Is ‘Night of the Comet’ the Quintessential ’80s Zombie Flick?

NIGHT OF THE COMET, Kelli Maroney, Catherine Mary Stewart, 1984
Courtesy of Everett Collection

Zombies, a comet that kills off most of the world’s population, strong female leads with strong female hair, and a pretty bizarre shootout at a shopping mall full of stock-boys-turned-overnight-villains—what more can you ask of a 1980s’ end-of-the-world B-film?

1984 cult classic Night of the Comet checks all the boxes for a campy sci-fi classic. It stars Catherine Mary Stewart, Kelli Maroney and future Star Trek: Voyager commander Robert Beltran as two teenage sisters and a truck driver who find themselves some of the last people left alive when a comet evaporates most of the population and turns the rest into zombies. Cue the fun motorcycle rides on empty streets, exaggerated background music and leg warmers. If you’re gonna kill zombies, might as well do it in style.

NIGHT OF THE COMET, Catherine Mary Stewart, 1984, TM and Copyright

20th Century-Fox Film Corp. All Rights Reserved

The 1980s was a wild time, from what I can gather watching so many films from this era. It’s not just the fashion, which keeps coming back around in waves, minus the shoulder pads (thank God!); it was a simpler time. A time before smartphones and internet wormholes and basic parental guidance. A time when things were so light and wholesome that even at the end of the world, two sisters find themselves fighting over a boy. Yes, he might be the last one left, but does anyone bother to check? No, because that would take too much effort! Better to stay at the radio station and listen to the latest pop hits, then take a trip over to the mall in a police cruiser to cheer yourselves up with clothes and makeup no one will ever see you wear because, well, almost everyone is dead.

Ah, yes. Who remembers shopping malls? They were once all the rage, supposedly. Probably the most iconic line comes from the leader of the mall gang, who, for whatever reason, has a stockpile of weapons to terrorize our two heroines with despite the fact only a day or two have passed since the collapse of civilization: “I’m not crazy! I just don’t give a fuck!” Yes, ahead of the curve perhaps, the real bad guys of this film are humans, not zombies. This certainly makes it more interesting, if not also confusing. Why are these former mall stock boys so hell bent on killing the only women left in town? Are they not concerned with repopulating the earth? One of them is slowly turning into a zombie, so he gets a pass, but what about his sidekicks?

NIGHT OF THE COMET, 1984,

Atlantic Releasing Corp./courtesy Everett Collection

Then there’s the group of scientists who have also managed to survive the wipeout of humanity, only to turn into villains as well, preying on the poor children in their lab and killing each other when they’re not trying to kill our protagonists. Again, this is all in the matter of mere days. They certainly get used to things quick in the 1980s. It gives “going with the flow” a whole new meaning. That both girls mourn their high school crushes but not their father is somewhat troubling, but hey. Gotta think towards the future, I guess?

NIGHT OF THE COMET, Geoffrey Lewis, Mary Woronov, 1984

Everett Collection

With a dog named Buffy (who unfortunately evaporates along with the rest of humanity), it’s no wonder Joss Whedon has mentioned Night of the Comet as an influence on the hit show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which came out a decade later, but also includes a teenage cheerleader who likes to shop and gossip and can fight any man she comes across. The writing may not be as topnotch as Terms of Endearment, which may be my favorite 1980s film so far, but it’s easy to tell that this fun (possibly satirical?) action movie with a surprisingly happy ending paved the way for many future female ass-kickers.

My only question is: where were they all going at the end, dressed in church attire?

Night of the Comet is available to stream on Pluto. For more classic movie reviews, click here!

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