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Night of the Comet: A Grrrl on Film Recommended Cult Classic!

I promised that one of the themes we'd be exploring in this blog is bad movies with feminist potential. You see, in my research I've found that some of the most interesting female characters, particularly female action heroes and/or proto-feminists, are to be found in some of the most poorly-produced movies. Considering this, it is perhaps ironic that many better funded action films with A-list actresses have been flops.

Since I've been able to spend a lot of time with popcorn and a notepad, throughout the summer I'll share with you some of the most empowered (if all too often also problematic) women of the best low-budget classics of sci-fi, horror, blaxploitation, and action in a series of Grrrl on Film Cult Movie Posts!

This week starts us off with one of my all-time favorites in 1984's Night of the Comet - a horror, sci-fi, comedy, genre mash-up in which teenage sisters kick zombie ass in a post-apocalyptic SoCal.

Just as alien invasion and monster stories of the 1950s and espionage stories of the 1960s served to reflect concerns over the Cold War, the 1980s were host to a slew of post-apocalyptic films, comics, music, and music videos regarding the possibility of World War III. Movies like Red Dawn (1984), Terminator (1984), The Day After (1983) and The Road Warrior (1982, aka Mad Max 2) played on fears of nuclear annihilation and the break-down of society.

Night of the Comet is not really symbolic of anything quite so real world perilous, but it serves as a rare example of smart, resourceful and snarky butt-kicking women in film of that decade (a decade that tended to privilege warriors of the He-Man variety).

At the beginning of the movie crowds gather to watch as the Earth passes through the tail of a comet - a once every 65 million year event. We are introduced to our heroines through their respective evenings. Regina Belmont (Catherine Mary Stewart) is an 18-year-old working in a movie theater. She spends the night with her boyfriend in the projection room. Her younger sister, the 16-year-old Samantha Belmont (Kelli Maroney), spends the night in a steel shed after getting into a fight with her stepmother at their comet-watching party.

The next morning the girls arise to find that most everyone else has been turned to red dust after being exposed to the comet. Those who weren't protected by a steel shelter but were only partially exposed have turned into zombies (who will eventually turn to dust as well - but not before wreaking flesh-eating havoc).

 

I don't want to give too much away, but it will suffice (and perhaps entice) to say that Reggie and Sam have been trained in military combat by their father and are fully capable of managing a simple zombie apocalypse.

 

In the meantime, they befriend and romance the hunky Hector (Robert Beltran) and encounter some creepy self-serving scientists (B-movies always need scientists). The one scientist who is resigned to her fate and aides our protagonists is played by the sexy former Warhol It-Girl Mary Woronov.

Catherine Mary Stewart, who in the movie is sporting some fabulous 1980s fashion - with Kelly LeBrock hair and Brooke Shields eyebrows to boot, has said that she was drawn to the Reggie character's strength and independence. Indeed, both Reg and Sam are sassy and smart. They also happened to serve as inspiration for one Joss Whedon in his creation of Buffy Summers, Vampire Slayer.

Night of the Comet's writer/director, Thom Eberhardt has said that the movie often shared a bill at the drive-in with James Cameron's Terminator but that Terminator got top billing because it was a manly shoot 'em up type movie instead of a "girly" film - and a girly film with two female leads at that!

For me, two smart-mouthed chicks who can handle a MAC-10 submachine gun (which, according to them, was practically designed for housewives), ride motorcycles, get the high score at arcade games and are high-school cheerleaders (sort of like a certain Slayer we know and love) is just the sort of late-night double-feature picture show that makes a Grrrl on Film stand up and cheer.

So how about you readers? Do you have a favorite female hero of apocalyptic film? What about a recommendation for a best bad movie with feminist potential?

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Comments

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Post-Apoc

I love post-apoc! Phoenix the Warrior and Hell Comes to Frogtown feature female-dominated futures. In the latter, Roddy Piper is one of the last nonsterile men. So, all the women are after his bod, but he's also treated like meat and experimented on.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093731/

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093171/

Ooh!

I adore Night of the Comet. I attend the yearly 24 hour horror movie marathon at the Music Box theatre here in Chicago and that film played two years ago. It's a ton of fun and it was great seeing it with a huge audience! I'm begging the programmer to play Rosemary's Baby this year. Plunging into bad movies for feminist themes is one of my favorite activities as well. While I don't think they're necessarily bad flicks, I'm particularly fond of the movies of Jack Hill. Switchblade Sisters is my favorite. I lurrrvvee that movie. Have you seen it?

Jack Hill and such

I had never thought of that before, but it makes total sense. These films are very frustrating sometimes because you can see the incredible potential they possess and yet so few of them actually live up to it. They are very offensive occasionally (the lesbian bar fight in "Foxy Brown"), but I'm so used to seeing that in movies that I truly treasure movies like "Switchblade Sisters" (which is practically "Hamlet!") because they are so full of ideas. I'd rather have mixed messages than no message at all. I call Jack Hill's movies "femsploitation" because he uses exploitation devices, like cleavage and cat fights, to distinguish his strong female characters from the other simplistic women in his movies. I don't think he ever exploits his central characters for the audience's cheap pleasure. I’m not saying that’s an all-together good thing, but that philosophy has provided some of my favorite leading ladies. He's also a really nice guy. I wrote to him a year or so ago because "Switchblade Sisters" was originally called "The Jezebel's" and I asked him if it was called that because of the Bette Davis flick. And it was! He also graciously read an essay I wrote on "Switchblade Sisters," "Coffy," and "Foxy Brown." I wish he had made more movies. I'll take his flicks over Tarantino's any day of the week. I'm looking forward to your post!

“Gremlins,” “Ms. 45,” and the original “House on Sorority Row” would probably fall into this category as well.

Night of the Comet Fan site

For those who enjoyed Night of the Comet, there is a fan site at http://www.nightofthecomet.info

tank girl

don't forget tank girl! it even has fun comic scenes for some of the extreme stuff that a low budget film couldn't pull off. the film is essentially an allegory of fascism and tank girl saves the day.

Night of the Comet

Awesome movie, and nice review! I only recently got around to seeing this myself, and it's good to see other blogs tackling classic 80's post-apocalyptica:

http://mutantreviewers.wordpress.com/2009/10/09/justin-does-night-of-the...