are the worst.

This movie passes the Bechdel test. Yes, the two female leads do talk about boys, but they also talk about shopping and surviving the apocalypse. If you’re looking for butt-kicking Valley girls from the ’80s, this is the film for you. There is also the shopping spree in a derelict mall, zombie stock boys, government experiments, and even Robert Beltran (you might recognize him as first officer Chakotay from Star Trek: Voyager) who just wants to protect his family. It’s interesting to note that both girls go by traditionally masculine names. I don’t know for sure that this was intentional, but I can imagine the producers hiding the fact that both leads are female by giving them boy names so that initial reviews of the film would portray it as a typical “boys'” sci-fi flick. Conjecture aside, it’s fun to see females take the spotlight and get into firefights with zombies. Beltran as Hector tries to come to their rescue at one point, but they end up rescuing him. It might just be me, but it seems like they also give the camera a little wink as if to say we should know better than to believe in outmoded gender roles.

Maroney and Stewart let their guns do the talking in Night of the Comet.

Maroney and Stewart will just let their guns do the talking.

Unfortunately, neither Catherine Mary Stewart or Kelli Maroney have broken out of their B-movie girl phase. They both do random guest appearances on TV and in film, their heyday was in the ’80s with a string of financially-successful cult films. These include Chopping Mall and Not of this Earth for Maroney and The Last Starfighter, Dudes (a punk rock western that I’d love to see in high-def), and Weekend at Bernie’s for Stewart.

Reg and Hector are ready to fight some zombies.

Stewart and Beltran are rounding up a posse. Beltran even gets to wear a cowboy hat.

The acting is a bit over the top (as it should be), but Night of the Comet is a surprisingly sweet film that follows two young women as they search for post-apocalypse answers and eventually find a family. It’s a cult film by any definition, but if you’re looking for a fun 90-minute ’80s sci-fi romp through the Valley, then I can’t recommend this film highly enough. Enjoy Thanksgiving. And, if you venture out shopping tomorrow, watch out for zombies.

The updated artwork for Night of the Comet draws attention to the two female leadjs.

The original artwork hid the leads, but the throwback artwork for the recent Blu-ray release puts the two female leads and a Mexican-American character front and center.

This film can be found on both Blu-ray and DVD. It is currently available via Netflix, but streaming offerings change frequently, so keep an eye out. Feel free to discuss further in the comments below; just keep it respectful.

If you think there’s a film Throwback Thursday should cover in the future, please let me know in the comments.

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