When there’s a virus circulating the globe, forcing us to “self-isolate” or “socially distance” ourselves, there’s only one place to turn: the movies. As you stick close to the couch for days at a time, films can provide a welcome escape from the current (often harsh) reality. On rare occasions, films can even provide insight on how to best the worst-case scenario with style. Night of the Comet (1984) is one of these films for me.
Set in the aftermath of a comet that wiped out the majority of civilization (and turned others into zombies!), Night of the Comet is a film about survival. It’s also a film about sisters, specifically Southern California teens Regina “Reggie” Belmont (Catherine Mary Stewart, The Last Starfighter) and Samantha “Sam” Belmont (Kelli Maroney, Chopping Mall).
“On rare occasions, films can even provide insight on how to best the worst-case scenario with style.”
Valley girls Reggie and Sam are the Final Girls of Night of the Comet, having stayed inside for different reasons when the comet passed by Earth (Reggie was having sex with her boyfriend in a movie theatre projection booth, Sam was hiding from their abusive stepmother in a shed). They are also extremely cool, fun and fashionable, and thanks to key costumer Linda Linn and the rest of the Night of the Comet wardrobe team, they remain that way from the start to the finish of the film.
When we meet strong-willed, video game-playing older sister Regina on the titular night of the comet, she’s wearing her movie theatre uniform: a cropped red usher jacket and high-waisted black pants (a ‘fit I’d wear this on a regular night, to be honest). The morning after the comet, she dresses in what will become her signature look: an asymmetrical button-down blouse, dark jeans and lovingly used sneakers. It’s a strong outfit for taking on any day, but on the brink of apocalypse, it is both stylish and sensible. Think Laurie Strode from Halloween (1978) or Ginny Field from Friday the 13th Part 2, but more fashion-forward.
While Regina is subtle in her style, her younger sibling is a bit more bold. Before the comet hits, the sassy Sam is seen in a bright yellow sweatshirt and leggings, along with red shorts and socks. When Regina finds her the following morning, Sam is dressed in her bright blue and pink cheerleader uniform. A shot focuses in on Sam’s candy-coloured high-top sneakers and bright pink socks as if to say “While her short skirt might not seem like a great option for the End of Days, look at her sweet, supportive footwear!” (Seriously though, they are truly great.)
Sam’s highly femme look might suggest that she’s the less serious, and thus, less capable of the two sisters. But as the movie moves along, we see that’s far from the truth. When the girls are testing out guns, Sam, still in her cheerleader uniform, is the true natural of the two. Later, when Reggie gets taken away by a malicious “rescue team”, Sam pairs up fellow survivor Hector (Robert Beltran, Star Trek: Voyager) to actually rescue her. It’s no wonder Sam was an inspiration for Joss Whedon in creating the ultimate fashionable Final Girl, Buffy Summers. Sam, like, Buffy, never sacrifices herself, her style, in her efforts to save herself and others.
In general, Night of the Comet allows its teenage heroes to express themselves through fashion and other “superficial” means and doesn’t shame them for doing so. One of the most memorable scenes in the film is a shopping montage at an abandoned mall. As “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” plays in the background, Sam and Regina try on different dresses and accessories, including fur coats and formal gowns. Without the restriction of a budget, Regina still goes for the more muted tones and patterns (greys, browns, houndstooth). Meanwhile, Sam opts for colours and funky accessories (hello, hats!).
What’s significant about the shopping montage is that it’s more than a typical makeover moment. The girls are not changing themselves. They are simply trying on clothes that they like, relishing in a moment of heightened normalcy in the midst of the quiet chaos that has become their new reality. You can’t help but be sad when they are eventually interrupted by some punks. Then you’re thrilled to see that they can hold their own even when wearing strapless dresses.
Night of the Comet‘s shopping montage suggests that even in the direst of circumstances, self-expression is important. For some, this might mean still dressing up or putting on red lipstick even when staying inside for the day. For others, this might mean doing creative work as a mode of distraction, making art, or even writing.
I chose to write about Night of the Comet for this month’s column before COVID-19 was declared as a pandemic. I wanted to write about this film specifically because, well, it’s pretty rad and features some truly iconic fashion moments. But as news about the virus continued to fill our feeds and spin us into varying states of panic, it felt like an even more fitting choice.
Over the past week, I have been fairly anxious as I, like many others, have started to prepare for the worst-case scenario (whatever that means at this point). Taking an hour and a half to rewatch Night of the Comet was better for my mental health than going to a busy grocery store to stock up on essentials. Seeing Sam fight zombies and corrupt scientists in cute, colourful outfits was not only fun, but honestly inspiring. It reminded me that even in the direst of circumstances, it is important to continue doing the things, wearing the things, that make you happy.
In Night of the Comet’s final scene, Sam and Regina are not dressed in shapeless jumpsuits or other variations on the stark, boring dystopian uniform (think The Hunger Games‘ Katniss Everdeen or even Alien‘s Ellen Ripley). Regina is seen in a very femme long-sleeved, prairie-style dress, ready to start her new life with Hector and two children who they saved from those meddling scientists. Sam, meanwhile, wears a red bathing suit and a patterned wrap as she takes off in a convertible with a handsome stranger.
“Night of the Comet [is] pretty rad and features some truly iconic fashion moments. But as news about the virus continued to fill our feeds and spin us into varying states of panic, it felt like an even more fitting choice.”
There isn’t some scrolling coda that tells us what happens to Sam and Regina, or the world at large, after this moment. But just watching them choose to give into joy, choose to wear the things they want, gives me hope. For their future and for ours. (Did I mention that there’s a Night of the Comet remake in the works, directed by a woman, to look forward to?) Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to put the leopard print Converse high-tops and some blush. Then I’m going to go get some snacks, and settle in with a horror movie.
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